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Which is better? Absolute fantasy worlds, or "Secret Underbelly" fantasy worlds?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mythical Traveller, Nov 28, 2013.

Which is better?

  1. "Secret underbelly" fantasy worlds

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  2. Completely fantasy worlds

    84.2%
  1. Mythical Traveller

    Mythical Traveller Scribe

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    I'm tossing up on what type of setting to use for my next story and on that note, I wanted to get a feel for what people here think is the better type of setting for a story?

    Do you think the "secret fantasy world existing within our own world" kind of setting is better, where an average Joe from our world is suddenly thrust into fantastic situations that their world generally regards as myth? (e.g. Harry Potter, or the Twilight series)

    Or do you think that completely fantasy worlds, e.g. Lord Of The Rings, make for a better setting?

    Both have pros and cons. The "secret underbelly" setting makes the protagonist more relatable for the reader, and allows the exposition to flow more naturally if there's a visitor to this fantasy world who needs an explanation himself.

    On the other hand, a true fantasy world gives you more free reign as an author. You get to write all the rules of your setting and you don't have to worry about any incompatibilities that your story environment might have with our world.
     
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  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    If I could, I'd vote both. They both have their merits.
     
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  3. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I'm with Ireth. I vote "yes."
     
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  4. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I gravitate towards absolute fantasy. Like you said, there's more creative freedom that way. Furthermore, I really have to ask why magic and other supernatural phenomena really have to remain "underground" in worlds based off our own. Why can't they float out in the open?
     
  5. Mythical Traveller

    Mythical Traveller Scribe

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    I think the standard excuse is the "Salem Witch Trial" one. All us muggles are bound to be afraid of anyone who is different, and therefore we will inevitably seek to exterminate them. So beings with magical powers or other abnormal traits have to hide themselves away from us, lest they risk a genocide of their kind.
     
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  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Depends on how closely tied to the real world it is. Magic isn't really open and out there in our world, so the closer you want to make it like the real world the more hidden you have to make the magic.
     
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  7. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    The setting is less important to me than the skill and the story told. Either of the settings you have here could make for a wonderful story, or a flop, depending on a number of non-setting factors.
     
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  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'll go with absolute fantasy since that's what I mostly read. I do like the ideas of many urban fantasy stories, but I can't say I've read enough of that kind to have an opinion about it.
     
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    There are two common justifications for "secret underbelly" worlds, and I've never liked either.

    Option 1: People don't want to believe. They pretend the magic they see isn't real. But in real life, people say all the time that they saw ghosts or aliens or Bigfoot. Super-strength skepticism just doesn't seem realistic to me.

    Option 2: Magic doesn't want to be found. I'm too pro-science to be happy with this. An entirely new discipline to research, one that could she'd light on processes that aren't currently understood, and a few folks want to keep it to themselves because "the world isn't ready"? Who gave them the right? (This gets worse if they're trying to escape prejudice--ignorance breeds fear when the truth comes out. This gets inexcusable if monsters are killing people and knowledge might help them protect themselves.)

    I do like how El Goonish Shive handles it. In that setting, the secret isn't that magic is real, but that almost anyone can use it. Magic is much easier to use than to resist, and it can do absolutely horrible things, so knowledge is limited to try to minimize the number of extremists and psychopaths who can access magic (at the price of making those psychopaths harder to defend against.) One character's long-term goal is to invent an easy method of resisting magic so as to reduce the damage psychos can cause.

    Edit: I should also mention my usual justification. In many of my settings, magic is so rare a magic-user can go her entire life without meeting another like herself. In a setting like that, it's a bit more plausible that magic wouldn't have been confirmed (though it would probably have been seen a few times.)
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2013
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  10. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Absolute fantasy.

    So many urban fantasies I'm reading lately follow the same tired old pattern: young loser kid with no redeeming values whatsoever discovers (a magic sword, a teleportal, that he's half-dragon, that he's a wizard, that his D&D game is real, that he can step into a videogame) and suddenly becomes awesome for no adequately-explored reason.

    I'd be all over the "Secret World" trope if it's done well. I'm just not seeing it right now, at least not in self-pubbed fantasy and not really so much in the big leagues, where it's conspicuously absent.

