Category Archives: Fantasy
It’s a gate. It’s a place to start, whether you’re describing a character or a place or an action. And you know more than you think.
Especially if you write science fiction or fantasy. Because then you’re free to make up the things you know from whole cloth in a few spots, maybe many. That’s a privilege other genres don’t have like we get in SFFPHM (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Magical realism). Other writers might make up a town or something, but their worlds are expected to act totally like the real world.
Settings aside, writing what you know also doesn’t mean every character has to be a writer or a retail person or a middle manager or whatever variety of things it might be that you do with your lifetime. Doesn’t mean all your aliens need to know what it’s like to poop or vomit. Doesn’t mean that your orcs need to be the orcs you know from all those movies with the really short dudes and a jewelry fetish.
Write what you know is great for writing the human bit of your story, though it’s a damn good thing to remember that if you’re writing about a culture or subculture you’re not familiar with, it’s best to consult members of that culture. Unless it’s elves. You’re not going to find any real elves to consult about your fictional ones, I’m afraid. HOWEVER that said if you’re going to base your elves’ culture strongly on the culture of southern Spain, you’d better be familiar with southern Spain in some significant way.
’nuff said. I’ve already harped on that enough and I hope you were listening.
Write what you know means the practical simple things around you, sure. Do use your memories, your pain, your joy, things that happened to you, places and people you’ve met (though tread lightly when writing a person who’s close to you lest ye complicate yer relationship).
Use the things that made you grieve. Use the things that made you weep with joy. You can choose not to reveal that those things came from within yourself if that’s what you want or need to do. Do use your writerly skills to file the serial numbers off them.
Write things you know you can feel. Because feeling (Hemingway would say, did say, bleeding) on the page speaks to readers. It can reach into your readers’ hearts where mere skill can only titillate their minds.
There are plenty of successful authors who do the latter. But the stories that do the former are remembered. They change minds and sometimes lives.
Don’t think it’s easy, though. No author succeeds at that every time. In fact, I think it’s an ideal that is rarely reached.
Do reach for it.
You never know, for example, when you’ll find cool superhero costumes with foam muscles for 3 bucks apiece 😁
The choices, of course, are endless. Choosing might be a bit tough. For example, Lex Luthor is a tempting choice – billionaire, elected President, has an adversary he can’t stop obsessing over and who some hold up as a hero figure and others regard with suspicion (calm down, Hillary – you’re no Superman), has his own vision of how to use the power of the United States to fulfill his own goals – and yet, can you really compare Trump’s intellect and planning ability to Luthor’s? I would argue NO FREAKIN WAY, OBVIOUSLY.
You might even stretch the definition of villain a bit. I mean, you could certainly call Trump a Salacious Crumb.
The name fits. Perhaps not the role, but ol’ Salacious fits my purpose here, which is to make a clumsy transition to my own choice.
I have a reason to make this choice here: I’m removing the most glaringly obvious one so you have to come up with something different. Ha-ha!
Donald Trump is… *DRUM ROLL*
They’re both filthy rich, emphasis on the filthy. They’re both ALLEGEDLY WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE in bed with organized crime. They’re both misogynistic – just look at that getup he stuck Princess Leia in so everyone could gawk at what a “young and beautiful piece of ass” he had.
They’ve both got their slimy tentacles deep into the levers of power and are happy to use them to enrich themselves.
And they’re both gluttonous pigs. Whether the feast is food, power, wealth, or flattery.
If you have your own ideas about which villain Donald Trump is, kindly leave a comment and I’ll be happy to discuss Donny’s villainy with you. 🙂
Why SciFi Movies Disappoint SciFi Readers Who Read The Book
(Same Goes For Fantasy And Comic Books)
Same goes for pretty much any movie that was a book first, really. Ask a Stephen King fan. But this phenomenon of disappointment is so much more pronounced for fans of SciFi and Fantasy and Comic Books. Why?
Partly because of the nature of movies bundled with the nature of the average moviegoer. In the dawn of the moving picture era, the movie itself was a novelty and a spectacle, just by being itself. A few elementary stunts, a visual gag here and there, and a good story were all a director needed to sell a movie.
But the novelty has long since worn out; movies are now a venerable art form. Seen at the theater, they’re still a spectacle and an experience in and of themselves – but that’s less about the movie and more about going out to the theater.
Today, nobody wants to pay to see a book translated directly into film. Film was never suited to that, because an hour and a half, or even three hours, just isn’t enough room to tell a story it takes 100,000 words to tell. Or even 50,000. If you made a movie going point by point through a story as written, you’d be lucky to relate 10,000 words in a standard 90 minute film.
And a lot of that film would annoy the crap out of the audience. Internal dialog doesn’t play very well in a movie. At least, not at any length. Nor do narrator commentary or flashbacks and flashforwards and radical scene shifts, or background and world building.
SciFi and Fantasy and Comics are REALLY BIG on all of those things. Because to one degree or another they hinge on things that don’t exist in real life and have to be explained or at least established as to how they fit into the world and how people deal with it. Often, that’s the whole point.
