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Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 12:11 am

The main characteristic of fantasy is that it takes place on an imaginary world in which there are elements—supernatural, magical, or unusual abilities—that are impossible in our present reality. The characters are often not human, and creatures and animals may be sentient. There are several genres and subgenres of fantasy:

1. Myth and folklore
2. Fairy tale
3. Sword and sorcery (# 1, 2, and 3 in this list often employ fantasy creatures we’re all familiar with: elves, trolls, fairies, ogres, dragons—or they may make up totally new ones)
4. Medievalism
5. Heroic fantasy
6. Steampunk

…and there are many more sub-genres of fantasy. More than science fiction, there’s quite a bit of overlap in the fantasy categories. I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with most of those categories; if one of them intrigues you, you might want to do a bit of research.

The first thing I’d suggest to those of you who might be thinking I don’t like fantasy! I’ve never read fantasy! I’m not even sure if it’s Christian! would be to consider how you could approach one of the above topics with a Christian world view.

This is a good place to bring up the subject of magic. Good, well-meaning Christians disagree on the subject of magic in writing, and I don’t want that to become a side issue here. If you are uneasy depicting magic in what you write—don’t do it. If you are not, and you believe that you can write a story involving magic that maintains your Christian world view—go ahead and write it. Whichever side of this issue you are on, please don’t judge the Christians on the other side, and don’t bring that conversation onto this thread. Please. Please.

I have written very little fantasy for the Writing Challenge, but I did write one that was full of Dr. Seuss-like characters that taught a lesson in forgiveness, and one featuring a leprechaun who outsmarts his captor (If you want links to any of those stories, just ask).

Keep in mind that Challenge Entries need not be overtly Christian, as long as they are wholesome and acceptable to a Christian reading audience.

Here are some things to keep in mind when writing Fantasy:

1. In fantasy, the writer has to create a whole new world. Within that world, she has to determine the culture, the political structure, the geography—all of the things that have shaped her characters. But in only 750 words, it’s nearly impossible to do all of that without telling, telling, telling—and then to also have enough words left to tell a story. World building is in the details, so you don't have to be overly elaborate, just enough to give a sense of the world. In your setting, include details of weather and how it affects belief systems and powers. Also include colors and shades of colors to make your world come alive.

2. As with many challenge entries, the best idea is often just to tell a very small story. Don’t attempt to depict an entire war between unicorns and centaurs, for example—just tell the story of one small character within that war.

3. You’ll want to give your characters non-contemporary names, but don’t make them totally unpronounceable. I edited a book (for a non-FaithWriter) that took place entirely in a fantasy world, yet its characters had names like Emily and Scott. That just didn’t work for me—but if I encounter a story in which the characters are named Sgaskh’det and KhurLtxun, I’m going to stop reading pretty quickly.

4. Even though the setting of your story may be wildly different from our present reality, the characters and the lessons they learn should be relatable. Think of universal themes in literature: finding love, overcoming difficulty, fighting an enemy, growing up…you could even think of an entire NOT fantasy story on one of those themes. Then figure out what detail you could change to put your story into the fantasy category.

5. Since many fantasy stories tend to have a medieval-ish setting, often the writers use a writing style that is somewhat florid and old-fashioned. This is fine; it’s what’s expected in the genre. Be sure that you do this in a way that’s still readable for contemporary audiences. And if your characters speak in ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s, do it right. It’s grating to read something like “Thee artest goingeth to the fair, aren’t thee?”

6. Establish a specific parameter for powers/magic/special talents, if they are present in your universe. Know what makes them work--and what makes them stop.

If you’ve got lots of time, you might want to check out this free online course in writing sci-fi and fantasy. I haven’t gone through the whole course, so I can’t vouch for all of its content, but what I read seemed very good.

