Falling in (and out of) love with fantasy

Épinal_-_L’Oiseau_bleu_09Occasionally, I still have moments where I look at a scrap of dialogue or a descriptive phrase, and I feel a little self-conscious, writing what I’m writing. It’s fantasy, sure. It is epic? Sometimes. It is heroic? Yeah, a bit. Does it have magic and all that? Of course. Am I way hung up on defining it? Not really. Okay, maybe a little.

But it’s also not a lot of things. There are no elves, dwarves or, really, even wizards. Magic is… ordered, in a way. Effectively I’ve written out a great deal of the things that define the genre for other people, and even for me. Sometimes I forget I’m writing fantasy altogether. The times that I’ve ever written anything remotely realistic have been utter failures. My brain, apparently, just doesn’t function in such a manner. But nor does it require orcs, apparently.

I say I love the fantasy genre, and I do. But I’m also revoltingly critical about it. I will reject a book based on a thousand things without hesitation. And I go back and forth, in my own head, about the balance in my own book. Sometimes it’s a little maddening.

My original drafts of Peter of Windbourne were not self-conscious. The characters did things and acted as they were supposed to. Swords were bequeathed, hearts were won, and the story finished with a horrendous James Bond villain-esque ending scene. I had no self-consciousness, though; I seriously just wrote for fun. In some ways, I suppose that was really freeing, but it was also what did the draft in, as it were.

This time, though, with a blind rewrite, everything is different. I don’t want the cliche, but I understand some of it has to be there. If not for me, for readers. Because I’m conscious of my genre, as a writer. I want to write not just for me, but for an intended audience. Last night, as I wrote an important farewell scene, I was contemplating the last draft of that scene. In it, the protagonist is granted a historical family sword by his mother. At first I thought I was just going to write through it, and then I stopped, took off my headphones, and consulted the characters again.

No, in this version, that would not happen. There are not going to be any named swords. It didn’t fit. It would throw the balance off in regards to some of the other decisions I’ve made, and so, I removed it. Peter’s relationship with his mother is so much more uncomfortable and complex in this rewrite, and her coming and giving him a sword was just… hackneyed and unnecessary.

I’ve moved further and further from D&D-esque fantasy with this book (thankfully), which the first was very much besotted with. More than anything, the book has become an exploration of power and relationships, and it happens to be a fantasy novel, rather than the other way around. Unlike the first draft, where Peter was tossed around, useless and clueless, here he has wants and needs. To the age old question of “What does your main character want?” (something I would not have been able to answer before) I’d say simply: knowledge and love. Those are Peter’s motivations in everything he does.

I digress a bit.

From time to time, people who know me ask what I write. In some ways, the steampunk stuff is easier to explain. I feel so much less self-conscious when I can talk about Gothic and Victorian inspirations. When it comes down to fantasy, and the dreaded M-word, there follows a very slippery slope. The only fantasy most non-fantasy readers know is The Lord of the Rings. And yes, there are echoes. I love Tolkien, and I would be an idiot to proclaim that he’s not influenced me a bit (this book owes more to him than any others, likely because I started it fresh off the Middle Earth high).

But, but, but. It’s fantasy with consequences and, above bloody all, no good guy/bad guy dichotomy in the way that it’s supposed to be. It’s fantasy writing inspired by the world around me, hoping to refashion in with a little more feathers and pixie dust. I’m trying to avoid what I see so often in fantasy writing, which is a complete refusal to be different.

… This post got absurdly long rather fast. Apologies. I’ve been on a bit of a word binge of late, and I see that such prolonged forays into my little fantasy world have clearly addled my rather fragile brain cells.

To sum up: Fantasy literature is like a big daisy, from which I pluck petals. Do I love it? Or love it not? Sometimes both. It’s still a daisy, even if I pick all the petals off and stomp on them. I can’t avoid the daisy. It is my daisy, and the only flower I really care about in the first place (seriously, screw those rhododendrons and peonies). So, that’s my book: a big daisy with no petals, that’s kind of bent in the middle…

By all that is holy, I really should have stopped writing this post about four paragraphs back…

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9 Comments on “Falling in (and out of) love with fantasy

  1. I say there’s no crime in it. I’ve often referred to the BSG remake as a superb drama that happens to be sci-fi. It sounds like that’s the same direction you are taking with your writing as well. It may go against the grain of some conventional fantasy fans out there, more still will accept it and appreciate it for what it is, just like people did with BSG.

  2. Honestly, I find it interesting that you have to do such explanation for what you write. If ever it comes up with me, all I have to do is say the F-word and an “oh” ends the conversation there. (Not often so terse, but the outcome is more or less the same. I’ve gotten used to it.)

    • @thejinx This is a good point. I wish it were so easy for me. Alas, it’s not. I come from a family of either non-readers or English professors, and neither are particularly fond of the genre. So I tend to oscillate. Years of programming and all that. I’ve gotten better, but I still get frustrated; not just with me in the genre, but the genre in general! Ah, well. Maybe it’s a good thing?

  3. I sometimes have this debate – I was ruthless as one stage hacking out anything vaguely cliched – and then went off in a direction that ended up so far from conventional fantasy as could be whilst still remaining in the fantasy genre.

    Dragons still make a minor appearance and some non-humanoid races as well – just not the normal elves/dwarves/orcs – so it still classifies as fantasy.

    • @qorvus We do all have to find our own voices within the genre. I mean, otherwise, we’d all be writing the same books over and over again!

      • Somedays I think I started too late in the game – Tolkien has already written my book 😛 The Silmarillion in this case, not the other ones. 😉

        Of course my voice in the genre may be a little too obscure to be much more than a niche, which is never a really good thing where publishers are concerned.

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