I'd like to research the tropes of fantasy. The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference (Paperback) by Reader's Digest is the only apparently comprehensive guide I've come across online. I really am a nOObie to the genre, having read mostly hard scifi in the old days. So, should I buy it, or is there something better?
I've got a story idea that needs to be "hidden" within some fitting type of magic. Don't know if it should be pagan/witchcraft, elves and fairies, dragons and wizards, or what. But the magical realm should be familiar to western civ. baby boomers and senior citizens, and not unfamiliar to anyone younger.
Any advice on good, solid reference material would be greatly appreciated.
Read as many fantasy novels as you can. Randomly search your local library, take about 20 home, do nothing but read them and learn from them.
You can do that if you want to, but the fun is finding out for yourself on your own by writing what works and what doesn't work. I do that all the time, or at least try, lol. Just give it a go, it works for me, may not work for you.
yeah, reading widely is a great plan. If you do pick up the Complete Fantasy Reference, I hope you'll report back and tell us about it.
sort of sideways to your question, the guidelines at Strange Horizons include a list of stories they see way too often; some tropes are just exhausted, and I think nOObies in particular tend to gravitate toward those (which exhausts them even further!)
Legends edited by Robert Silverberg, is a good collection of fantasy works from all areas of the genre. It features the giants who've worked in the field, like George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen King, Robert Jordan, Orson Scott Card, Terry Pratchett, Raymond E. Feist, Terry Goodkind, and Silverberg himself. He also came out with a sequel a year or two ago, called Legends II, which brings in even more authors, but I haven't bothered to read it yet.
They're good reads and you'll get a good overall glimpse at what's selling right now.
Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn Martin Bertram's Vanity of Vanities Terry Brooks's Shannara series Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series C. J. Cherryh's Ealdwood and Fortress series K. G. Childs' The Fortress City Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series Sara Douglass's The Wayfarer Redemption series Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter David Eddings' Belgariad/Malloreon and Elenium/Tamuli Eric Rucker Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros and Zimiamvian Trilogy Kate Elliott's The Crown of Stars series Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen saga David Farland's The Runelords saga Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga and other Midkemian sagas Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series David Gemmell's Legend saga Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth saga Frank Grave's The Ancestral Trail series Jim Grimsley's Kirith Kirin P. C. Hodgell's Jame of the Kencyrath series Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time saga Katharine Kerr's Deverry series Stephen King's The Dark Tower saga Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series Mercedes Lackey's and James Mallory's Obsidian Trilogy Mercedes Lackey's and Andre Norton's The Halfblood Chronicles Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga Dennis L. McKiernan's The Iron Tower trilogy Patricia A. McKillip's The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown Hope Mirrlees's Lud-in-the-Mist L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s The Saga of Recluce and Spellsong Cycle Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion series William Morris' The Well at the World's End Andre Norton's Witch World series Margaret Ogden's The Realm of the Elderlings series under the name Robin Hobb Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Trilogy Terry Pratchett's Discworld series Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy Nathan Pyles's An Domhain Chronicles series R. A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms and Demon Wars series J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy David Weber's Oath of Swords saga/War God series Margaret Weis's and Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance series Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy Gene Wolfe's Wizard Knight series and The Book of the New Sun Roger Zelazny's Amber series
You probably know some of these. Try reading them.
Yes, I know, I know, I should do more reading of the real stuff. But, you see, once upon a time there was a little girl who saw that bible stories were just like fairy tales, except that adults believed one but not the other, making her believe she would have to grow up before she could figure out the difference, only she never did, and had to study philosophy to even begin to get it all sorted out, except that she still has lots to learn about why her make believe is one thing and others' make believe is often another.
Got it? I don't grok fantasy, but I'm eager to learn, with some guidance. Hence the need for reference material. The closest I get to it is magical realism, which I love, as in Marquez and Gaiman.
I will look up reviews on Amazon of Siverberg and Jones, per Ray and Sandra's suggestions. Thanks, Beth, for guiding me sideways, as well. Sideways is always good! And after I've done some guided reading, I'll likely come back here to bean's list.
Tolkien: book, audio, movie all put me to sleep. I worry about myself when just about EVERYONE else loves something and I just want to sleep through it. I think, isn't there a better way to tell these stories? The setting did not charm or intrique me, and that was a killer. It was too much like "hero fights the bad guy, conquers the world, gets the girl, the end."
Rowling: I tried one of the Potter books, was enjoying the charm and quirkiness of it for a while, until I got to the point where it felt like one-thing-after-another and became boring. However, the movies are delightful. I just sit back and enjoy them; only one short nap during the third one.