HOMEWORK:

Link to a fantasy story that you’ve written. If you do this, PLEASE don’t just provide a link. Tell us something about your writing process, so that we can learn from you. OR

Ask a question or make a comment about something in this lesson, or about fantasy in general. Do you like fantasy? Why or why not? OR

Talk about fantasy that you’ve read or seen on television or the movies. How can fantasy be good, effective, or powerful literature?

I admit that fantasy isn’t one of the genres that I often read. Those of you who love fantasy—have I missed anything important in this lesson that you think fantasy writers should know?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby Sparrow » Sat Oct 18, 2014 4:50 am

Great articles, Jan, both here and the sci-fi one.

I wonder where the line is between just fiction and fantasy. I've written a couple of stories where I made up the culture and the names, but nothing in it was incompatible with our real world (such as "The Bridge Between the People"). Is that just regular fiction, you think?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby RedBaron » Sat Oct 18, 2014 7:57 am

One source I use for names for things is this website, it's a fantasy name generator. :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby RedBaron » Sat Oct 18, 2014 9:41 am

I wrote this one awhile back, The Bride Price, and is probably one of the most favorite things of mine I've ever written. It is set in a medieval kingdom, a typical fantasy setting, yet without magic. It is an analogy in fairy tale form.

The Unusual Squire is another typical fantasy setting, and something I still hope to expand on. It's a young girl wanting to make her way in the world, despite her position in life as the king's daughter. There isn't any magic in this portion, but as the adventure was going to unfold, it would be a good vs evil. Hopefully kind of Narnia meets Mulan lol.

The Prayer Garden is another take on fantasy, in that some of the characters are talking plants :)

One of the things about not being someone who reads Fantasy (or SciFi - added this there, too), like I said last time - it's easier for you to come up with fresh ideas because you haven't read everything out there lol.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 5:48 pm

Sparrow wrote:Great articles, Jan, both here and the sci-fi one.

I wonder where the line is between just fiction and fantasy. I've written a couple of stories where I made up the culture and the names, but nothing in it was incompatible with our real world (such as "The Bridge Between the People"). Is that just regular fiction, you think?


Good question, Amy. Since there isn't really anything in there that fits the most definitive criterion of fantasy (elements that are not possible in our present reality), I think it's just fiction. But as you say, it's not a crisp, black and white line--stories regularly span the borders between fiction, science fiction, and fantasy.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 5:50 pm

RedBaron wrote:I wrote this one awhile back, The Bride Price, and is probably one of the most favorite things of mine I've ever written. It is set in a medieval kingdom, a typical fantasy setting, yet without magic. It is an analogy in fairy tale form.



I'm glad you mentioned this: fantasy is a GREAT vehicle not only for analogy, but for allegory, which can have a very spiritual message.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby RedBaron » Sat Oct 18, 2014 7:55 pm

glorybee wrote:
RedBaron wrote:I wrote this one awhile back, The Bride Price, and is probably one of the most favorite things of mine I've ever written. It is set in a medieval kingdom, a typical fantasy setting, yet without magic. It is an analogy in fairy tale form.



I'm glad you mentioned this: fantasy is a GREAT vehicle not only for analogy, but for allegory, which can have a very spiritual message.


Maybe I meant Allegory.... ;)
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Oct 18, 2014 9:57 pm

I am interested in how entries featuring ghosts or vampires would be viewed. My question might also apply to witches, but I don't have any ideas for entries featuring witches at the moment. :)

As I see it, vampires are merely folkloric icons. Regarding ghosts, I thought that they were meant to be allegorical. However, I understand that others might view things differently.

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby glorybee » Sun Oct 19, 2014 9:41 am

Cinnamon Bear wrote:I am interested in how entries featuring ghosts or vampires would be viewed. My question might also apply to witches, but I don't have any ideas for entries featuring witches at the moment. :)

As I see it, vampires are merely folkloric icons. Regarding ghosts, I thought that they were meant to be allegorical. However, I understand that others might view things differently.

