Tag Archives: Fantasy

What makes a piece fantasy?

23 Aug

I’m writing a submission for a fantasy flash fiction contest. Before I knew the publisher specialized in fantasy, I had an idea for a historical piece in the American West dealing with a boy riding a horse and encountering a rattlesnake. My solution? Make him on a mission from a Duke and have him encounter a mythical creature instead of a snake.

But it feels wrong.

It doesn’t feel like fantasy. It feels like a piece set on the Great Plains with a dumb made-up creature. I don’t write fantasy and perhaps it’s wrong to think I can take my historical piece and ‘make it fantasy.’ Perhaps I need to come up with a fantastical idea. But with a 500-word limit, it’s hard to think that anything too out-of-the-ordinary can be explained.

Maybe I need an established or commonly accepted fantasy setting. I’m watching Game of Thrones now so dragons instantly come to mind. I’m not quite the dragon expert, though.

Any advice, dear Reader? What are some generally accepted fantasy elements that might spark a new idea for me? I have a month to write this piece but I start school in two weeks and would like to have it done by then.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Library Writers’ Group: Fantasy

11 Aug

I feel like it’s been forever since I wrote a writers’ group post. I love being able to share what we talk about.

Before we started, we were going around and introducing ourselves when one man said something that took me by surprise. He said, “I don’t like female authors.” This blew so many of us away! What a gross generalization! We talked through it a bit more and we think he meant that he doesn’t like the kind of literature women tend to write (emotional stories about families and romances) and it led him to never give female authors a fair chance. A romance reader might say he or she doesn’t like male authors yet like Nicholas Sparks. Is there an author or genre you never gave a fair chance?

We spent the majority of our time discussing fantasy. Many times, fantasy stories come down to the classic battle of good versus evil. This happens much more regularly than in other genres. We looked at a list of common fantasy tropes, including:

  • Real world mythology incorporated
  • A secondary world
  • An appeal to pastoral ideals (pre-Industrial technology)
  • Magic and powers
  • Heroes and villains
    (Part of this list came from the TV Tropes website.)

We also talked about different types of magic, which I’d never considered before (Wikipedia give a pretty good overview).

A big element of fantasy involves world building and many times this starts from scratch. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a good example of world building for those who are not as eager to read high fantasy. I also see historical fiction as a type of world building in reverse. In historical, the world is already out there, but it’s up to me to find the details of it to bring a setting to life.

We talked about subgenres to fantasy as well.

  • Urban fantasy (city feel, city as a character like Batman’s Gotham)
  • Dark fantasy
  • Heroic fantasy (such as Beowulf and serial style series)
  • Magical realism
  • Steampunk (Victorian technology)
  • Dieselpunk (modern technology)
  • Supernatural
  • Slipstream (also called ‘weird’ fiction, turning the known world on its head like China Mieville)
  • Superheroes
  • Dystopian

I asked the obvious SciFi/Fantasy question. I’m told that there is a thin line but that it becomes more obvious when you consider hard versus low science fiction. Hard science fiction takes a more realistic approach to the technology that influences the plot while low SciFi needs a little more suspended belief to read, more like a fantasy novel.

We were able to end our time with a short critique. I’m looking forward to the next month and sharing what I learn again!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (4/5)

1 Jun

As much as I hear about Neil Gaiman and how much everyone loves him, I’ve never read any of his solo books. I read Good Omens, which he co-wrote with the late Terry Pratchett, but never any solo work. Once again, book clubs come to save the day with pushing me outside my comfort zone. Yay, book clubs!

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Summary from Goodreads:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

I didn’t know what to think of this book. It was good, I enjoyed it, but it was so short and so fantastical that I never got into it completely. I understand why this book is targeted at adults, but the content felt overly juvenile at times. I liked remembering what it was like to be a child and believe what you are told and trust things you cannot see. I liked the characters. I just never connected with them.

It’s hard to comment on the characters credibility because half of them were under a spell, and the other half were fantastical beings of otherworldly power. Old Mrs. Hempstock reminded me of my grandmother and made me so happy to read about. Lettie was the cool friend we all wanted to have, and Ursula was the evil babysitter everyone remembered. But there was a thread of magic to all of them that made them just unbelievable enough to not seem human.