Jordan/Martin/Brooks: I think I browsed these works at B&N recently. They might have been the ones with sort of Zulu/Lithuanian-sounding names or something. Too much work to get to the meat of the matter, trying to decode.
Anyway, I'm too unlettered to be able to back up my contentions that in some cases fantasy is simply over-the-top same-old-thing, and more enjoyable for the writer to write than for this reader to read.
I don't want to be this resistant -- it's a failing I recognize and want to overcome. If I express it bluntly, maybe someone will find a suitably blunt (or elegant) reply that will actually sink in. To wit, bluntly: fantasy is boring to me.
I picked up Elantris by Brandon Sanderson because I like the setting and expected per the raves and summary that it might insightfully address the universal need for fantasy itself.
Which reminds me: fantasy glosses the mundane, yes? Could it be that simple? And, there have to be things that SFF says better than any other kind of lit. But what?
Okay, here's a couple of stabs at answering my own question, as applies to what I've read and liked at one time.
(1) Heinlein presents postmortem cannabilism on a silver platter.
(2) LeGuinn's three-sexed creatures confuse the most confirmed bi-sexual.
I believe the problem with such fantasy 'reference novels' is that they tell you what should be in a fantasy world.
In my opinion, fantasy worlds should involve complete and utter fantasy, having no rules or limits. That ruins half the fun! I love making up totally innane, silly things and making them seem 'realistic' in my setting.
I purchased "Legends II" earlier this year, to while away some long plane journeys.
It's an excellent sampler, as it'll give you not only some ideas of which authors you like and want to explore more, but also which you don't. I was very pleasantly surprised, for example, by the Robin Hobb piece (I hadn't previsouly read anything of hers). On the other hand, I found the Anne McCaffrey contribution (an author I read voraciously twenty years ago) to be embarrassingly bad.
PS - I'm also a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones' "Tough Guide To Fantasyland" as a "what not to do when writing fantasy" sourcebook. Except about stew.
[This message has been edited by tchernabyelo (edited October 03, 2006).]
I have "Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference" sitting here on my desk and have written several novels now with that book rarely, if ever opened. What I've used more is "The Book of Wizards" by Tim Dedopulous, which is an interesting read, even if I don't agree with everything he has in it (but that's the joy of fantasy - we can each make up our own worlds within reason). I have a lot of books on fairies, which helped me solidify some of my ideas. I have "The Writers Guide to Fantasy Literature" from The Writers Group. I use these as reference material, but my main "references" for writing are my own brain and the writers whose work I love: Rowling, Tolkein, OR Melling (a writer I've just discovered - "The Summer King" is an amazing read!!). We each have to do what works for US. Research magic spells online, via Wikipedia and the numerous sites that talk about them. Go to "magical" places and look at the books you'll find there (or visit an occult bookstore if you want, or the New Age section of Barnes & Noble type stores). By "magical" places, I mean places that those who believe in such things think are centers of "power" such as Glastonbury in Somerset England, or Sedona Arizona. Look up the Chalice Garden bookstore for the Chalice Garden near Glastonbury. You just have to dig around online a little bit to find TONS of intriguing reference material. You don't have to buy it until you decide you really want it. You can read the books in B&N without paying for them - get comfy and browse! Happy hunting.
I am at a loss at why you need a fantasy textbook. You have read some fantasy and "To wit, bluntly: fantasy is boring to me." You say you love Magical Realism and hard scifi. What is the conundrum?
If you don't like fantasy, don't try and write fantasy. Couch your story idea in a trope of a genre you enjoy. Don't torture yourself. A quick Google search will turn up tons of fantasy tropes for the little bit you want to use, but you are better off putting the story idea in an expression that is pleasing to you.
However, if you are looking for some sort of justification for fantasy, I don't think you are going to get one. It is. It exists and there are many who like it. You do not. No big deal. It saves you money at the local bookstore.
quote:... there have to be things that SFF says better than any other kind of lit. But what?
Well, one kind of thing they can say better is the kind of thing that people won't tolerate or refuse to hear in any other kind of literature.
Sort of along the lines of the George Bernard Shaw quote that goes something like "if you're going to tell people the truth, make them laugh, or they'll kill you."
SFF can talk about issues in a metaphorical way that people aren't willing to read about in a literal way.
One of my favorite examples is a movie that was actually very poor science fiction (but movies tend not to do science fiction very well anyway, so that didn't keep it from being produced) but managed to sneak some deeply religious philosophy past the movie moguls under the cover of science fiction.
The movie I'm referring to is SIGNS, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. By telling a story ostensibly about an alien invasion, Shyamalan manages to talk about how God is in the details of our lives and that we are not alone and without help in the universe.
