By C. E. Lawrence
Part of the 2015 Conference Faculty Series
Fantasy writing isn’t that different from other kinds of writing – except when it is. So here are a few tips and tricks to whet your whistle for the journey!
— Ideally, stories advance only through conflict, large or small.
Example: Harry Potter doesn’t know he’s a wizard, but his evil aunt and uncle know he might be and are terrified of magic
So what happens? As he discovers his powers, he must hide them from aunt and uncle. Conflict! The story advances as his powers become clearer, he learns who he is, etc., but because he must hide this knowledge, there is inherent tension in the story.
Tricks and Techniques:
A tried and true way to reveal key information is to have an uninitiated character who doesn’t know things that must be imparted to the reader. As he/she learns these backstory and plot elements, the reader does too. Warning: you still must avoid info-chunks and long monologues of “telling” – you must follow the Rule of Conflict.
Harry Potter takes place largely at a school, which is a perfect place not only to teach the young wizards, but also the reader. However, notice how even the classroom scenes are filled with conflict (will Snape go after Harry, will Miss freak out, will Moody do something violent, will Drago and his thugs attack Harry and his friends?) As the reader worries about the potential conflict, the information is imparted seamlessly (and since it’s magic, there’s a lot of potential for fun) – which brings me to my next trick:
“Telling” is the lazy man’s way out.
When in doubt, write it out.
There’s nothing more fun than seeing magic at work – not only Harry Potter style magic, but the kind of “magic” that turns up in any fantasy genre (cf. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, etc.) Don’t tell us what super powers your characters or monsters have, show them (like the song in My Fair Lady, “Show Me”).
By having Harry start out as the “Innocent,” and by setting the story in a school (very clever choice!), Rowling sets up a situation in which showing is not only natural, it’s expected. So we get to see all kinds of magic in the works, all the while absorbing the “rules” of how the magic works in her story effortlessly – it never feels like the Dreaded Exposition Dump, because she does it by demonstrating in scene loaded with conflict.
Want to learn more? Come to the Fantasy Writing class in Cape Cod this year – see you there!
C. E. Lawrence is the author of nine published novels, award-winning plays, musicals, poetry and short fiction often based upon historical research. Her most recent Lee Campbell thrillers are Silent Slaughter and Silent Stalker. Her Sherlock Holmes novels, The Star of India and The Haunting of Torre Abbey, have recently been reissued, along with her Claire Rawlings mystery series. CELawrence.com