EDIT: Reading back, this post seems narrow-minded and prejudiced, not to mention ill-informed. I still stand by my general disconnection from the fantasy genre, if not all the points outlined beneath. In my defence, I was about fourteen when I wrote this post.
I’ve never written a fantasy in my life. And, coincidentally, I don’t read much fantasy. There are a couple which will forever hold pride of place on my bookshelf, but these are few, and I’ve certainly never been inspired to imitate them.
We all know Twilight made werewolves and vampires popular, inspiring everyone to write fan-fics, zombie apocalypses and vampire romances.
Then there’s the other type of fantasy—the inventive fantasy, the traditional fantasy, the adventure fantasy, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And that seems to be coming back in.
But why can’t I get into that sort of thing? Am I just too lazy to think about all that faff, or is it something deeper?
There are arguments for fantasy, it is true. We readers like to escape, to immerse ourselves in other places, to dream and imagine and create… But sometimes we can escape too much. We can explore real life just as well by staying here than by going off somewhere else.
I know we can apply the philosophical and social comments in our stories to all sorts of situations, no less fantasy, and readers are supposed to recognise fantastical lands as places of dream-world. Yet still… My favourite stories are as credible as credible can be—real life situations, which could truly happen in my life or anyone else’s. A story doesn’t need to be anything more.
Plus, there’s less to think about. When I read fantasy, I feel bombarded by masses of information, lands, maps, languages, species… I feel stupid for not knowing this stuff inside out, as the author does. It’s too easy to overdo it, or even underdo it. I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t read enough of it!
I read a portal fantasy this month. The world was easily recognisable as a combination of Narnia and Middle-earth, though significantly dumbed-down for a childish audience. And the three children characters were frankly the least interesting, realistically intelligent or imaginative family I’ve ever read. They weren’t treated like characters; they were treated like ‘ordinary children’ who were really very unusual in their colourlessness. I was frustrated by how one-sidedly they were portrayed, and blamed it on the clichéd setting. The author evidently spent so much time developing their copied world, they forgot to develop the MCs.
I stick to the real world, and focus on things readers will recognise.
I like relevance—blatant relevance for the teenagers who aren’t craving to bury their heads in the sand and dream of illusory realms, but to be given a clearer understanding of the world around them and how to deal with it. Stories offer messages whatever genre they’re in, but that doesn’t mean your readers will know how to recognise the message, much less apply it.
Besides which, I hate the concept of magic in the mortal life. I’m not against paranormal, but I like things to stay realistic. Turning to magic to get my characters out of a sticky situation feels like betraying my imagination. Sound contradictory?
If you’re going to use magic, you’ve got to make it believable. You’ve got to set boundaries. Who can use the magic, to what extent, and in what situations? Don’t make some great scientific thing about it—just set simple rules, where all rules are essential to the overall plot (not just some sketch you could just as easily do without), and stick to them. It’s not that difficult. But readers get annoyed if you make magic an invincible weapon. Where’s the tension? Where’s the jeopardy?
In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien at no point makes it clear that Frodo and Sam will definitely return from Mordor alive, much less succeed in their quest. The black cloud of Mordor keeps the pages turning, because the hobbits are virtually defenceless without the rest of the Fellowship. We don’t doubt Gollum’s ability to smother them both, if he really wanted to. Middle-earth may be a place of strange and wonderful powers, but magic isn’t the be-all and end-all of the place, and it’s really the strength and courage of our heroes that saves the world. Magic should not be your get-out clause, or your small print in the contract. We don’t like those.
So I suppose all my reasons run together, but I’m sure it’s clear what I’m trying to say. Right now, it’s just not my thing.