When I saw that movie, I was amazed that he'd been able to make such a seriously religious film without a lot of squawks from those who have problems with religion in films. Then I realized that by making it science fiction, he got away with it.
This is my recommended, shorter list of fantasists: * = Amazing work
Lloyd Alexander Terry Brooks - People will tell you the Shannara series is amazing, but if you read LOTR first, you will most likely criticize it (although, do not be to quick to do so) Ursula K. LeGuin* - Read Earthsea! J.R.R. Tolkien* - you later mentioned you didn't like his work. You don't have to read it, but you should; he is one of the greatest fantasists in history. George R.R. Martin - read A Song of Ice and Fire R.A. Salvatore - Icewind Dale and the Drizzt Do'Urden tales are very good Stephen King - great SF as well, check his books out Terry Pratchett - His work is comic; avoid it if you hate comic fantasy Roger Zelazny - Read the Amber series
Also, read The Tough Guide to Fantasyland - it's a GREAT way to avoid cliches.
PS AeroB1033 - I am only 20 and have been reading fantasy for twelve years; I haven't read all of those books, but I have heard about all of them; I've read probably five sixths of the list.
Grimslade (and Jake, also) you are right as to what I should try to write, and I know that I will sink deeper into magic realism with every draft. However, there is such a long, long history of fantasy and myth. And religion. These are more elemental to our psyche than I'm currently able to grasp. I wish to get deeply into this realm for philosophical reasons. Doing philosophy is the way my mind works, but it does not satisfy. It lacks art's adventure and possibilities. It does not enjoin the reader, but argues instead. I've begun to shelve philosophy with religion in my library not just for their subject matter but for their wish to put closure on deep questions that artists and scientists have always fought to keep open.
What I really need to do, of course, is just write!
Kathleen, yes, I saw Signs and knew that it was meant to resonate on that level, as in OSC's works. This resonance is one of the reasons I tend to conflate sff and religious tracts. Another reason is the similarity at an abstract and/or perhaps structural level between competing logical systems and moral schemas.
Yes, yes! The metaphorical brush paints colors that we cannot—or refuse to—see otherwise. The story I want to work on needs such treatment.
Bean, thank you so much for this abbreviated list. The longer one will be filed for future reference. I'm still going to resist Tolkien for a while, but since I've enjoyed Le Guin's work before, I'll likely allot next week's book budget to the Earthsea Trilogy on your recommendation. Pratchett is lucid, looney and prolific and in my to read list, after taking the time to research, as I have no plans to read all of them.
You are 20, I'm close to 60. There are a lot of books out there, I've got a lot of reading under my belt, and I get impatient sometimes. In fact, the whole writing impetus comes partly from suspecting that the book I most want to read is actually one that I have to write.
Lynda, happy hunting indeed – I hadn't thought of the new age section. Not only will I browse that area, but I'll also track the other browsers to get an impression of them. And start up conversations, and then ... some story will be happening along the way to the story I think I want to write.
Thank you for providing an excellent prompt!
Robert and tchernabyelo:
I rummaged through my books and found an anthology edited by Borges. Meanwhile, I've been studying Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose. So, when I picked up the anthology, I was primed to read much more carefully. Some of the stories are very cryptic and demanding. That Borges made the selections and Le Guin wrote the intro gives me confidence that the careful reading will be rewarding.
I said before that you guys are great. Now I have to say you are capital-f-fantastic, because even if I'm not quite sure what that means, I think I glimpse answers ahead through the castle's labyrinth or within the burbling depths of the witch's pot or nestled amongst gems in the dragon's lair or hidden up the sleeves of a wizard's robes.
That last sentence was actually kind of fun to write . . .
quote: I'd like to research the tropes of fantasy.
I've looked "trope" up in my dictionary and have no CLUE what you meant by this line. My response was to the rest of your post, but my dictionary says "trope: a figurative use of a word" (Oxford American Dictionary and Thesaurus, brand new). Reading these writing boards has increased my vocabulary tremendously, and it wasn't bad to start with! I keep seeing words which I suppose are specific to writing that I've never seen before and this is one of them. 'Splain, please?? Thanks!
Oh, and I'm glad my "New Age" suggestion seemed like a good idea to you. I'm near your age and grew up in a Puritanical-type religion (which I still follow, but more loosely). I used to be nervous going into New Age-type sections, but Harry Potter literally opened up a whole new world for me, making me suddenly very interested in the properties of crystals (which I've always collected for their beauty, and have seen vets use with good results on my horses - who knew??), for instance. Now I browse whatever section I feel like, and my family doesn't even look at me too oddly if we pass a "New Age" type store and I linger at the windows - they even ask if I want to go in. That's a big step for all of us! (You have to realize, my family is full of scientists with many post-grad degrees, except for Bachelor's Degree musician/artist/budding novelist/etc. me. . . .) As I said, happy hunting!!
