Brigid Gorry-Hines On Fantasy ~ Guest Post II

23 Feb

Guest Post Number Two YEAH! This one is coming to you from a fellow teen writer (but not for long) Brigid Gorry-Hines. She’ll be talking to us about Fantasy writing. Thanks for the post Brigid. You can find her awesome blog link at the bottom of this article. Enjoy her wisdom! 😀

When I tell someone that I write, often the response is, “So, what do you write about?”

I doubt that anyone would want to know all the details of every last one of my stories. So, usually I can only say something along the lines of, “Oh, you know … lots of stuff.”

Then comes the question, “Well, okay. What genre do you write?”

“Um … Fantasy, mostly,” I say, and I cringe inside upon speaking the words. But why? Why do I feel ashamed to tell the truth? Why do I dread saying that F-word?

Well, let’s think. When I say “fantasy”, what image immediately pops into your head? Let me guess. Unicorns? Fairies? Elves? Hobbits?

That’s the problem. The stereotype surrounding fantasy is that it all takes place in some faraway mystical land, where dragons fly through the sky and animals talk and sexy elves dash around in the forest wielding swords.

And yes, of course, there is plenty of fantasy like that, and it appeals to many people. I’m sure some of it is executed quite nicely. But it’s not what I write.

First of all, it’s hard to put a label on something as complex as a novel. Putting novels under categories is almost like segregating people by race––you judge them based on what’s on the outside, but you know nothing about the inside. A book could have the best writing, plot, and characters in the world … but if it’s categorized as fantasy, people might suspect that it’s just another “Lord of the Rings” rip-off.

So here are the important questions: What is fantasy writing, and why does it matter? (Or, heck, does it matter at all?)

I remember getting into a debate about this a few years ago––when someone told me that fantasy has no literary value whatsoever, and that no fantasy book ever written has any degree of merit; it’s not about real life, so it doesn’t teach readers anything.

At first, I wondered if this was true. Maybe I was immature, writing stories that involved magic and parallel universes. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize … Fantasy can be just as powerful and thought-provoking as realistic fiction. It may not be real, but it can be believable. And there’s a huge difference there.

“Realistic” means that it could happen in real life. Something “believable” might not be realistic, but the question is: Can you get the reader to forget that it’s not realistic? Will the reader be so immersed in the story that they don’t think about whether it could truly happen or not?

In my opinion, the key to any good story––regardless of genre––is an excellent cast of characters. What initially connects me to a story is the main character. Does the narrator “sound” like a real person? Does he/she have realistic emotions, thoughts, relationships? Is his/her voice compelling and original? If so, then it doesn’t matter what the genre is. Readers are human beings. So if your characters display believable human traits, anyone who reads it should be able to relate to them––whether they’re humans, wizards, fairies, vampires, or talking mushrooms.

The next step is to be careful in your world-building––and this is where many fantasy stories go over the edge.

In my mind, there are two types os fantasy settings:

The first is the fantasy story that takes place in our world, but under the surface. The regular world is still a part of the story, but there are fantasy elements lurking in its darkest corners––hidden dimensions, magical beings in disguise. (This is the type of setting in series such as Harry Potter, Mortal Instruments, Percy Jackson, etc.)

The second type of fantasy setting is one that takes place in a universe entirely separated from ours. Magic is a common practice and out in the open––although not necessarily accepted. (This is the type of setting in series such as Lord of the Rings, Graceling, Tortall, etc.)

The problem with the first kind is that the fantasy world has to function realistically within the normal world. The author has to give careful thought as to how the fantasy world is able to exist without being discovered. How do the people within the fantasy realms hide themselves and their powers? What happens if someone from the outside world finds out about this hidden fantasy world?

The issue with the second type of setting is that it can get too wrapped up in itself. A lot of “epic fantasy” books get too wrapped up in their settings––describing the scenery, incorporating a hundred elf languages, going into detail about the world’s history. I’ve seen many books like this that made me lose interest, because it was more like reading a textbook than it was like reading a story.

In any fantasy story, the author can’t dive too deep into the fantasy aspect––otherwise, the story is completely detached from the real world and is therefore more difficult for readers to relate to. And this is the fantasy stereotype––that fantasy has no importance, because it is too severed from reality.

Personally, this is why I prefer the first type of setting. It’s easier for a reader to believe that there are hidden fantasy elements in the world, rather than having to imagine an entirely new universe.

Crazy stuff happens in real life every day, so why should fantasy be considered so strange? Besides, who doesn’t love the idea of their being hidden worlds all around us? It’s a matter of personal belief, of course, but I think there could very well be other dimensions or something of the sort. Whenever I dream, or imagine, or write a story––whether it’s fantasy or not––I believe what I see in my mind’s eye. Just because it has no physical form, does that make it unreal? Pablo Picasso once said that everything you imagine is real … And I wholeheartedly agree. Whether something is true or not––if you can see it in your mind, and believe it even for a limited period of time, it becomes real to you.

And that is why fantasy is important. Although it may not take place in our everyday world, it’s not silly or fake; it’s just looking at life from a different and more creative angle. The characters still act and react like real people, the themes still apply to the real world, and the story should still make readers contemplate and question the human condition.

So here’s hoping that I’ve cleared away some fantasy stereotypes! Good luck to all you writers out there, in whatever wild places your imaginations have taken you to!

(c) Brigid Gorry-Hines



3 Responses to “Brigid Gorry-Hines On Fantasy ~ Guest Post II”

  1. wovenstrands February 25, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    Great topic…I enjoyed every bit of it. Very informative. I’m honestly proud to say that the type of genre I’m interested in reading is Fantasy. And now that you’ve explained the two types, I agree that the first type is my favorite, not because it’s hard for me to imagine another world, it’s because I can relate more, which brings me closer to the story.
    I have a great idea for a fantasy book that I will soon work on developing but I’ve never wrote fantasy before so this post will definitely help.
    Thanks Brigid Gorry for sharing.
    Ally thanks for posting 🙂

    • nkeda14 February 25, 2011 at 4:44 am #

      Glad you liked it. Hope you get a chance to check out her blog!

  2. wovenstrands February 25, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Yes I definitely will 🙂

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