(Graphic novels, by the way, are the bisexuals of the movie-literature divide, usually able to work just fine on either side of the divide – they translate well into film because they’re already organized around a visual presentation, and novels are not.)
The whole point of a movie, though, especially recently and especially in SciFi and Fantasy and Comics, is WOW.
WOW is the visual pop that people want out of movies in general and want ten times more out of genre movies. What sells those tickets is what I think of as “special effects pornography.”
Just enough story and character development to string the special effects spectacles together. Like a porn is just enough to string the sex scenes together. Explosions and falling buildings and super cool aliens and robots are the money shots the average moviegoer wants in exchange for the ticket price.
As much as fans of the books and comics want the background and the worldbuilding and the multiple plot threads to be faithfully represented, they simply aren’t numerous enough to drive the market. Without the SFX porn the movie doesn’t make a profit and the DVD doesn’t sell and the action figures and Halloween costumes and t-shirts don’t move off the shelf.
So the producers and the studios and the writers follow the money. That’s what they’re there for. Oh, they love pleasing fans and making people happy – or at least, the best ones do. But the bottom line is the bottom line: folding green. If it doesn’t make money, in the end its dead to the theater.
But it’s also possible to go too far chasing the money, too deep into the SFX pornography scene. Look at the DC films lately. A Batman who is also a rifleman. A Superman who casually snaps necks and doesn’t give a shit about knocking down the heart of a city. The lovers of spectacle may love it, but the fans of those character in comic books are the ones who are most likely to buy the DVD and the Blu-ray and the Special Director’s Cut too.
Even casual fans of the characters, even the people who read the comics as kids and put them away when they ‘grew up,’ know that Batman isn’t a gun kinda guy and that not killing people or wrecking cities is Superman’s thing.
It may be all about creating the spectacle and setting up the special effects, but if you rip the cores out of familiar characters in the process, what you end up with is empty schlock. And while really awesome schlock may draw a crowd of one-time ticket buyers, it won’t inspire fans to love the franchise, buy the merch, see it multiple times or buy the DVD.
Even the unperceptive can feel when something is empty, even if all they really know is that it was “cool, but I’m not looking for the next one.”
As for the book-readers, they generally loathe the empty schlock movie versions. But even the really well done ones, once stripped down to fit them into a movie format and bent around the cool special effects scenes, are missing the cores that novels spend tens of thousands of words building.
No matter how great the movie version, a movie will never be a book. And that leaves the book fans unfulfilled – unless they go in eyes open, expecting what they see to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of a completely different medium.
Some art that made me say, “cool!” and a few tweets led to some bigger thoughts on genre writing – which is a pretty normal thing, small ideas leading to larger ones, if you’ve done some writing or pretty much any art I can think of or serious thinking.
I found Travis Durden’s Star Wars Greek statuary through a tweet I saw a couple of hours ago (on the 27th — this post first appeared on my Patreon page (would you like to support a not-quite-starving writer? Please do! Because every penny helps tear down the budget worries that often occupy my mind when I’d rather be writing) in the wee hours of the 28th) (tweet posted below). Durden’s art is seriously neat stuff.
Which lead to this tweet:
And this one:
And finally this one:
After I graduated from kiddie books so many years ago, I cut my reading teeth on science fiction. I tried reading the paperbacks my father brought home from used bookstores and quickly learned to look for the short story collections and anthologies — I’d recently learned to read, it was hard enough to work through all the words I didn’t recognize without trying to figure out what was going on in a whole novel. But the shorter short stories, in those early years, I could wrap my mind around those. And remember (well, you might not have known, so I’m telling you) this was in the mid-70s, when certainly many authors in science fiction and elsewhere may have been experimental in their writing, but the mainstream in short science fiction stories was heavy with straightforward plots, traditional story arcs, and mysteries resolved with a single final twist. There’s plenty of that now, to be sure. But either there was more then or those are what I remember because they’re the stories I understood as a child.
That’s a long way to go to say that science fiction seemed huge to me, but it did. It seemed huge and very distinct because it was my entire fictional world then. Nursery rhymes and the little stories found in early reader books — if you’ve had or been around small children just learning to read much, you’ll recall them — hardly counted.
And science fiction is distinct, or at least distinctive. The definition has been endlessly debated over, but most of us who read much of it recognize it when we see it. The same goes for the other genres I mentioned in that last tweet. Horror is distinct enough that we notice the difference, for example, when we read a Stephen King horror story as opposed to a Stephen King something else. Legends have a pretty distinct definition. Magical realism blurs the lines — sometimes it’s fantasy, sometimes it’s science ficiton, sometimes it’s literary, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes.
That’s the genre that really makes the point, with its blurryness.
They’re all blurry, really. Think of Star Wars: get a SW fan who calls it science fiction and a SW fan who calls it science fantasy in the same room and watch the genre boundary argument fur fly.
We love to dicker over what story counts as which genre and who’s that writer whose work is called X but really it’s more Y don’t you think?
