Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Write Fantasy?

Today my guest blogger is Maureen Mills, another member of my writing group. I'm so happy she agreed to guest blog. She's a wonderful writer and I know someday you will be reading her published books. Enjoy some of Maureen's wonderful insight!

Nikki’s blog last Wednesday about writing humor was so great! I love her writing, and her stuff is so funny we (the writers group) end up snorting all over the table instead of giving calm, objective critiques of her work. No way can I compete with that.
So I won’t.

I’ll tell you why, and how, I write fantasy.
I love to read fantasy. Actually, I love to read just about anything, but fantasy and science fiction is a strong contender for favorite subject matter. Growing up, I was always a voracious reader, the kid who always got voted the bookworm award in every class. In elementary school, when the class goal was for each student to read, say, 700 pages in a month, I’d end up with four, five, or even six times that amount. I’m not sure it was healthy to be that intensely focused on any single activity, even something as universally acknowledged as a “good thing” as reading. And a goodly portion of that reading time was spent reading fantasy.
I cut my teeth on Alexander Lloyd of “Black Cauldron” fame, Madeleine L’Engle—who I consider to be one of the earliest YA urban fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury…The list goes on. And on.

Yet, however many stories I read, I could always think of different ways the books could have ended. In some cases, should have ended. Or different directions the plotlines could have taken. What if the main character wasn’t an idiot and made more intelligent choices? What if he wasn’t quite as brilliant as originally written, and had to muddle his way through his problems like the rest of us peons? What if the air in that particular world was thicker—would that make it easier to fly, so that more creatures developed wings? Would that make it easier to absorb oxygen, so people could run or fight or climb for longer periods of time? What else would that affect?

I began to come up with my own settings, my own worlds, where anything could happen, as long as it made sense in the context of my created universe. And the most fascinating thing about the different settings and worlds was the way the people in the stories reacted to the problems and situations presented to them. How would a person behave when presented with a set of extraordinary circumstances? How about a person (or other intelligent being—this is fantasy, after all) who was raised with a different set of cultural norms and experiences? What feelings and actions would remain the same as you and I would have and do? What would be different, and in what ways? In my mind, that is a key point in fantasy. Creating worlds is fun. Figuring out what people will do in them is even more fun.

I am currently working on a YA fantasy because of the strong emotions and drama that high school age kids experience. Those strong emotions provide a very fertile ground for stories. I’ve chosen to set it in modern day, so I guess you could call it an urban fantasy. I’m a little doubtful, to be honest, of my ability to inject something startlingly new into the standard high fantasy setting of an idealized medieval European world in which magic of some sort exists. It’s been done so often and so well I’m not sure I have much to add to it. Also, there are so many other interesting places and times to write about…I’ve got an idea in the back of my head for a fantasy set in a vaguely Anasazi-like world, with a very nature-oriented, shamanistic magic system…
But that’s for later.

Right now, I’m focusing on how a normal, modern teen living a fairly sheltered, coddled existence and whose only experience with danger is through tv, movies, video games and books would handle discovering a shapeshifting, morally ambiguous fae child raiding her closet for dress-up clothes. I mean, what would you do? What do you wish you would do?
And what if you discover her mom’s run off and left her, and her dad’s neglecting and maybe abusing her? You can’t exactly report it to Child Protective Services.
So that’s where the fun starts.

And that, I guess, is why I write fantasy. You’ve just read the long answer, but the short answer is—it’s fun!

Have fun with your writing!

Maureen Mills

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