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Why do you write fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Jabrosky, Jan 7, 2013.

  1. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    My interest in writing fantasy did not stem from the same roots as the genre's other fans. I have actually never found most mainstream fantasy---the stereotypical variety with elves, orcs, dragons, and castles---all that fascinating. Nor do I even like magic, gods, or the supernatural in general. If I ever do invoke supernatural elements in my stories, they function as little more than plot devices or substitute for modern conveniences in pre-modern settings. If I could write a given fantasy story without any magic at all, I would do so enthusiastically.

    The main sources of my inspiration for fantasy lie less in mythology or fairy tales than in reality. Growing up, I read informative non-fiction more frequently than any genre of fiction, and this still holds true today. Reality has a way of surpassing anything from the finite human imagination in sheer wonder and beauty, especially because we can actually experience it for ourselves. This is why I have always loved dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals far more than mythical monsters like dragons or unicorns. The very factuality of these spectacular creatures' existence captures my awe in a way no storyteller's inventions can match.

    Ironically, as much as reality can overwhelm us with its surprises, other times it can disappoint us instead. Going back to my dinosaur example, I never liked living over sixty-five million years after all the dinosaurs other than birds died out. I could appreciate their fossilized bones in museums, but I could never see them in the form of living, breathing creatures. Therefore I could only fantasize about a world in which dinosaurs never suffered from mass extinctions, a world where they walked alongside humans as in all those old caveman movies.

    For me, the joy of writing fantasy does not come from recycling other writers' inventions like elves or dragons. Instead I prefer to take reality and modify or mix it up just enough to make it better fit my personal liking. Sometimes I enjoy creating whole new worlds, cultures, and creatures, but even then I tend to build them up using components from reality. Some may regard my process as creative laziness, but I personally perceive it as customizing reality. The real world may have its imperfections, but it also possesses a lot of beauty. What I want to do as a fantasy writer is to iron out the former and preserve the latter.

    Anyway, what are your thoughts on this question?
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Unlike you, I did read quite a lot of fantasy when I was younger. But I quickly got into Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels so there are certain elements I read first as as a subtle and affectionate parody and only later straight.

    I write fantasy because it's what I've always enjoyed reading, because I feel it's got more scope for imagination without being limited by reality - for example, I'd far rather a situation in which a character doesn't know about something that happened a month before but a long way away which impacts on the plot than have them find out through news or an email or even a letter promptly and reliably delivered. It's more fun having readers know things the characters dont, and having characters act on what they know at the time when if they knew what the readers knew they'd do something completely different. Plus I like the idea of things before our own time, of a time when the modern technology we take advantage of every day, some of which we barely even notice it's so basic, like clean running tap water or central heating, news media and more entertainment than we can handle, don't exist.

    I don't tend, in general, to use magic or mythical beings, though I do sometimes, like with Ailith's Gift. Other times I use magic as a background force, not an active power or one that can be manipulated by humans but rather something that exists and influences the world out of human control. But I prefer to focus on the human stories.

    This might predispose me to historical fiction - especially with my ancient history background - and while I've yet to write any historical fiction it's not something I have dismissed, but mostly left alone because then I am restricted to write by the rules of the society in which it is set, the culture and time period and what was possible, plus it requires a depth of knowledge I don't really have of any single time or place. But one of my side projects at the moment is the history of a particular Greek city, so it might be that when I finish researching it I'll be quite able to write historical fiction, perhaps flavoured by fantasy in terms of the actual beliefs about the gods and prophecies and whatnot having an actual (or apparent) effect on the world, based in that city in any of the time periods I'm looking at.

    But mostly with fantasy it's the freedom, the writing without real world limits and the ability to create worlds for my story. The ability to set stories in such worlds that feature noble heroes and great causes is also pretty cool, far more fun that the mundanity of what is possible in the world which is real.
  3. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    Why would I write anything else?

    That is only half a jest. I invent things to entertain myself, and if I'm entertaining myself I have no reason to remain bounded by the real world. This entertainment stems from a number of angles: "What If" scenarios, the development of interesting characters or cultures, or even justification for really really cool events. I find the exercise to be something like putting together a machine (that's the engineer in me). Given a semi-specific goal (Character X does Awesome Thing Y), can I architect a convincing story that both justifies and sets up the goal? Obviously, the architecture itself varies widely in detail: from a few hundred words to multi-volume series (which contain and satisfy the conditions for many different "goals"). If I don't put it together correctly then the machine (story) doesn't work. If the machine doesn't work, it's not nearly as much fun.
  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I love that fantasy mixes action/adventure, military/combat, political intrigue, and romance. Fantasy also is a good fit for my favorite story line: young person discovers they have great power and goes on to save the world.
  5. It's tricky to answer, because I don't think I have ever not written, or tried to create stories in some way. One of my earliest memories was being given a writing book in first grade and being told to make a story, so I drew a green monster and wrote a 3-4 sentence long story about it. Later I started drawing my own comic books.