[This message has been edited by Lynda (edited October 04, 2006).]
Lynda: Trope - figurative use of a word; figurative use of an expression. "Fantasy Tropes" is a category in Wikipedia, which is sadly not very complete. I could have said "literary elements and conventions" and expanded that to include common character types, milieus and themes. (Words are slippery devils, but that can only allow for happy mischief, methinks. Anyway, thank you for getting the dictionary out. I will take that lesson to heart.)
I just reread my last post. I was sure I had asked you if any of them go deeper than listing things, some analysis. But I must have cut-but-not-pasted when I was editing. (I write my posts sometimes in a word processor and then paste it onto the submit screen.)
If you care to share, I'd love to hear your take on why magic and supernatural fiction works for readers (and writers) and has done so for thousands of years. Why do we have myth of any kind? Why is it so fundamentally human to believe in the unbelievable of whatever stripe? Why are truth, beauty and goodness not enough?
What does make a work fantasy, as opposed to science fiction or mainstream? Is there one thing that all fantasy works have in common? What could link, say, the major works of J. R. R. Tolkien, Thorne Smith, and Stephen King? What would exclude, say, Mark Twain or Rudyard Kipling or John Steinbeck in their major works?
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Robert, I think the key is magic. If in hard scifi we catch something we know is implausible, we think the writer goofed on research. In mainstream, say a psychological thriller, if we catch the writer ignoring current findings in psychology, we again think the writer failed. Only in fantasy can magical, unexplainable devices be used to carry the story forward.
I would say that mainstream fiction, high or low, the author sees hat anyone can see, but sees it in a special way. In hard scifi, the author sees what anyone could see, which education, and then takes us into the future so that we can see. Both must convince the reader that everything in the book is plausible, that nothing in our everyday life conflicts with it. Magic on the other hand, truly makes another world outside of our own, with its own logic and possibility.
Magic realism has an extra trick, somehow, but I haven't got a grip on it. Seems like . . . as a reader, I'm compelled to search for the author's metaphors, as if there's an under-story to be found. I can even imagine an author drafting that deeper story, but dressing it up deliberately.
Lynda mentioned New Age material being a source for fantasy story ideas, and I'll heartily second that notion. I have chosen in my fantasy book to utilize "magic" of the real world variety. New age stores and books are full of incredible concepts that make other forms of magic pale in comparison.
Here is a list of concepts I drew up prior to beginning the writing for my story, with a few citations of source material listed. You can Google the concepts or the source names and pop up a whole lotta reference info. I've drawn from some of these ideas to create my world of magic. I share them with you all in the event you can use them to make a great foundation for a fantasy story...
INTENTION is everything – The success of magic or prayer is dependant on the focused strength of intention (or will). Intention is everything. If your belief, your faith, your INTENT is solid enough, you could move --literally-- a mountain. Dr. Larry Dossey has done scientific medical studies on the effects of Prayer on Healing.
THE AURA AND CHAKRAS – This is energy system is the fundamental basis for the real-life energy work, such as Reike, Yoga, Tai-Chi, Qi-Gong, Therapeutic Touch, acupuncture, massage therapy, reflexology, acupressure, auric healing. By definition the Aura is an electromagnetic energy field that surrounds, encompasses and permeates the body. This electromagnetic energy resonates at specific frequencies, each frequency matching various colors in the color frequency spectrum. The rainbow spectrum of colors in the aura reflect the individual’s current state of mental, emotional, and physical health. The auric field enlarges when a person’s INTENT and intensity amplified.
PLANETARY LIFE FORCE – The planet has a life force and sentience of its own, as well as a spiritual or etheric body that has a physical effect and interaction with our human physical body. This concept also is the basis for ley lines, which are believed to be the the earth’s energy field (similar to the energy system of the chakras in the human body)… there are spots on the planet which are considered to be vortexes of great power, and these places have been identified as being the planetary “chakra points.” Native Americans and many indigenous cultures believe Mother Earth is alive. It is the basis for crystal studies as well; the rocks each have unique sentient energetic properties. Crystals, by the way, are amplifiers... their “property” is to amplify the energy present. The short-lived sci-fi show "Earth 2" centered around the concept of a living, intelligent planet.