To say they’re all fiction is too simplistic. But there’s that in pointing out that genres are small things that cannot really contain a story, not the large and well-defined things we’re tempted to think of them as, that we often reflexively think of them as after a scholastic lifetime of being taught the boundaries of genre.
They’re all stories. They’re all about human beings and what human beings do and think and feel and wonder. All of them, even the genres where there is debate as to whether or not they’re fiction or nonfiction: mythology, legend, religion.
They’re stronger when they wander, stories are. When we get it into our minds that we can’t write in X event because we’re writing science fiction or that Y character doesn’t make sense because we’re reading fantasy, we weaken the stories that we might otherwise love, whether we’re reading them, writing them, or representing them in other forms of art. For centuries fiction and poetry have derived inspiration and imagery from religion and mythology and legend (assuming you divide stories that faith has grown up around into those rather than lumping them together). Star Wars is beloved science fiction in part because it incorporates elements of fantasy and legend and even, at least in the beginning, of the Western movie.
Try picking out a few of your favorite stories that have won wide acclaim or are considered enduring classics. Give them a read with this in mind, and look for where the genres blur. You don’t need a story that glaringly throws seventeen genres together; one that’s mostly in one but draws in bits of others is just fine — even better, in fact.
Much like the ancient advice that a single stick alone is weak but a bundle of those same sticks is strong together, I think you’ll find that stories that gather together elements of different genres are the strongest.
And I also think that it’s more than worth the effort to seek them out as a reader, and to try to create them as a writer.
So, there’s a utopian little article over at Vice with the headline you see above. I’m not commenting on it because it’s bad. You should read it. It opens in a new tab or window, so after you’re done (it won’t take long, it’s short) you can come right back here.
So, what did you think?
Mm-hmm. Me being the opinionated sort, I’ll tell you what I think now.
It’s a nice thought. Science fiction and fantasy (and speculative fiction, for those of you who like that term (it has its uses)) have been long regarded as the goofy cousin of the literary world. Writers of serious fiction and creative nonfiction acknowledge his existence, but wince a bit while admitting it.
SciFi and Fantasy? He’s… special if you know what I mean. But you gotta love him. He has such… enthusiasm. If only he could get his act together. Why don’t we leave him to play with his toy rocketships and go somewhere adult so he’s not horning in on the conversation.
That’s how it has been for several decades now, pretty much since heyday of the pulps and Hugo Gernsback.
It hasn’t always been like that. Frankenstein went over pretty well as a literary work, and it is clearly both science fiction and literary. And somehow it never really got caught up in the Genre Wars. I think because, before science fiction was really seen as a separate thing, it was firmly pigeonholed as literary.
People LOVE pigeonholing things, defining categories and subcategories, putting the things they love and enjoy in those pigeonholes, and guarding them fiercely. Don’t look innocent. You do it. So do I. You may not, and I hope I don’t, rise to vehement levels of assholish gatekeeping in defining what belongs in what category. But many do.
That is why there will always be Genre Wars. Perhaps the lines between literary and SFF have become blurred. But a DMZ doesn’t mean there’s no conflict over what belongs on what side of which line. Just ask the Koreas. If the conflict stops being about whether SFF themes and settings make something innately not literary (and I think, as the article’s writer seems to think, that this is coming to pass), the people invested in the argument will move on to a new point of categorization. They’ll still argue over which side of what border multigenre stories properly lie on. They’ll argue over what defines literary and what defines science fiction and what defines fantasy (people still argue over whether Star Wars should be considered science fiction or fantasy, for example. Yes, they do.). They’ll argue about whether “cli-fi” (climate fiction, dealing with the potential repercussions of climate change — look up Paolo Bacigalupi’s work if you’re curious) is also sci-fi, or if it’s something distinct.
There are always things to argue about, and humans will find them. That’s a big part of what we do with these big primate brains of ours. Or have you not been watching the news?
First, the clickbait titles themselves. On page 2 (the link to page 2 is allllllll the way at the bottom of this page, under the related post thumbnails), I will post the title plus the book the title refers to.
That way, you can enjoy guessing which books the clickbait titles are ‘advertising’ before going to the next page to see if you guessed right.
You Won’t Believe Why One Old Hobbit Walked Halfway Across The World
One Weird Trick To Becoming The Religious Icon of An Entire People (Hint: Kwisatz Haderach!)
You’ll Be Shocked When You Realize You Love This Genocide-Committing Murderer
The Most Embarrassing Reactions When Winter Is Coming
This Weird Old Trick Will Help You Defy The Book Burning Hordes
This Story Will Put You Off Pork Chops Forever
You’ll Be Shocked When You Find Out How Dangerous Lifehacks Really Are
This Zoned-Out Martian Hippie Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity
You Might Think Nothing Is Worse Than Ebola — But You’re Wrong
The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Read And Not Understand
How Bad Will Your Kids Screw Things Up? The Answer Is Worse Than You Think
One Grandpa Goes Green — You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next!
You’ll Never See America The Same Way Again After You Learn What One Convicted Felon Learned
Click over to page two below, and see the headlines matched up with their classic SFF titles!