Lettie was an obvious favorite. I loved her sly comments or refusals to answer some questions and her vast knowledge. Even though she was aged well beyond her 11 years, she was still a child in maturity to her mother and grandmother. She was caring when she didn’t have to be, especially to our un-named narrator. I would have loved to be her friend.

As is the case with a lot of fantasy works, I had trouble relating to the characters only because their lives are so different from my own. I’ve never had to use magic to trick my parents or had an evil worm in my foot or been stalked by hungry shadow birds. I can’t relate to this. What I can relate to is the feeling a child has that what’s going on around him seems magical and unbelievable and that it’s impossible to explain it to an adult. Adults aren’t ready to open their minds as readily to things that can’t be explained. I liked that Gaiman brought back this memory.

Neil Gaiman Image via the Huffington Post

Neil Gaiman
Image via the Huffington Post

I liked the scenes with Ursula. She was a great antagonist and embodied everything children remember hating about babysitters and adults. I liked the narrator’s reactions to her and that she was so evil in her manipulation that she was easy to hate.

I didn’t like the first time the narrator went to the Hempstock farm. There was a lot that wasn’t explained, and it frustrated me as a reader not to understand what was going on. I would have asked more questions than the narrator did because I’m not as trusting as a child.

Gaiman wants adults to remember what it’s like to be a child; to be trusting and confused and scared and innocent. It’s hard for adults to remember what this is like. I didn’t remember it well, but Gaiman’s book gave me a bit of a memory. I wonder how he’s able to remember childhood so vividly.

Writer’s Takeaway: As a writer, you are responsible to set a scene for your readers; something so intense they can believe they’re there. Suggestions I’ve heard include involving all five senses. That is much easier said than done. But Gaiman does it wonderfully. He speaks at length about the incredible food the Hempstocks cook, which helps with taste and smell. I could taste and smell the pancakes, and it helped bring the setting to life. I liked that he utilized this trick because it brought me more into the book.

Enjoyable and fun, but not the genre for me. Four out of Five stars.

Until net time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Review – Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane | The Blog was Better
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman | Vulpes Libris
Meeting Neil Gaiman | Geek Madel

Novel Girls: Comfort Zone and Fantasy

3 Jul

My Novel Girl friends probably thought I forgot about this post. Nope! I just ran out of time to write it so it’s only now going up. We met waaaay back on June 5th. Yes, we’ve met since then. I’ll get to that later.

I shared the first half of a piece I wrote back in February that I’ve shared with one person but really not touched since. My main character is a man named Mitchell who sees a girl he used to know from school and plucks up the courage to go talk to her. He’s a shy guy and remembers her as a quiet girl, but it still makes him nervous to go see her. However, he seems to find his balls really quickly and asks her out on a date. This took Nicole and Katherine aback because it seemed like a really sudden change and it wasn’t well motivated. I’ll have to look at either giving him more balls early on or making him more nervous throughout.

Katherine brought us a piece that will begin a longer story to get our initial reactions. From the portion we read, it was hard to tell if the book was fantasy or not because it had several elements grounded in this world. We talked about ways she could introduce fantastical elements to the story up front. She could show some supernatural powers, describe the setting’s place in the fantastical world, etc. Depending on how outlandish a fantastical world is, there are tons of different ways to do this. The problem is conveying what you have in your head to your readers. It can be hard to get the image on paper the way you want it to look. Which makes me think; maybe it’s okay if you don’t. Part of the magic of reading is being able to create by yourself what the world will look like in detail. There’s a line between enough and not enough. What are some books you thought gave too much detail and what are some that gave too much? Do fantasy books lend themselves to more detail than contemporary books to convey the setting?

Nicole‘s piece was a little different from other things we’ve read from her. We talked a lot about how it can be refreshing to get out of your comfort zone and write something that’s a stretch. Sometimes really good things can come from it. We did an exercise at a writing group once where we all had to name our least favorite genre or the one we didn’t like to read, and then write our first prompt in that style. I think really good pieces like Nicole’s can grow out of exercises like that.