    I think I was generally encouraged to use my imagination growing up - many cartoons I saw had imagination as a theme and Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes was kind of an idol for me. As a result, I realized early on that my brain contained the power to craft and sustain whole realities out of the shapeless aether. I held the reins of entire worlds - titanic battles raged at my command, heroes triumphed and villains fell as I willed it, great boons and eternal glory were rewarded the bold and the noble! Mine was the gift of ABSOLUTE POWER! o_O

    ...Of course, this was all a bit much for an ten year-old kid to handle. So I kinda went sort of insane, I guess? In fact, I'm not sure I ever really recovered. >_>

    But I read a lot, and then I immitated what I read. That's kinda the way it has always been. I gravitated towards speculative fiction in general simply because it is what fiction becomes when you apply a minimum of restrictions to your creative process and I gravitated towards fantasy in particular because there were a lot of swords in fantasy and as I'm sure you all know by know, I have always had a well-documented obsession with swords.

    And well, here I am.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  6. Zireael

    Zireael Troubadour

    Well, I can only echo what two people said before me:
    Also, I do read a lot of books - mostly novels, especially fantasy and historical ones. So, it comes natural to me...
  7. Darkblade

    Darkblade Troubadour

    My work tends towards the contemporary edge of fantasy (or light-cyberpunk when I do SF). Mostly because they are the more socially acceptable cousins to my real passion, the superhero genre. I am in love with the idea that the impossible is out there right now hiding along the edges of our world waiting to be exposed to the world.
  8. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I consider myself a punk writer first and foremost, but I try not to bog my writing down in contemporary politics. Fantasy provides a good venue to criticize large ideas or trends without explicitly targeting any real-life groups. In this way, I hope I can stealthily introduce ideas that might offend my readers if broached directly.
  9. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

    When I was younger, about fifteen, my math teacher got sick and we had a substitute. She didn't know what she was doing, so she asked us to write a little story. I started writing a story based on King Arthur (which is one of my fundamental obsessions) and just rolled with it. While I write mainly horror and westerns, I still love fantasy on a primordial level.
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings' were the first major fantasy works I read. I spent a lot of time pondering the various figures, situations, and magic in both. I began asking myself - 'who made these magic weapons?' because it seemed like some of them had been made by mortals. I began wondering about wizards outside the nazgul and Gandalfs order, because here and there I saw hints of such.

    But my main reading interest back then was science fiction, beefed up with science classes and a lot of science reading.

    When I did get back into fantasy, for a long time I went by a sort of maxim of Niven (at least I think it was him) - that he didn't have any serious qualms about the use of magic, as long as it was consistent - a sort of weird science type deal. I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that AD&D magic fit that bill, and unfortunately used it in my early stories.

    But more on topic: I see fantasy as a means of exploring 'impossible options' - what if magic existed? what if there was a non human race capable of strange things dwelling among us? And so on.
  11. Wanara009

    Wanara009 Troubadour

    Growing up in Indonesia, I don't even know what "Lord of the Rings" are until the Peter Jackson movies came around. So I get exposed to fantasy mainly by the Mahabharata and Ramayana as well as a few folktales like "Si Pitung". Because of it, I actually read a lot of fantasy books. However, my fascination with science (obtained by watching Gundam and Doraemon as a child) always make me unable to suspend my disbelief at the mention of magic. And then MechWarrior and Front Mission franchise came along, pushing me further away from fantasy.

    Like ThinkerX, Fantasy is a way for me to explore impossible options such as magic and fantastic creatures and how character would live in their presence. However, I never really leave my roots as science-fiction fan. My magic is bound by the laws of physics (i.e.: Conservation of mass/energy) and the creatures are based on my experience on the Speculative Evolution genre. I'm also a big fan of aesthetic and convention of past eras (one reason why I love MechWarrior because they blend archaic conventions with ultra-modern hardware) so there's that too.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  12. gethinmorgan

    gethinmorgan Scribe

    I write fantasy because I can do things in this genre that cannot be done elsewhere.

