Fiction Craft: Writing Fantasy Part II
edited: Wednesday, November 04, 2009
By Robert L Ferrier
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, September 09, 2002
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Part two of an article on keys to writing fantasy novels.
Fiction Craft: Writing Fantasy (Part Two)
Imagination fuels fantasy. Authors paint worlds that cannot exist, driven by characters born in dreams.
Although fantasy offers a universe of premises, writers can follow a template forged over 12 centuries of storytelling. Fantasy characters -- and those of many other genres -- fall under several archetypes:
The hero offers a vehicle for the story, which should begin with a threat. For example, In Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" Frodo Baggins must escape riders approaching the Squire in search of the One Ring.
The hero then decides to embark on a quest -- the story goal. Tolkien, for example, sends Frodo on a perilous journey (spanning three books) as he tries to return the One Ring to Mount Doom.
A wise old man or woman advises the hero on the quest. Dramatic functions of the mentor include -- but are not limited to -- teaching, gift-giving and leading the way. In Tolkien's "The Hobbit," the wizard Gandalf issues a "call to action" to Bilbo Baggins. Gandalf leads Bilbo and a band of dwarves on a journey to take gold from a mountain guarded by the dragon, Smaug.
At some point the hero may be separated from the mentor and must continue the journey alone.
III. Threshold Guardian
As the hero attempts to enter a special world, he will meet a gate keeper who blocks the way. For example, in Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere," Richard Mayhew must venture beneath London's streets into a shadowy world of sewers and abandoned subway stations. Yet as he tries to gain entry, he's threatened by the Lord Rat-speaker -- Gaiman's first threshold guardian.
Often a previous act of kindness -- for example, Mayhew saving the life of the Lady Door -- helps the hero pass through the first threshold.
IV. Shadow (Villain)
As with most commercial genres, an enemy opposes the hero's quest. For example, the Dark Lord Sauron opposes Frodo throughout "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
The Shadow owns overwhelming advantages -- such as the ability to create magic and chaos. Make the Shadow skilled, crafty and ruthless.
V. Herald (Messenger)
Often in early chapters, the hero struggles through obstacles on sheer willpower. Then a herald arrives, acting as a catalyst to spark the story to a new level. This character appears throughout mythology. For example, Zeus used his son, Hermes, as a messenger.
This archetype can change both its physical form and loyalties. He is the "ally" who betrays trust, the love interest who shifts moods. Thus, they add suspense by complicating the hero's quest.
Avoid Common Mistakes in Building Characters
Characters drive all stories. Avoid mistakes by remembering to:
1. Create Original Characters
Build a detailed resume for each major character. Work from the inside out, using your passions, experience and dreams. Construct characters that only you can create. Especially in fantasy, readers may feel that they've never met characters like these, yet they should relate to them at a basic level.
2. Choose a Significant Story Goal
Without something crucial at stake, your story dies in Chapter One. Make sure the hero's quest falls under at least one of the categories discussed in Georges Polti's book, "The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations."
3. Build a Back Story
Give each character a back story that includes reasons for them to act a certain way under pressure. You may not have to include these milestones in the story, but you know they exist.
4. Differentiate Characters
Imagine that your readers are looking at characters through an opaque pane of glass. Therefore you must tag your story people, physically and emotionally, so that readers recognize differences. Paint with broad brush strokes.
For additional insight on writing fantasy I highly recommend a book by story analyst Christopher Vogler, "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters."
In summary, fantasy archetypes appear under various guises in every genre of commercial fiction. Fantasy authors, however, enjoy greater latitude in building the archetypes, which can appear in any form as long as they serve the story. Stretch your imagination beyond "that which can never be," and have fun.
Campbell, Joseph. "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." Mythos Books. (Available from various Internet sources, including Amazon.com.)
Polti, Georges. "The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations." Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1977.
Vogler, Christopher. "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters." Studio City, CA.: Michael Wiese Productions, 1992. Second edition (1998) also available. E-mail order address: (mwpsales.mwp.com).
Williamson, J. N., ed. "How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction." Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1991.
Web Site: SynergEbooks.com
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|Reviewed by Tim Horton (Reader)
|Wow, I loved these two articles, particularly since I love Fantasy. I've been in the process of a fantasy novel for quite some time (only on chapter 4 i think), and have stopped writing it for more than a year. I need some inspiration, I have pages and pages (and even a detailed map) of the geographical features, characters, places and monsters that are involed, as well as history.
The guidelines you have written have helped a little, most of which I knew a fair bit about.
I would love to send you the first 3 chapters and have to critique it for me, as some parts I know myself are a bit tedious to read.
If you're willing to help just drop me an email, or a msg at my den, thanks.