Why I Don’t Do Fantasy

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.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

CG depiction of Gollum created by Weta Digital...

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.


8 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Do Fantasy

  1. Pingback: Camp NaNoWriMo Day 1 | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

  2. To much to say to agree with this without paraphrasing you. I’ll pick the one point of technology – imagine if Andrea had decided to do internet dating instead of finding someone through the newspaper! Even subconciously, I think the entire era/setting of the Time, Stopped Trilogy grows from my want of lack of technology, but still a modern life. It wouldn’t be as fun to be a real Austenian period piece, but neither would a real 2010 give me what I desire from my plot.
    I wish I could write modern-day with better panache, though. It’s ironic that the stories I’ve written as modern-day have never reached as far point as the ‘fantasy’/speculative fiction I have written. EZME is on editing/rewriting hold; L.I.L.Y. is ont first draft hold; even The Agnetha King Mysteries Trilogy is somewhat on hold for editing and writing the third book until I deal with WTCB this…summer.

    • Good point. I hadn’t even thought of it as ‘newspaper dating’.
      Aha! Now I understand why you set it in a parallel universe (besides the time-travelling). Yes; I quite see that.
      ‘Becoming One’s Self’, though, is based around internet identities and virtual messaging. And that worked well, though I don’t suppose you count it in your repertoire of novels. Plus it’s not finished, as the non-modernday ones are… Yeah, okay, forget that. It may just be ironic coincidence, and nothing to do with ‘ganache’. [Edit: nothing to do with ‘panache’. (And I don’t usually think of food at all, much less its sugary extremes.)]
      Best to concentrate on one project at a time, and the longer it takes, it may be supposed the time is well-spent on fulfilling all possibilities of perfection.
      The moon was bright last night.

      • Well, yeah, but the time-travel could go anywhere. I’m guessing you don’t watch the modern-day Sherlock series? I only mention this because I found clever the modern update of the resolution to The Hound of the Baskervilles with technology (Fun fact: I’m actually reading The Hound when I have time at the moment). After all, the time-travel as in machines is minimal in – and in the sequel, Zara’s time-manipulator (though this is never meant by the characters to be a time-MACHINE, if you get me) is set in 2056, so, if one were to look at it with a contemporary eye, it is more plausible (however, reading back, I’d like to point out that the cause-and-effect implied in that sentence had no influence on the machinery or the date of the sequel).
        Ah, so you’ve read [bits of?] Becoming One’s Self? I did think of that when I said I dislike stories with technology. It works, but that’s because the story revolves around technology. And, hey, I might call it a novel, were my novels not the stories I’d like to publish. Besides, the only reasaon it’s stopped is because Trish vanished off the face of Protag. And, to contradict myself, text-communication is used rather a lot in G+M – though I’d hope to find a different way of formatting, especially as, in one Protag ‘chapter’, a quarter is simply the messages. Consistency, Alex! In fact, on page three [single-spaced] of the rewrite, Andrea is on the phone twice – once to Alexia to tell her that she didn’t get the new job; the other to Lucas’ voicemail.

        PS. I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence that you’ve not read much fantasy and have not written much.

      • I’m afraid I don’t. (I don’t know what the difference might be, but ‘time-manipulator’ sounds more sophisticated and novel.) But yes, I was about to comment on the idea you’d have to change the date (or something else) to put time-travel on a realistic Earth with the same history.
        I read it about a year and a half ago, I think. Impolite me for not commenting, again… Very true, hence the redundancy of my point! Indeed, the texting makes it the more realistic to a modern-day audience. Hehe 🙂
        (can’t think what else to reply that sounds remotely intelligent)

      • Well… *closes mouth* It’s complicated. When Professor Leigh created the time-manipulator, it was more of a theoretic device for the capturing of time, as opposed to USING time. I don’t think anyone ever suspected it could travel. Besides, he set a specific pass limit of 90 MPH for the reason that he doubted any student would ever raise the power over 100, his own average capture speed. When Zara disconnects the Phonemic Driver [I need to rename that, but to what I can’t think], she breaks the mechanism inside. In a way, Leigh created a faulty machine – but, then, as I said, it was not his intention to TRAVEL with it.
        Damn, I need to post the Almanac on Protag.
        Literarily, you’re correct: the time-machine sounds less novel-like than time-manipulator. Ironic, really, that the term was created with Wells’ novel of the same name.
        Thank goodness I’m not looking for a realistic Earth, then!
        Yeah, I guess that’s good. I’ve just got to leanr to pull it off.

      • *agrees on complicatedness* Okay, you’ve effectively lost me. It’d probably be okay in context and more detail, though. And in the story I expect I’d just accept it, especially since it’s in a parallel universe – and congratulate you for devising the science of such a thing, as few writers do, but makes it more plausible (even if the reader doesn’t wholly comprehend said science in a scientific way). Did I just make it sound a whole lot more complicated? Sorry.

      • Hehe, well, it’s actually only ever explained in the Almanac, in the slightest of details. Leigh is a one-appearance character. As for science, I couldn’t stand it if I didn’t know what they were doing. I was stuck at, like, chapter four, when I was on holiday, because I couldn’t decide whether electricty should be part of The Institute. I couldn’t move past that until I created machines to deal with it.

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