    Few rules bind fantasy. While the other genres have prerequisites to be named so, all fantasy has to do is create a sense of wonder, beyond the actually possible, beyond even the sword&sorcery/ hack&slash staple. Once upon a time (!) fantasy was the only fictional storytelling in the world that wasn't history.

    Fantasy is immensely wide genre, containing every myth, legend and folklore, and arguably a few holy books that have fallen out of use. Fantasy can be entertainment, or allegory, deep and meaningful, or some kick-ass special effects. Fantasy can use the language of dreams, or uninhibited imagination - see Kafka - and stand without the structures we know to be real. It demands a total suspension of disbelief - not like the other genres, which only want a little disbelief, because they have to 'keep it real'. Fantasy is for the real hardcore Imaginarianists.

    Can you tell I've had to defend the genre during my degree? I didn't win a single convert, but it made me a rabid Imaginarianist! :furious:

    So the question isn't why I write fantasy - but how can I not?
    Jabrosky likes this.
  13. Merc.p

    Merc.p Acolyte

    Hi there,
    I feel the same about dragons and orcs. I don't deny being a tolkienite by any means, but I veer more towards epics. I love the thrill of the fantasy world delivering what is already known, in a new environment, or even vice versa. I see that the fantasy genre really pushes all towards the same extreme, your R.A. Salvatore (wizards of the coast/Forgotten Realms) business, or more recently, re-writes of long loved fantasy tales. I have loved some of these, but the idea of pursuing a journey, in a world or place not so well-known to yourself or the character that really drive me through a book. Then, when everyone knows the world, you've had time to set your stakes high and go all in.
    I write fantasy, (entering point of crazy, be prepared) because of the 60 plus hours I spend with the public every week, the least I can give myself is a place to escape when I get home. Being able to come home and be in my own domain, just kind of releasing everything I've built up over the day is like, adrenaline rush accompanied by relaxing day on the beach. It lets me write, and do what I wish without filters of everyday life, or hundreds of years of pre-established culture to be considerate about. If one of my characters in my head is speaking giberish, it needs no further explanation than if I can't understand it, no one else gets to either.
  14. Sheriff Woody

    Sheriff Woody Troubadour

    Love for the "time period" + hatred of research = I get to make stuff up! :D
  15. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    I tried reality but it just didn't stick!

    Cheers, Greg.
  16. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I'm more ambivalent about the value of research. I don't like how it delays the actual writing process, and sticking to historical accuracy can feel constraining (the same for excessive world-building and outlining).

    On the other hand, I feel that I need to know at least a few details about my subject matter in order to write about it competently. Say I wanted a vaguely Roman flavor for my story. How could I write anything in a Romanesque setting if I know next to nothing about ancient Rome beyond maybe a couple of Hollywood stereotypes? Granted, we are talking fantasy in this thread, but to keep the flavor I need to know a few things about my source of inspiration.

    There was once a time when I didn't have those scruples. A few years ago on another message board I once a short story about a Germanic gladiator fighting in the Roman arena, but didn't do that much research into it. The resident history nerds threw a temper tantrum over my story, and that experience left a scar on me that still hasn't faded away yet.
  17. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Fantasy is my favorite genre for the reasons mentioned by previous posters. Its magical, beautiful, and there is a lot you can do with it in terms of imagination. So long as a realistic image of a fantasy world is given, the adventure and wondrous aspect of it is rather thrilling. I think readers just want to get lost and travel in their minds to a faraway place that holds wonder. In real life, we cannot do the same things as in a fantasy tale...that is what makes it awesome. I like writing fantasy because I find the whole concept of it beautiful.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 10, 2013
  18. Meteora

    Meteora Dreamer

    Because to me its either this or science fiction. Or modern times. I don't really have much love for other genres.
  19. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    After putting more thought into what I've posted earlier, I realize that the inherent creative freedom as mentioned by other posters explains my interest in fantasy better than anything else. I need to get away from limiting myself to Counterpart Cultures.
  20. Sheriff Woody

    Sheriff Woody Troubadour

    I, personally, don't consider this to be research because I truly enjoy learning about ancient civilizations. Shows on ancient Egypt and Greece occupied a frightening majority of my TV viewing when I still had cable. I watch such shows as others watch CSI or whatever else is on now (I don't even know) for fun. I watch shows on the middle ages for fun.


    I wrote many screenplays based in reality, but it didn't feel as though I was truly creating the world. It felt like I was borrowing it, and had to take special care of it for when I returned it to its rightful owner. There wasn't enough freedom for my liking. So I turned over to fantasy. Not a good genre for film, though (selling a fantasy spec is harder than licking your own elbow). Hence my transition to novel writing.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2013

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