Friday, 4 May 2012

The Quality Of Fantasy

Let's be honest, coming up with ideas for a novel is as easy as going to the bathroom while constipated (ya, not a pretty picture). Far worse than this is doing so for the fantasy genre. In an age where everyone--and I do mean EVERYONE--has seen it all, almost nothing is original and, in most cases, derivative. So, the most obvious question is raised: has the quality of fantasy diminished?

Well, Mr. Alec Austin seems to think so. Some of his points are spot on, while others are quite subjective--I thought such a subject would arouse a rather thought provoking debate.

(Mind you, his post is a bit old, but it raises some good questions).

Formulaic Series" . . .it is dominated by series, and that most of those series are formulaic and of low quality . . ."  

Epic Fantasies (EF) are so large that it is almost impossible to stuff everything into one book. EFs are constructed upon four common ideals: world, magic, characters and conflict. It would take a very large tome or an insanely skilled writer to define and describe their world effectively in a single novel. Of course, almost everyone thinks they can write a great EF, and are often the ones who litter the bookshelves with horrible and mundane clones.

I read somewhere that Mr. George R.R. Martins 4th book was so large--about 1400 to 2000 pages--that the publisher refused to publish it, stating: "...we could not make a profit from something that huge." As a consequence, he had to split the book into two separate novels.

Most epic fantasy novelists would love to write one book, but sometimes it's the publishers who insist that there be a squeal and, of course, you all know the reason for this. ($)

"The traditional response to why much epic fantasy is bad is that the genre is exhausted, with each new book or series drawing on the same patterns as its commercially successful predecessors . . ." 

I am wrapped in ambivalence on this one. Almost every EF title out there is some clone of LOTR. Take, for instance, the Inheritance Cycle. For his psychic dragon he drew upon the concept of Brent Corville's Jeremy Tatcher Dragon Hatcher (an excellent read BTW) and critics often refer to the "Tolkeinesque" feel of the novel. I am elated that he is such a young writer (GO CHRISTOPHER!), but most writers nowadays intertwine their own preconceived ideas (preconceived because almost nothing is original) and add that to the concepts of old.

Don't get me wrong, there are those who simply write based on trends (Twilight clones, DaVinci clones, and soon the Hunger Games mimics) in an effort to emulate the same results. But you're not like that are you? No! Of course not. You're the kind of person who spends (7) years developing an idea, honing your craft, revising, learning about the business and ensuring your totally kick-butt concept is as good as it can be.

Or am I the only one?

Definition: " . . .stories set in secondary or invented worlds which are distant or otherwise distinct from the world in which we live our everyday lives. To this definition we add the adjective epic . . ."

He's right, stories that intertwine everyday normality with that of a make believe world is not "epic" it is simply just fantasy.

Common Failings" . . .every work of literature must be judged primarily, though not exclusively, by its own laws . . ." 

Just because the main focus of your book is not emotionally driven, need not mean that you exclude the quintessential human attributes which will make the reader connect with your story.

" . . .this is not the same as saying that the author of an adventure story is relieved of the obligation to portray emotionally convincing characters because characterization is not the main focus of their work . . ."

Language"There are two primary ways in which authors can misuse language in epic fantasy. The first is to have the narrative voice slip into a tone inappropriate to the subject being discussed. The second is to have the characters speak in a way that is inappropriate to their character and circumstances." 

I surmise he is referring to those really hardcore epics like Tolkein or Martin where the entire story begins and is entirely consumed by the magnitude of the fantasy world. For us MG Fantasy Novelists, we have to keep the language suited to our readers. (i.e 8-12 year olds) Using the aforementioned knowledge of 'Common Failings' we must include characters that relate to our readers--whether they be from our world or another, so in some instances we are forced to make a fairy say "cool", or an elf say "wicked-sick!" Of course you must have a good reason as to why they would know these words.

Setting". . .unless the story being told is a fairy tale or fable, the world it is set in should be firmly based in some combination of history and myth, not merely copied from the world of another writer or vague memories of high school history classes . . ."

I'm sure anyone who knows the EF genre will agree.

Character" . . .no matter how fascinating the world a story is set in may be, if the characters it concerns are uninteresting or underdeveloped, the story will be a failure . . ." 

If you read the tons of reviews surrounding the Harry Potter franchise you will come across a person venting how connected they felt toward the books' characters. This, apart from the relatable settings of the book: school, rivalry, games and dramatic friends are what made HP a HUGE success. As for twilight? Well. . .let's not go there.

This need not mean that one should go and write a story about magic and vampires in schools--seeing that a learning facility is the relative factor--; its already been done, first of all, and you are neglecting that it's not just a school what makes these books successful, but the relationships of the characters and the: "oh I can totally identify with that!" mantra which make a book, well, good.

Mr. Austin goes on to talk about Narrative Structure and Familiarity and Strangeness but these two are highly subjective and I rather let you decide.
If anything, let this post show you that there is more to a good book than what he describes. Dare I say, a good book consists of lots of love, lots of sweat and lots of magic--something that's hard to derive or pilfer.


icedgurl trek said...

trekking your blog!!! i remember my sister who loves to draw anime and some comic characters with fantasy.


DRC said...

This was an interesting read...thanks :)

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I read George R.R. Martin. A Dance With Dragons and A Feast of Crows were one book that got split into two. And for the record, both suck. But Winds of Winter has to be amazing. It just has to. And for the most part, I agree with you. It's all money making ka-ching.

ryan field said...

Interesting post.

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