    Absolute fantasy seems, to me, to be where the really groundbreaking stuff is. The Secret World trope had its moment in the sun and I think it'll be awhile before we see something really novel and breathtaking come out of the genre. I believe we will literally have to wait until the people who grew up reading Harry Potter are old enough to come up with their own ideas. I give it another 20 years.
     
  11. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I grew up with HP (got the first book when I was 10; I'm now 24), and I'm writing a "portal fantasy" of my own, wherein a young woman is taken forcibly into Faerie by the villain. The heroine is nothing special (only a bit unusual in that she firmly believes in the Fae when few others do, given the time period), and she doesn't become special over the course of the book. I certainly hope it doesn't take 20 years for me to get published and my book to be a hit.
     
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  12. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    I have a very curious setting in my Joan of England trilogy, which could be described as a secret underbelly world but it's not exactly like that:

    The story takes place in Earth, but it's a parallel Earth (in some other universe) and it contains little and curious differences when compared to our world. The year is 2007, and there is this huge, mysterious black castle not far from London...

    The United Kingdom and the entire world knows that very unusual things happen inside the castle, many other strange happenings take place in different parts of the planet (always connected to the castle!) and the general public is sure that magic and interdimensional travels are involved.

    There is Magic, the girls that attend the castle are well-known and feared and there are fantasy monsters, and that's not a secret for the normal world... However, what exactly they do at the castle and what their real intentions are constitutes the real mystery of the story.

    I think that both Total Fantasy and secret underbelly Fantasy worlds have merit, both can be the setting for wonderful stories.
     
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  13. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    I don't think these assumptions are valid.

    You've got both in Ordinary Worlds - Harry in Privet Drive (our world) and Frodo in the Shire (fanstasy world). Both work equally well.

    Even if you disagree, you can just outline both scenarios and see which works best for your story.
     
  14. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I don't think LOTR really counts as an "ordinary world -> fantasy world" transition story. Frodo's homeland, the Shire, may be perfectly normal for HIM, but it is still part of* a fantasy world populated by elves, dragons and trolls, etc. If he had begun his journey in 21st century Earth, and been plopped down into Arda to be burdened with the Ring, that would be an entirely different story.

    *Edited to clarify. The Shire is not a world unto itself. ^^
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2013
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  15. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    The Shire's definitely Ordinary World.

    Anyway, I think Mythical Traveller is making the distinction here:

     
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Neither. Everything is a matter of taste and execution.

    I usually prefer a good secondary world more than an alternate earth, but then I loved Harry Potter. I also really liked the way Jim Butcher did the hidden magical world thing in the Dresden Books (and hated his secondary world of the Codex Alera books). So *shrug*. There's nothing inherently better about either.
     
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  17. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    That's exactly my point. You claimed that LOTR is akin to Harry Potter in that the hero moves from the ordinary world (i.e. the "muggle" world, devoid of magic) into a fantasy world of witches and wizards. That isn't the case. Frodo is and always has been a part of the "absolute fantasy" world he lives in, and there's no transition from the "muggle" world to be made. The "ordinary world" as part of the archetypal hero's journey arc is a different thing, and I think you're confusing the two. /2cents
     
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  18. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    For my part, I prefer to write heroes who start out already having some skills and other advantages under their belt. Coming-of-age narratives about adolescent weaklings not only grow tiresome, but as a writer I don't particularly enjoy having to delay the part where the heroes start showing off their awesomeness until the middle act. My guess is that those narratives are only popular because, at least to inexperienced young people, they're the most obvious means of bringing about character change.
     
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  19. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    He's transiting from the hobbit world.
     
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  20. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    My point stands. Frodo's ordinary world is still a piece of the fantasy world he lives in, and he knows it from the start. Harry, if we're keeping with the comparison, has to learn of his wizard heritage, and by extension the entire wizarding world, when Hagrid shows up. Also, more to the point, LOTR is an entirely fabricated world (unless you believe it to be a mythological retelling of our world's history), and the Muggle world of HP is clearly our own.
     
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