Thursday, July 19, 2012

13 7 Tips for Crafting a Believable Fantasy

A few weeks ago, we talked about the ingredients of a well-written mystery. Today, we're taking a look at what it takes to craft a fantasy readers can believe in. By definition, fiction includes many details that the writer creates. The tricky part is getting your audience to suspend disbelief. This can be even more difficult when writing fantasy. By earning the trust of the reader, you can weave in fictional elements that won't make them question the journey you're taking them on or the world you've built.
Here to help us break down writing fantasy is a master of the art-- author Leah Cypess. After selling her first story (Temple of Stone) while in high school, she gave in to her mother’s importuning to be practical and majored in biology at Brooklyn College. She then went to Columbia Law School and practiced law for almost two years at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, a large law firm in New York City. She kept writing and submitting in her spare time, and finally, a mere 15 years after her first short story acceptance, she sold her first novel to Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins). If you haven't read her novels MISTWOOD or NIGHTSPELL, you are seriously missing out. She currently lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband Aaron, a researcher and doctor at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and their three children. You can visit Leah’s website or find her blogging at The Enchanted Inkpot, or on Facebook and Twitter.

Tip #1: Make a world that's believable. Even though it's fantasy, that doesn't mean you can just make it up without considering rules and consequences. Your readers are willing to suspend disbelief and accept that the world follows these new fantasy rules, but that means *you* have to follow those rules.

Tip #2: Using tropes... I happen to love tropes, but they have to be used carefully. On the one hand, you don't (necessarily) want to have a stereotypical elf lifted straight from Tolkien, because people who have been reading fantasy for a long time might find it boring. On the other hand, if you call a creature an "elf" but it acts like a vampire, all you've done is confuse the reader for no reason. I like to stick to the basic trope but give it a twist...

Tip #3: Combining the real world with your fantasy world. Even though some people look down on it, I think there's some value to the Tolkienesque medieval-England-ish fantasy world: people are familiar with it, so you don't have to explain every single thing from scrap, which gives your more time to get on with telling your story. (Of course, this only works if your story fits that world; sometimes, it's better to create a new one.) I like to ground my world in as much historical reality as possible, since nothing is quite as realistic as real life, and to only diverge when it's necessary for my fantasy story.
Tip #4: Explain the world without info-dumps.” From the Enchanted Inkpot blog, author Hilari Bell:

“The best solution is to allow the information to come out in small bits, during the normal course of your plot. Include only the information the reader really needs to understand the action.”

Thanks, Leah! Excellent advice. Here are a few additional considerations—
  • Anchor the unfamiliar with the familiar via metaphors or descriptions.
  • Even if the characters are unconventional, they still have to feel human.
  • Show, don’t tell” has never been more important. Let your reader discover the world you’ve built.
Can you think of other considerations when crafting a fantasy? What are some of your favorite fantasy books and what makes them work? What annoys you when reading a fantasy? Please share to comments!

Happy writing,
Marissa

13 comments:

  1. Hi Marissa,
    Great post! Leah made some really good points I think. I hope I have managed to do pretty much all that she suggests in my debut series Witchblood where the supes live among regular humans. I'm going to look up her books now :-)

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    1. Thanks, EmmaM. Leah is awesome and SOOOO humble. She seemed genuinely touched that I asked her for her insights and she writes BEAUTIFULLY! You will love her books. Good luck with your series!

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  2. Love these tips! I only have one fantasy manuscript, and it's in the revision pile right now...I think you may have just given me inspiration to dig it out!

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    1. Ha, Jess, I'm glad we could be of service. Isn't it funny how the right moment comes along to pull out an old ms? I had the same thing happen to me this week. Happy writing! ~Marissa

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  3. Great tips Leah. I write fantasy so they're really helpful. Love your books.

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  4. Natalie, it seems like it's always good to get the reminders and of course, hear some new tips, too. Leah's awesome!

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  5. Awesome tips, Leah. I don't write fantasy, but this helps me with another project I'm working on.

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    1. Love the crossover ability of so many genre-specific tips. Thanks for your comment, Stina!

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  6. Creating the world's always been a challenge to me. Most writers get into fantasy because they like building the world, and that results in too much world. For me, I got into it because of two different reasons, and I don't really enjoy building the world. For many years, I was actually scared away by fantasy because I had visions of giant notebooks of world building, all before I got to the part I wanted to do, writing the story. The result is that I almost always do too little. Where you say 'Don't info dump,' everyone in my critique group keeps finding places where I need to add more.

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    1. Interesting perspective, Linda. I can honestly say I've had the same reservations about writing a fantasy. I think Leah hits a great point when she says you can ground your story in a time/place where most readers have prior knowledge that fills in many of the gaps so you're not doing all the heavy-lifting. As the writer, it's hard to know what those may be, though. Best of luck to you and thanks for commenting!

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  7. Working on my novel Axiom has been a real adventure for me as it's not the type of work I usually do (I usually hang out in the supernatural world based in current times...)and world building is a little alien to me. Luckily my husband is a HUGE fantasy reader and was able to give me a lot of help in this area and I have come to love world building. I do tend toward #4 as my go to safe zone so I need to be really careful. I was lucky enough to get into the 5 page critique here this month and it has been so helpful to me in learning the "less is more" thing! It will still be a challenge for me but I'm so thankful to be aware of it and get great tips and advice from you all!

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  8. You forgot one: your characters are not going to find the part of your world where they live up to be strange or fantastic. They need to respond to the familiarity, basically, because for them, it is. This is part of how you draw your readers in, admittedly.

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  9. I am now very intrigued and would love to read Ms. Hopkins' YA novels.

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