How should I approach writing low fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Peregrine, Jun 18, 2017.

  1. Peregrine

    Peregrine Lore Master

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    My fantasy is set in pre-modern time in fictional feudal, imperial, nomadic and tribal states.

    It is a low fantasy.

    There are creatures such as dragons and dwarfs, but there are no orcs, humanoid gods and elves for example.

    I have only 4 humanoid species.

    There is no physical presence of gods/god and magic absolutely does not exist (or almost).

    Real world natural laws apply to this fantasy world as well.

    I have only one supernatural or magic thing in my fantasy, the undead.

    The undead are corporeal living corpses, but they can not be skeletal.

    If I decide to remove undead, my fantasy would be completely magic-less.

    I am currently not sure whether to include undead or not. The reason why I am not sure is because I can not explain how does one become undead and how undeath is spread.
    Should I include undead or not?

    How should I approach writing very low fantasy?

    And how is it different from writing high fantasy?
     
  2. Ruru

    Ruru Journeyman

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    From what I understand, the major difference between high and low fantasy is that high fantasy is set in an entirely created or new world: something that the author has constructed. It has its own physical rules (different from Earth) and tends to to be heavy on creatures and races.

    Low fantasy is generally an alternate view of Earth, with many of the same traits that we see around us, but a few differences. For example Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus, set in modern day London where all the politicians are wizards who summon demons to do their bidding. The main physical rules of Earth apply, but we have the addition of wizards and demons.

    You've said you're working in pre-modern times, is this Earth? For low fantasy that seems to be the biggest question. My guess is that you approach low fantasy by imagining the creatures you want to use (your dragons, dwarfs and various humanoids) as part of Earth in the time period you are using (our history of Earth being of course immaterial). Dragons is a nice easy one to a degree, being such a large part of Nordic culture to begin with they are almost already written in.

    Hope that helps a bit on the low/high fantasy thing? There are many different sub genres to, and stories that just don't fit anywhere. One question, why does it need to be low fantasy in particular?

    As to the undead, I guess including them comes down to the question of: does the story need them? What they are for in the story line will dictate a lot about how they come to be.
    If the story does need them, then decide how they are created. Do you want them to be a disease, spreading uncontrollably and becoming an ever growing threat? Are they slaves, witch crafted into animation for high paying feudal lords to do their dirty work? Are they mechanizations created by the dwarfs? Are they corpses hosting larval dragons, incubating the growing creature within until they are able to burst forth fully formed? Largely I don't think low fantasy restricts you from any of this, so long as it remains within the rough confines of Earth.

    Hope that's helped!
     
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  3. Peregrine

    Peregrine Lore Master

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    When i wa young i did not care whether fantasy was high or low but now as a adult i have a preference for low fantasy and a disinterest in high fantasy.

    The undead are not slaves of anybody, they are independent and have their own lichdom. Yes undeath should spread in my world, though not like a virus pandemic.
    The undead could be the "orcs" of my world, i mean bad guys.

    Its not historical fantasy, it takes place in a fictional world with fictional lands.
     
  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Just write it. But there must be magic in the world for a lichdom with true undead, or a hefty suspension of disbelief. Getting rid of or keeping it is entirely upto you. Worrying about high/low and anything else is kind of pointless unless there is a particular genre expectation and/or conventions that must be met... see Romance, Thrillers. I don't see where low fantasy has an expectation of this sort, because low and high and all the subgenres blend all over the place.

    I would add, once you go to a no magic world, and it's a totally fictional world, I see no point to it as a reader. Keeping the undead gives the story reason not to be on Earth, as far as I'm concerned.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    Gormenghast, not only a seminal fantasy work but an achievement in English literature.
    Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword.
    Many works of Guy Gavriel Kay.
    KJ Parker (the Engineer Trilogy-amazing).
    etc.

    What is the point of a story? To entertain and/or inform, I suspect, for most people. Can be done with or without magic.
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    You asked what is the difference between low and high fantasy. Then you mentioned that now you're an adult you prefer low to high fantasy. This leaves me puzzled. How do *you* tell the difference?