PAST LIVES & KARMIC DEBT - Our spiritual being is only temporarily tied to our physical being. The continued existence of spirit beyond physical life is the underlying principal in most major religions. The theory is that we return to physical incarnation over and over as we go through “earth school.” Eventually we learn the lessons of compassion, unconditional love, etc., that allow us to increase our spiritual vibration and ascend to a higher spiritual plane of existence. Works of Edgar Cayce, Ruth Montgomery, Helen Wambaugh.
MEDICAL INTUITIVES, AURIC HEALERS--The mind has the ability to heal. Multitudes of folk have healed diagnosed terminal diseases. Also falls into this field: Medical intuitives, faith healers, psychic surgeons. The works of Carolyn Myss, Rosyln Brueyer, Brugh Joy, Edgar Cayce, Judith Orloff MD, as well as several religious groups.
LUCID DREAMING – this is a concept which says that your dreaming does not have to be unconscious… that you can, in fact, take control of the direction your dreams go and not be subjected to the randomness or nightmares that often emanate from our dreaming subconscious mind. This goes back to the concept of “intent.”
REMOTE VIEWING -- a psychic is able to witness and discern events that are happening from a remote location. Dr. David Morehouse, author of "Psychic Warrior" wrote a book about the CIA's use of remote viewing/psychics during the cold war.
MANIFESTATION - Wayne Dyer/eastern yogis, etc. Actual materialization of physical matter through the use of thought. This also explains the concepts of being able to levitate, teleportation, etc. "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramansa Yoginanda, "Behaving As If The God In All Life Mattered" by Machaelle Small Wright (great book about fairies in her garden.)
TRANSCENDANCE OF DEATH - Jesus, Paramansa Yoginanda (eastern literature, Tibetan Book of the Dead. Death is a state of mind; after death an enlightened Master is capable of reappearing in physical form that can be touched, can eat, can resemble physical existence.
MATTER IS ENERGY - Frijof Capra (Tao of Physics), Gary Zukov (Dancing Wu Li Masters). On a subatomic level, matter does not exist. When you get down to the very smallest particle of matter, it doesn’t, in fact exist - it is vibrating matter. And the observer changes the behavior of matter. In short, thoughts are things that interfer and/or affect the movement of subatomic matter.
SOUND, COLOR and SCENT in healing - Steven Halpern, aromatherapy, all modes of eastern & naturopathic healing. There is such a wealth of info on this topic, I shan’t attempt to name all the resources.
SYMBOLOGY as an entrance to the spiritual world - geometric and mythological archetypes as represented by symbology. The Labyrinths in medieval England work with this... by walking the labyrinth you can access energy and connection to spirit. It’s a way to pass through the Veil. The Hospital in the town I grew up in now has some alternative health care including a labyrinth. The early Christian Churches used the labyrinths. Tarot also makes heavy use of archetype symbology to access the Greater Mind. Runes are another way that geometry and symbology can be a key for releasing or activating magic. The symbol itself is said to trigger a reaction in the mind’s eye, a subconscious understanding of the underlying archetype that it represents.
THE COSMIC PLANES - the work of Helen Blavatsky and Alice Bailey get into details about the cosmic planes. In short, the planets are considered alive in the same way people are and have spiritual bodies.
SHAMANISM - the work of anthropologist Michael Halpern "The Way of the Shaman", "Shaking up the Spirits" by psychologist Brad Keeney, Soul Retrievals by Sandra Ingerman. Need I even mention Carlos Castenadas books about Don Juan Matus? "A Separate Reality" is only the starting point for Don Juan.
There is a chance I may rant here so I apologize in advance, I shall try to control myself...
I would contend that magic is not integral to fantasy. In fact I would go as far to say that it is the belief that magic is integral which has trapped a lot of fantasy in a Tolkein-lite cliché ridden purgatory and allowed "A Rough Guide to Fatasyland" to exist (it's an excellent and thoroughly amusing book, but it's kind of sad that someone needed to write it).
As an example of what can be done when magic is removed from the fantasy world I would point you in the direction of M. John Harrison's phenomenal "Viriconium" stories.
I'm not saying to definitely not use magic, but I think you should think very long and hard before including it, and I don't think people do. Everything that's in your story should be there for a reason. If there's no reason for magic, except that you're writing a fantasy story, then magic becomes a cliché and weakens your story.
An example of someone who's done this would be K. J. Bishop in her novel, "The Etched City" (which also causes me to overuse the word 'phenomenal').
Indeed, I would probably extend this advice to many of the tropes of fantasy. Your elves are haughty and excellent archers? Quel surprise! WHY are the haughty bowmen? What does that mean in the context of your story...
Sorry. Definitely hit the "rant" button there. But I think I made my point: don't get caught up in the tropes of fantasy just because they're the tropes of fantasy.