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Whenever an author writes a brand new story, they get a chance to truly create their own little world. One whre they control the characters, the situations, and the outcome....happy, or otherwise. But if this is an everyday story taking place in the real world, it is undoubtedly limited by 'realistic' people and events. That pretty much goes without saying. You can stretch things a LITTLE bit, but only so far before your audience goes, "Hey WAIT a minute....!" Hehehe!


However, an author writing science fiction, horror, orto a further extent, 'fantasy'...those boundaries can be as limitless as the imagination can take you. You ARE making it all up, aren't you? Starting anew. Tearing down the walls of reality and building them upagain from scratch?


This weeks question is...does an author have 'total' freedom to whatever they want to do when writing sci-fi and fantasy? Or is it even HARDER...knowing that you've got to set up the rules and adhere to them even closer than ever before? And how do you set up those rules without being boring? You'd have to explain an entirely different world, with it's own history and possible future. Just think of how long it took Tolkien to do it in the "Lord Of The Rings" books! And yet, not as long or detailed with the "Harry Potter" books. What are yurthoughts on this? How much 'freedom' does fantasy give you? Let us know!

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I said recently that I have not really written fantasy... but that really isn't true. Quite a few of my stories include at least an element of fantasy. The Game for example is completely... out there... but you don't know it until you are deep into the story. To Have and To Hold is a vampire story but it takes place is a very normal setting and the vampires live very much as normal people do... okay the City of the Angels is a little 'out there' too but hey... :)


I have two completely forages into the realms of fantasy... Red Gold which is a straight story I probably won't post here... and Hostage which is in the beta'/editing stage which you will get to read eventually.


Even in those I keep things rooted in 'normal' perameters with only occasional forrays into the outlands.


I suppose what I am trying to say is that, for me... the real fantasy, the real strangeness lies in the comparison of small things that weave loosely within the framework we know. It is difficult to describe a world that is so compeltely different to our own that it's almost unimaginable and to do that I would think would require careful notes and a good memory. However if the framework lies within the realms of normal understanding but at a different level... such as the vampires in GFD with their own rules, their own society but living in our world... kind of... the frame of reference is there and we only have to point out the differences.


I think as well that the fantasy elements can be more effective when taking place within a known frame of reference. It is not so difficult for the reader to imagine, does not require so much detailed description and can just come out naturally as throw aways in the story text itself, and it doesn't require people to remember the rules.


But thats just the way I write. I don't plan and make notes and keep detailed records of my character etc. It usually works out into a cohesive story as I follow my characters and just go with them painting their surroundings as I go along.


Of all my stories Hostage is the most 'fantastic' and I can't say that I found it difficult to describe the 'rules' because I was clear about what they are and hang them on my own frame of reference. After you've read it you can comment on what that says about me :)

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I happen to feel a certain level of freedom in writing fantasy. My current story is a sci-fi/fantasy series about magic. It's fun, because I've given the characters a magical system that includes "gifts" as well as three different types of spells. Plus, there is advanced technology that involves magic, which makes it that much better. I have to be careful though. I have to keep notes about certain things to keep it all straight. The rules one creates create some limits, but I figure that you can give yourself plenty of room.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned about this, but my belief is that everything always comes down to whether you have a story. And by story I mean that there is a character who wants something badly, must overcome obstacles (both internal and external) to get it, takes action, and either succeeds or fails. Given that core, it doesn't really matter if the story is set in Indianapolis or the third moon of Jupiter.


The thing about fantasy or science fiction is that it allows the author to explore some unique "what if" issues that would not be so easy to get at if the story was set in the real world.

  • What if all STDs and other barriers to unprotected sex were wiped out, and people were free to couple with anyone they chose (male or female)?
  • What if people could bond mentally with mythical creatures like dragons, and perform feats of derring-do?
  • What if someone discovered that they were immortal?
  • What if some disease made it impossible for anyone to go out of their home or have any physical contact with others?
  • What if someone discovered they had a special power that no one else seemed to have?

... and so on. The point is, for me, the fictional setting -- whether realistic or fantasized -- is there as a platform for a story that contains elements that make readers want to find out what happens next. There have to be stakes, and they have to affect characters that we give a damn about.


I think the main issue with futuristic/sci-fi/fantasy tales is that there has to be some kind of plausible logic, some cause-and-effect connection, set up for anything outside of everyday experience. A skillful writer foreshadows any unusual technology, mysterious spell, or other "new" element early in the story, so that later on, when that same technology or ability becomes crucial to the character's actions, the readers will understand what's happening without need for on-the-spot explanation. Indeed, the reader's knowledge of how certain things work can add to the suspense and dramatic tension when they see events shaping up in a way that may lead to the use of such things, especially if there is a great cost to using them (again, this would have been established much earlier).


So, I would always ask of any fantastic creation: Does it add to the story? Obviously, JK Rowling included a lot of stuff that was simply atmospheric (Mrs. Weasley's kitchen, for example, where a bowl of something was mixing itself). But I believe the main pieces of magic or fantasy or advanced technology must serve the story. If they do, then the freedom is as extensive as needed to make it all work. If they don't -- either because they don't tie in, or because they just appear out of nowhere and therefore are implausible, or where there's so much of it that it interferes with the forward motion of the story -- then I say you have overstepped your freedom. But in substance this issue is no different from what would happen in a realistic story with realistic setting elements.


As a separate note, I would say that for most readers, whatever the magic or technology is must be something that a normal person can relate to. A theoretical physicist familiar with string theory may be able to comprehend the implications of working in ten-dimensional space, but most people would be baffled (and indifferent). Thus, whatever the "stuff" is, it needs to somehow relate to the experiences of readers. They need to understand the effects, risks, consequences, ground rules, etc., so that some kind of story logic will play out.


Hope this makes sense.



Edited by Agincourt
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I agree with Agincourt that the story has to carry the reader along or it's a waste of time.


Having said that, I personally would find fantasy and science fiction more difficult than contemporary fiction. The reason is that not only would I have to have an interesting plot, but I also need to educate the reader on the world the story is set in, and do it in a way that feels natural. I've read enough science fiction stories where there is a page or more of background information to explain what is going on, and sometimes that is just so boring! The author needs to make the background information part of the story, and let it slip in naturally. JK Rowlings did that pretty well -- the information we needed to understand what was going on was presented as part of the story. She used the easy technique of having someone from outside of that 'world' (Harry) entering it, so it was easy to have explanations supplied because Harry wouldn't have understood otherwise, allowing Harry and the reader to be educated at the same time.


It's much more difficult when the characters are part of the world, because you need to tell the reader things that the characters already know, and do it in a way that feels part of the story. It's a big challenge.


After overcoming that hurdle, the author, as again Agincourt has pointed out, needs to be self-consistent. Misdirection is allowable, but solving a problem by introducing some unforeshadowed construct is essentially cheating. eg.


"Captain, the black hole is pulling us in. We're all doomed!"


"No problem, Scotty. I'll just get the Ytralian device my mother gave me for my birthday, and we'll warp the gravity away and escape easily. However, maybe this is the time to ask a question that I've been wondering about for a long time. Why are all engineers called 'Scotty'?"


If the Ytralian device and it's properties were not foreshadowed, this is a cheap trick. The reader would have had no chance to work out the solution for themselves. This is why I've ended up being disappointed by some science fiction and fantasy novels, because the ending was essentially used an unforeshadowed resolution.


There's more freedom science fiction and fantasy, but I think that increases the difficulty, not decreases.

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