    That aside, I'm not sure what it means to approach writing. As Night's Domain says, just write it. If you publish traditionally, your agent/publisher will tell you what genre it belongs to. If you self-publish, you can get feedback from your betas or editor. Who knows, maybe you'll invent a new genre!
     
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  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    I've seen the real world versus invented world distinction before, and I don't care for it. I think a lot of people, including many writers, look at the distinction between high and low fantasy in terms of differences in prevalence of magic, scope, character moralists and so on.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    This was for me personally, as a reader. I have not and will not read those. I wasn't speaking for the world, LOL.

    I tried reading Gormenghast, I couldn't stomach it. Magic or no.

     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    Yes, but I'm curious as to why. These stories couldn't be set in the real world--they don't fit into it. Since they need an invented world, that's what the author does. But you're talking about the "point" of a story. What point does the story gain when it is placed in an imaginary world AND given magic that it doesn't have without the magic?
     
  10. valiant12

    valiant12 Mystagogue

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    Maybe you should use orcs.
    Undeads are too magical for a world withouth magick.

    Classical Dragons have six limbs , are very big and they breath fire. They aren't realistic and that make them cool.
     
  11. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    My entertainment value. Point might not be the right word, there well could be a point, but I like an element of magic and mystical... although it wouldn't necessarily have to be "real" it could be a belief. I've a finite time remaining and I am ridiculously picky on my reading list. If its called "fantasy" I want that element. Same as if it is a "thriller" I have expectations. In magic-fantasy, I don't want wand wielding twits and "magic schools", I loathe them, in particular if it mimicks a modern school setting. I also despise "magic words" that can end my reading right quick. A magical education more like a religious setting, I'm good with. Magic could also be replaced with religion, the mystical. Now, on the flip-side, I'm also not fond of books that take place in the modern real world and have magic. Old world and magic? Okay.

    Now, I've read some interesting stuff on Gormenghast and "magic". And, is it really another world? Or just a mythical place in our world? From the little I know, that's left uncertain.

    Naturally, there are potential exceptions to all rules.

    And I don't read anything for the pretty writing. Pretty doesn't cut it for me. Rothfuss writes well enough (although I think many over rate his prose) but he tortures me and a lot of people I know with his storytelling.

     
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  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    My opinion is to use whatever is necessary to the story.

    What is the point of the undead? What purpose to they serve to the story? Would the plot change if you replaced them with wolves or lions or aliens? If the answer is no, then consider why they are even there in the first place. All elements of a story must be there for a reason. A reason that serves the plot.

    What is the point of the dragons and dwarves, what purpose do they serve to the plot?

    Why four humanoid species? What purpose does it serve to the plot?

    High Fantasy does not mean "copy Tolkien". If there is no reason to include orcs and elves then don't. Invent your own creatures. But they must serve the plot.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
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  13. Peregrine

    Peregrine Lore Master

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    When you saw the word lich you immediately thought a undead magician. Well its not, a lich does not have to be a magician. The lich is not a magician, he is just a king who is immortal, that is why he is a lich.

    He does not even have a phylactery, what you might imagine him to have.

    I called him lich because he is immortal king because he is undead, nothing else.

    You did not read it right, I did not worry whether the fantasy was high or low because I know I will write low fantasy and only low fantasy, I just wonder how is it different from writing high fantasy, what are the main differences in that.
     
  14. Peregrine

    Peregrine Lore Master

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    When you saw the word lich you immediately thought a undead magician. Well its not, a lich does not have to be a magician. The lich is not a magician, he is just a king who is immortal, that is why he is a lich.

    He does not even have a phylactery, what you might imagine him to have.

    I called him lich because he is immortal king because he is undead, nothing else.

    You did not read it right, I did not worry whether the fantasy was high or low because I know I will write low fantasy and only low fantasy, I just wonder how is it different from writing high fantasy, what are the main differences in that.
     