By the time you read this, we’ll have already had another Novel Girls meeting, so be ready for another one of these posts… eventually!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Novel Girls: Time Period, Education, and Coincidences

10 Feb

We had yet another lovely night with the Novel Girls! This might be one of our last times for the four of us to get together before Sonia moves away for her job. We hope she’s able to come back soon! In the mean time, we’ll have to brave our way forward while sending her the sections we’re going over.

Speaking of Sonia, two of the points I want to cover up while we were talking about her piece. The piece takes place in the mid-20th Century, she said around the 50s or so. I recognized instantly that it was a historical piece and Sonia did this really well with time-period specific vocabulary. I think our favorite was ‘doll dizzy.’ However, it was hard to narrow when in the early/mid-century the setting was. She’ introduced Frank Sinatra to establish that it was later than 1940, but where in the 1940-1950s era, we didn’t know. Did it really matter? No, the story was strong. But it could have helped. I’ve thought of a few ways to help establish a historical setting.

  1. Use period-appropriate words.
  2. Describe the dress, cars, music, etc. that define the era.
  3. Reference a great historical event that has recently happened. If it’s famous enough (moon landing for example), this will give readers a solid guess at the year.
  4. Birth/death year of a character and their age so readers can do simple math to figure out the year.
  5. An idea my friend John suggested: Refer to social customs and mores from the period. For example, a woman being alone, a shoulder or ankle being considered a scandal. We associate these customs with a specific part of history. (Thanks, John!)
  6. If all else fails, but a date stamp in the work or in the summary of the piece.

Can you think of some other ways to establish a time period in historical fiction writing?

The other thing that came up while reading Sonia’s piece was the education level of a character. When plotting characters, this is usually something a writer thinks about. If someone has dropped out of high school versus having a PhD, there will be aspects of their life and personality that are hugely different. Usually vocabulary, lifestyle, and occupation do well to describe this, but Sonia’s piece being historical fiction, this was made more complicated. The vocabulary seemed off because of the period, not because of education. The occupation of her character was a huge help to understanding this, but it came into the piece later. Lifestyle was a bit confusing because the exchange rate and cost of things isn’t immediately re callable to the reader. Here are just a few ideas I have to help establish education level.

  1. Use contrast between those of high and low education level. Compare their clothing, spending habits, family situations, and speech patterns.
  2. The way other characters talk to your character can make a difference. I find that people with more education are quickly given more respect by their peers, no matter what job they’re in. If you have two people in the same job and one is a high school grad and the other is a college grad, the way someone would speak to the college grad might be.
  3. Reference the time a character spent in school. If your character has a masters, you can say that he is still paying off loans from working on his masters.more respectful than to the high school grad.

How else can you show a character’s education level?

While we were reading Katherine’s piece, she asked us if her fantasy seemed to far-fetched or if it was grounded enough in reality. We agreed it was very well grounded but talked about when we feel fantasy is overdone. The biggest thing we all agreed on is when things are too convenient. A door is locked? Good think your character knows just the spell to open it. Is there a large rock in the road? No matter for character who suddenly has super strength. On the flip side, when a character doesn’t use a power/skill/resource that they have in a situation where it would be very advantageous to use it, fantasy becomes equally frustrating for a reader. The classic superheroes are a good standard to look at when trying to find the right balance. They all have a weakness. Superman has Krypton and his love for Lois Lane. Wolverine has his own anger to deal with that can impede his decisions. If your fantasy characters have a good mix of abilities and weaknesses, I think there’s a solid chance of the fantasy seeming well grounded.

What do you find frustrating in fantasy writing?

We didn’t discuss this specifically, but I wanted to talk about the word ‘just.’ Most writers know that the word ‘just’ is a filler and doesn’t add anything to your writing except word count. Taking the word out of sentences makes them stronger 99% of the time. However, what about in dialogue? Do we use the filler word to make dialogue more lifelike? My husband was doing a transcription of his students the other day and we were laughing at how silly everyone sounded, using filler words like ‘just, like, kinda,’ etc. So, is using ‘just’ in dialogue more realistic, or still a filler? I’m personally an advocate for making dialogue as realistic as possible, and if the character is the type who would use filler words a lot, I think it should be used in the writing. What do you think? Does using the word ‘just’ in dialogue hurt the writing or make it more realistic?

If you have any suggestions for things we could discuss at our next Novel Girls meeting, drop me a comment, we’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, write on.