Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Writing about Reality Is Boring

Eric Ellison explains:

The reasons fantasy fiction is read depend upon the individual holding the book. The same can be said about the reasons writers choose the genre; it varies upon whose fingers are at the ready to create a story. While we can attribute the more prominent reason of pure enjoyment for readers to pick up that copy of The Lord of the Rings, we can truly ponder why the author would choose to write in this younger vein of literature. The following are some possibilities of why they made the choice they did, and why you may want to try your hand at it as well.

Maybe it's the simple enjoyment of writing fantasy fiction, as is very noticeable in A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony. This story is about a character searching for his magical talent in a world of pure magic, which can allow for all sorts of fun to be had if approached from the right mind set. Anthony was obviously looking to have some fun and hopefully make people laugh when he started writing about the world of Xanth. Throughout the story he creates all kinds of puns, some bad and some good, which become widely available for him in this world. We've all heard that phrase "to sow your wild oats," but Anthony takes it and creates it in a literal sense for the main character of the book, Bink. The character, at one point in his many moments of reflection, thinks back to when he was 15 and decided to "sow wild oats" in his backyard. Well, as it turns out, in the world of Xanth this is actually a method of creating an oat nymph that can handle a young man's hormonal impulses. In addition to this we read about vicious "nickelpedes," food supplying "breadloaf trees," and "pill bushes" that can help an injured traveler. To flex the muscles of imagination this approach of unbridled creativity--where the "logical" constrictions of our world become unhinged--may be an excellent start for any writer.

On the other hand, some authors go with writing fantasy fiction for the opportunity to just create a whole new, breathing world, such as is the case for J.R.R. Tolkien and his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The nice thing about a place that is being spawned from the writer's imagination--opposed to non-fiction or other stories based solely within the reality we know--the author has free rein, at least to the extent that the events which occur do so within reason of the world within which they exist. Now, we may think, "But Anthony wrote some ridiculous elements in his stories that hardly seem reasonable"; however, Anthony was still consistent in his ridiculousness in creating a world that didn't contradict itself. While many fantasy fiction writers do create new worlds for their minds to play in, Tolkien was a true master in that he also ended up creating full histories about the world of Middle Earth. What becomes appealing to the reader is that for some this creates an opportunity to explore and/or escape from their own daily lives, among other personal reasons. This approach to writing may seem like a huge task, but it's a great way to build a great habit. The more you create in your mind about the history of a place or character in your story the more they will appear to be alive to your audience. With that backup knowledge about the who's and the what's, as an author, you’ll be more intuitive about interactions that involve those characters and places.

Over the years multiple writers have used literature to make socio/political commentary. With fantasy fiction, an author can reach audiences that might not readily approach the issues they wish to convey if they were presented in another form. One such case is the book by Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong. This book takes place on a planet that came to be inhabited countless years ago by ancestors that had the technology to accomplish interplanetary travel--technology which has, at this point, been long gone. McCaffrey tells the story of a young woman named Menolly on the planet Pern. In this world there are individuals that are called Harpers, bard-like instructors that hand down collective knowledge to each hold's (like towns) citizens--instructions like history, or how to farm or fish, and so on. Menolly is one such individual who is more than capable of accomplishing this task for the hold that she lives in. The problem is that within her hold this position has always been traditionally held by men. So as a result she gets mistreated in numerous ways to keep her from bringing "shame" to her father, the leader of the community, through breaking this tradition. The way the story is told has the effect of being a feminist statement in support of that movement in the '70s when Dragonsong was written. Instead of writing direct arguments about the inequality woman faced, McCaffrey took a side approach to bring awareness to all kinds of individuals, including younger readers. Today it would seem there are even more issues that need to be contended with, but they might not always get the attention from the masses they deserve. Maybe there is an issue you feel passionate about that isn't quite as recognized as you would wish; why not try using fantasy fiction as a means of clueing in more people about the problem?

Then there are books that take comedy, commentary, and creative freedom and roll them all up together. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, aims to be creatively hilarious, which it accomplishes perfectly, and ends up having some interesting things to say about us humans that can momentarily sober up the comedy--mind you, only momentarily. This story is about The Armageddon, the forces of heaven and hell, a devil and an angel joining forces to stop it, and a host of other characters. When the antichrist is supposed to be an 11-year-old child with the power to recreate the world in his image, the world would never expect what he dreams up. Everything from Tibetans digging tunnels through the earth and popping up in people's yards to space aliens that come to deliver "a message of universal peace and cosmic harmony an' suchlike" (205) but not knowing why they were told to bring the message makes for a very entertaining read. The commentaries on humanity and the world, aside from the major one that pokes fun at religious Armageddon, are slipped in almost without notice. After aliens give a "message" to a confused character they then act like intergalactic police and say to the character, after taking a CO2 reading that seems to be too high, "you do know you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don't you?" (205); in this moment some readers might find themselves stopping their laughter and seriously pondering the way we live our lives. There are many spots in the book that have this effect, but it's only a matter of lines before you again find yourself laughing out loud.

For each of these books and authors, the reasons I speculate on why they wrote those stories are only one in what I'm sure were a dozen reasons they chose fantasy fiction as the genre to express their creativity. Whatever their reasons, they obviously enjoyed it. So if you're thinking of taking up the pen, why not give your imagination a good exercise and spin a tale through the lens of fantasy fiction?

Works Cited
Anthony, Piers. A Spell for Chameleon: The First Xanth Novel. New York: Ballantine, 1977. Print.
Gaiman, Neil and Pratchett, Terry. Good Omens. New York: HarperTorch, 1990. Print.
McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonsong. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2003. Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print.

1 comment:

spyder said...

For each of these books and authors, the reasons I speculate on why they wrote those stories are only one in what I'm sure were a dozen reasons they chose fantasy fiction as the genre to express their creativity.

This sentence could really have used some editing.

The penultimate paragraph reminds me of an old Arthur Clarke story: the Nine Billion Names of God.