  15. Peregrine

    Peregrine Lore Master

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    Orcs are magic to me as much as undead.
     
  16. Peregrine

    Peregrine Lore Master

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    Why do I need a reason for every single creature such as a dragon? If I like it, I use it.

    The undead may serve the purpose of a common and demonized enemy similarly to the orcs.
     
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    Well, if a world has no magic, what's to distinguish it from something like a science fiction story? I mean, if dragons and the like exist, they could simply be different life forms that evolved on a different planet. Lots of scientists (and SF writers!) have imagined that life could evolve in very different ways on other planets. With the absence of magic, then this world could conceivably be considered another planet in our own universe.

    And that's okay as far as I'm concerned. In other words, I wouldn't care whether it's called fantasy or SF that just happens to be located entirely on a low-tech alien world. Chances are good my own brain would interpret a world with dragons as "fantasy," just from habit, hah.

    Of course, if unexplained and weird things happen that seem to break science, then I'd also assume some kind of magical scaffold exists even if that magic is never mentioned, described, and goes unused by the intelligent species on the planet. So, it'd still seem like fantasy.

    Anyway...as for the undead....I could imagine having such a race in a SF novel. It could be kinda part of the life process, i.e. have an origin in the biology of the species and evolution of that planet. Creature has three life phases:

    1. Lives
    2. "Dies"
    3. Is reborn in some way as the cells are altered, DNA is altered, by whatever tiny organisms handle "dead" cells on that planet.

    —Or some variation of that. It'd be a bit like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Don't those caterpillars turn into goo within the cocoon? Then they rebuild the body.

    Now, if your "undead" race doesn't have a first stage of being a living being, per se, it could still have some other first stage. Or maybe the first stage and the last stage are very similar, with only small differences. Someone from another race might think of these undead as coming in two varieties, without knowing why, when they are really seeing mixed groups of these two stages.

    Edit: Incidentally, this could also explain the immortality of the lich king. He's the only one capable of going through that rebirth process multiple times, or an infinite number of times.

    Edit#2: As for how this "undeath" is spread...basically same sort of thing. Essentially, there are other organisms in the biosphere that cause it; the "undead" race may be living in symbiosis with these organisms (as we all do, w/ thousands of varieties in our own bodies), and maybe when they touch or bite others, or whatever, the organisms are transferred and begin genetically altering the victim to make the victim subject to the death/rebirth cycle. Something like that maybe.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
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  18. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    No, I did not immediately think that. Undead means magic of a sort period, period. From your description I wouldn't any sort of magician. Liche magicians are D&D crapola anyhow. I don't buy any psuedo-science stuff to explain the undead. Of course you can use sciency explanations.. FV's idea of a race, ok, but spreading? meh. In the end, I'll call it magic but you define it as you want.

     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
  19. psychotick

    psychotick Dark Lord

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    Hi,

    I wouldn't worry about the distinction between high and low fantasy here. The question is really how what magical elements there are in your story effect the other elements of it - the plot, the world build and the characters. For eample you've mentioned dragons - are they real? Do they fly and breathe fire? If so your world build changes. Suddenly you have cities with watch towers built of non-flammable materials - slate roof tiles, and no open topped structures. You also likely have people who worship dragons. Or do dragons mostly stay curled up in their caverns for centuries at a time, and so you have areas where people if they are smart, don't go.

    For the undead - do all the dead get up? Or only some? Why? And what solutions are there? If the only solution is fire, ie turning the dead to ashes, every funeral will be a cremation. If the dead can be safely interred as long as the proper prayers are spoken - you have a religion and gods ready made for you - Arkay from Skyrim since you mentioned this in the other post.

    Take each magical element and ask yourself - how will this affect people living in this world? After you've done that you can worry about how it affects the plot. For example is taking a shortcut through a tomb such a clever idea if the dead really do get up when they're disturbed.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  20. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Mystagogue

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    I agree, just write it. If you need the undead for your story then include them. They'd certainly add conflict and ramp up the stakes :) Good luck!
     
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