Thursday, August 20, 2009

And here's a not-so-little diddy for all you fantasy writers ...

More from SCBWI:
1) Ingrid Law (author of Savvy) is awesome. If you write fantasy (or if you want to) without a villain, check out her wise words.
2) Holly Black may be the coolest, and the wisest, person ever. If you write fantasy of any sort, definitely check out what she had to say.

INGRID LAW—Major Villains Need Not Apply: Writing Fantasy Without an Archenemy
• Fantasy elements are “gigantic metaphors for growing up and being human.”
--Fantasy can be a powerful took for addressing real world conflicts with metaphors that deal with conflict of the heart.
--In her book, Savvy, Ingrid's MC used her abilities/etc. to cope with heartache, confusion, and what people deal with in real life.

• Girls don't care for villains as much as boys do. If you write fantasy without a villain, you’re creating conflicts that everyone can relate to.

--Take an every day fear/worry, either one that you have or one that your MC has, and turn it into a metaphor.
--Mine: Fear = no stability/lack of consistency and unconditional love. Metaphor = my MC’s desire to have immortality—it’s forever, and he freaks when it’s taken from him. It reinforces the inconsistency in his life and his fear of never having stability.

• Be careful: don’t give children false hope with metaphor.
--Ground your metaphor, so that it’s fair to them.
--i.e., don’t let them think they can fix their parents divorce with the magical metaphor you create.

• Internal and external conflict—
--Internal conflict = conflict of the heart.
--The internal conflict still needs an external conflict that drives your character to make choices and discover new things about themselves.
--Don’t add a supreme villain just because you feel you have to. There are plenty of other ways to create external conflict without one.

• An easy way to show external conflict is to create a character opposite yours—good versus evil, or a character who just wants different things than your main character.
--A good antagonist triggers the MC’s internal conflict or brings it to the surface to be dealt with.
--Ask yourself: What is my MC’s internal conflict?

• Exercise: take the big bad wolf out of The Three Little Pigs—how can you still have conflict?
--My example: The 3 Little Cliques--3 BFF little piggies enter high school, where they learn that straw and sticks can’t sit with bricks.

• Things that thwart the main character to create conflict in a story =
1) Process/challenge of growing up
2) Loss, illness
3) Someone who wants something other than what your MC wants (i.e., differences between people)
4) Anything that will shake up your MC’s life, whether good or bad

• Examples of stories with no villains:
--Half Magic
--The Thirteenth Child
--Tom’s Midnight Garden

• Question: What type of fantasy might suit a conflict the best?

• Exercise: 1) Identify your age group. (2) Create a hero. (3) Where is your character? (4) List 3 personal battles your hero may experience in that setting, and add fantasy elements of your choice.
--My example: (1) Middle grade. (2) The drama llama. (3) At a zoo. (4)(a) monkey tortures the llama with LARP after the zoo closes; (b) the llama has a crush on a neighboring donkey—he creates a love spell in his water bowl; (c) the llama hates being stuck in the zoo, so he contrives a plot for escape involving his nemesis, Larry the Lion.

• Metaphor can be a huge exaggeration of things.
--In Savvy, Ingrid wanted to create a magical land w/o using the word “magic,” so it would apply to everyone.

• Note: Europe likes dark fantasy more than light, fluffy fantasy.

HOLLY BLACK—Examining the Strange: The Basics of Fantasy Writing

• When growing up, she “absolutely believed all of this [the fantasy world] was true.”

• Reading fantasy (and folklore) made her a good fantasy writer. “We build on the work of others.”
--“The most important thing is to read fantasy, including adult fantasy.”
--“Don’t reinvent the wheel; create a whole different kind of wheel.”
--Don’t just read fantasy; read widely. Bring all of those elements into your story.
--Read enough that you become part of the conversation.

• You can do experimental things in children’s lit, b/c it’s a “genre-less genre.”

• Literature lets us put on someone else’s skin.
--Fantasy doesn’t have to be any more escapist than any other form of literature.
--You can learn things in fantasy that’s harder to learn in realism.
--Fantasy actualizes (i.e., is the language of) metaphor. It gives readers room to think about their own issues/fears—e.g., anger/alienation—in a wider variety of ways than with realism.
--e.g., You have to put aside your blame for a monstrous feeling/being (b/c you can’t blame a werewolf for being a werewolf), and say, “Now what?”

• Be careful: look at your story and make sure your metaphors are ones you’re comfortable with. Your metaphors shouldn’t, e.g., imply racism
--Be aware of what stories you’re telling. Fantasy has real things to say about the world and about us.

• Fantasy has to create the sense of “the numinous.” It must be magical/strange.
• Fantasy = the combination of fear and awe (the numinous). Awe is what separates fantasy from horror.
• The numinous/awe gives you the sense the world is bigger, better, and/or stranger for having those things in it.

• “All novels are fantasy. Some are just more honest about it.”
--For fantasy to be successful, a fantasy reader needs to feel like he/she gets more out of it than he/she would’ve in a story based in reality.

• Language in fantasy:
--In Fantasy, language is important. Can’t have flat/inexact prose.
--Sensory clues are very important and can’t be vague.
--We have to believe in the fantastic when we’re reading—e.g., we need to believe an elf brought back a piece of elf land for all of us. You must convince the readers, when they’re done, that your fantasy world is a place they have been (fantasy resembles historical fiction in this way).
--Details make fantasy real, so it can be smelled, touched, and tasted in a realistic way.

• **The real stuff must be really real so we can believe in the fantastical.
• *Do your research, and a lot of it.

• Fantasy normally happens somewhere other than on earth, but not always.
--Regardless, the magical society and the magic itself has its own rules.

• *Work out the rules of your world.
--There are different types of logic:
1) Day logic = it works the same every time, almost like science (e.g., Harry flicks his wand and says a spell—same result every time)
2) Night logic = the rules are seldom spelled out and must work intuitively. This is much harder to write, but satisfying to the readers because it contains the numinous.

• Poetry is all about the language of the very specific moment.

• **On plotting/plot arc
--In fantasy, there must be 2 stories: a fantastical story, and a human story
--The human story starts earlier (e.g., king and queen; queen is in love with the king’s brother).
--The interaction between the fantastical story and the human story moves the plot forward. The resonance is between these tones and how they interact with one another.
--The human story is not a subplot, because it starts earlier and ends later. The fantastical story should always end in something personal about the MC’s life, not at the conclusion of the fantastical element.
--E.g., Does the king accept that his wife loves his brother and go out to fight the demon? If so, what happens if he survives the demon fight? The human story carries on after the fantastical story wraps up (the fantastical story, e.g., is killing the dragon—but can you think of any story that ends with the king standing over the dead dragon? There’s always a human story after that.)

Sorry guys. I know this was long, but I didn't want to cut anything! I hope you enjoy, and if you need clarification, let me know. I'll try my best! :)


TereLiz said...

Possibly one of the most helpful pieces I've ever read on writing fantasy, thanks so much, Jess!

Interesting how many of these we do intuitively, while others feel more elusive.

Thanks again for this great series of posts! They've been very helpful to me!

jessjordan said...

Tere: So glad I could help! I figured this would serve as payback for the award you gave me :)

Christy Raedeke said...

Incredible recap, Jess! These were two sessions I missed in LA and now I feel as if I were there. Thanks for posting!

jessjordan said...

Christy: You're very welcome! I hope my notes are as helpful to you as Ingrid and Holly were to me!