Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Challenge of Writing Fantasy

Picking a Genre

I've proudly used the word "fantasy" in the title of this post, but really I'm not sure that I'm actually writing fantasy. If anything, my book would be considered an "urban fantasy" because it takes place in our modern world, but I don't know enough about the criteria for defining a book as "urban fantasy" to be sure. All I know is my book takes place in our world, but there's magic. Sometimes the setting and the characters seem a bit too mundane to really fit the label "fantasy", but I don't know what else to call it. It's definitely paranormal, but it's not a mystery. It's not romance. It's not horror. It's not a thriller. It's dark fiction set in today's world, but there are people who know about and can use magic. Urban fantasy? Maybe. If anyone has a better label feel free to tell me in a comment.

Previous Experience With Paranormal Fiction

As the title of this post implies, I have encountered some challenges while writing this new book. These challenges surprise me because paranormal fiction is something that usually comes out of me with ease. I had very little difficulty writing Amelia's Children, despite the fact that it contains paranormal elements. I've tried analyzing the difference between that book and my new one, and here is what I have concluded. All of the supernatural elements in Amelia's Children have to do with psychic powers. Psychic powers are easy to write about because the rules are simple. The powers are something a character is born with, so there is no backstory regarding how, exactly, the character acquired these abilities. The powers manifest themselves in a limited number of ways. Either a character can tell the future, or he can read people's minds, or he can manipulate the world around him with his mind. Often there is a combination of these elements, but the elements themselves are relatively simple. And usually the characters themselves don't fully understand what's happening, so the author can keep things shrouded in mystery and not have to worry about doing the research necessary to explain the mechanism behind the powers. Unless that's part of the story. But it wasn't part of Amelia's Children, so in order to write I didn't need to think about, for example, whether psychic people have a different brain structure than normal people, or whether there's a specific gene that codes for the various manifestations of the powers. My characters never found out these things, so I never had to figure them out.

When You Write About Magic

Magic is different. The characters have to understand it in order to use it, which means the author has to understand it as well. Of course a character can try to use the magic without fully understanding it but anyone who has ever read fantasy knows that using magic without knowing what you're doing often has unintended consequences. The author has to know what those consequences are. And while there are stories about people being born with magic, often the power is acquired, in which case an author must explain how the magic was discovered. Even in stories where characters are born with it, still there is a learning curve. As I said above, using it without understanding it has unintended consequences. So characters must learn to use it, and the author must learn how to write that.

The Challenge of World-Building

I'm not writing epic fantasy. I'm not writing a fairy tale. I'm not writing about portals to magical lands. On the surface it looks like my book requires very little world-building, but looks can be deceiving. Because there is magic in my story, there has to be world-building. You see, when you write about magic you are writing about a world that follows different rules from those our own world follows. It is your responsibility as the author to make up those rules. All of them. And then everything, literally everything, that happens in your story must follow those rules. No exceptions.

Problems occur when you think you have all the rules worked out, but you don't. So you may be two thirds of the way through your book when you realize, "Oh yeah, I haven't found a way to explain that yet." So you worry and fuss over it until you have a new rule, which you enthusiastically insert into your story. But before you can happily continue writing you have to go back through everything you've already written and make sure you haven't contradicted yourself somewhere along the way. And if you find that you have contradicted yourself, you have to find a way to fix the problem. And the solution has to follow the rules of the world you are building.

The Unique Challenge of My Book

My book has presented me with a number of challenges, but one in particular that I'm struggling with is the question of how to solve the main problem in the story and defeat the bad guys. Obviously it has to have a magical solution, but what kind of magical solution? When I first started the book I agonized over this until I finally decided that one of my main characters has to die. I didn't like that answer because I want my characters to live happily ever after, but it seemed the most logical way. Really, it seemed to be the only way. So I decided. A character was going to die. And not just any character, but one of the three primary characters. So I went back to my writing with that ending in mind. Then I started to question it.

It happened yesterday. I was thinking about the story and how it should end. I was thinking that there really were no solutions to the problem that did not involve this particular character dying. And then I thought of one. The first thing I did was test this new solution against the rule system I've constructed for my story. It fits. Then I looked at it in terms of emotional impact. Yep, there'd still be an emotional impact. It wouldn't be quite as tragic as having one of my precious main characters die, but it would still be intense. It could work.

This should have been good news, but it wasn't. Yes, I have a way to save my character, but I also have to decide which ending I'm going to use. Should I save my character? Or should I stick to my original solution and let the character die? I still have a little while before I have to make my decision, but I'm probably going to agonize over it right up until that point.

The Possible Benefit of Indecision

I'm trying to look at this as a good thing. Really, it is a good thing. If even I don't know if my character will survive the book, there's no way the audience will know while they're reading it. So there's an unpredictable element here that could really work to my advantage. Doesn't make deciding any easier, though.

No comments:

Post a Comment