Cinnamon Bear


My answer to this question will be very similar to my answer to Shann's. The use of vampires, ghosts, and witches would probably upset some people but not others. How you handled them is what would determine if it's within the "Christian world view" required in the contest rules. I think it would be very problematical if you had an actual person dying and coming back as a ghost, or having a ghost of a dead relative speak to a character.

But as you said, these creatures aren't necessarily that different from fairies, ogres, and trolls. They're all made up creatures. Your decision, then, is if you're willing to bother a few readers. And as I told Shann, if you're doing it right, all writing should potentially make a few people feel just a tad bit uncomfortable.

Would love for others to chime in on this, in a thoughtful and amiable way. Are some imaginary creatures more acceptable than others? Why or why not?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby huffy » Sun Oct 19, 2014 12:34 pm

Having read all the above posts, I am even more intrigued than ever to have a go at it.
I was actually wondering this afternoon about haunted houses and so forth. My grandparents told us wonderful yet quite eerie stories about houses they lived in where there were "ghosts".

Would it perhaps be possible to turn one of these stories into a story of my own?
Very interested to hear your opinions.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby glorybee » Sun Oct 19, 2014 1:54 pm

I've been giving this some additional thought since my last post. Creatures like ghosts, vampires, werewolves and the like and settings like haunted houses typically fall under the "horror" genre. As such, they might be considered off topic by the judges. There is overlap between horror and fantasy, but it is perhaps more difficult to write horror with a Christian world view.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby oursilverstrands » Sun Oct 19, 2014 2:30 pm

Please forgive because this has absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand. I just couldn't help but note that Cinnamon Bear from Massachusetts has the same avatar as Huffy from South Africa.
:sofa

I tried my hand at Humor this last Writing Challenge (boy was that a leap of faith), but this topic is even more daunting for me who still struggles with writing good fiction-which leads me to my questions.


Jan wrote:But as you say, it's not a crisp, black and white line--stories regularly span the borders between fiction, science fiction, and fantasy


To Amy's point, when I read the definitions for fantasy, it sounded a lot like fiction with a few exceptions like appropriate names and "out of this world" aspects. So as I think understand it, isn't all fiction unreal and therefore fantasy/make-believe, and you have to add a few more elements to it to make it super unreal? The Wizard of Oz is an all-time favorite of mine. I suppose that's an example of fantasy? But what genre would it be...Folklore, Fairy Tale, or none of the above?


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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby RedBaron » Sun Oct 19, 2014 3:12 pm

lish1936 wrote:To Amy's point, when I read the definitions for fantasy, it sounded a lot like fiction with a few exceptions like appropriate names and "out of this world" aspects. So as I think understand it, isn't all fiction unreal and therefore fantasy/make-believe, and you have to add a few more elements to it to make it super unreal? The Wizard of Oz is an all-time favorite of mine. I suppose that's an example of fantasy? But what genre would it be...Folklore, Fairy Tale, or none of the above?


Fantasy typically has to have something that isn't the "norm" of our reality. So The Wizard of Oz and fairy tales are for sure fantasy. Folklore could be, depending on how it is told. But general fiction, that sounds like something that COULD really happen to someone is not considered fantasy.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby glorybee » Sun Oct 19, 2014 6:24 pm

Shari answered that exactly as i would have. Make-believe, fiction, and pretending are not "fantasy"--at least as a literary term. In everyday speech, one might say, "my granddaughter has an active fantasy life" when she's pretending to be a ballerina, or, "I have a fantasy of one day winning the Nobel Prize for Literature." But stories about those things would not be fantasy, because the meaning is more specific in its literary definition.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- FANTASY

Postby RachelM » Mon Oct 20, 2014 1:26 am

Thanks for this great lesson, Jan! Fantasy was one of my favourite genres before I became a Christian. I haven't read any (aside from some books that I've read aloud to the kids) for 17 years. I'd forgotten how much I loved it! I'm excited to try my hand at writing a story for this week's challenge.
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