Saturday, 12 January 2013

Fantasy Worlds

Do you prefer fantasy stories set in an entirely fantasy world, or ones in the real world with a fantasy twist?

This is a question I've been thinking about a lot recently and I posted it on a fantasy writers group on google+, where it got a fairly balanced response. Most people seemed to like writing about both, but there was a common consensus on the need for familiarity and real-world elements in every fantasy story.

I love the way that Cassandra Clare includes real world references in her books, particularly Simon's pop culture references, which are often completely lost on Jace and the other Shadowhunters. We, the reader, feel that we understand something  the fantasy characters doesn't and can laugh a little at their expense.

“Kyle wants to be a rockstar. I think he's working the one-name thing. Like Rihanna." [Simon]
"I have no idea what you're talking about.”  [Jace]

“Thank you,” Simon said. “It’s a joke, Isabelle. He’s the Count. He likes counting. You know. ‘What did the Count eat today, children? One chocolate chip cookie, two chocolate chip cookies, three chocolate chip cookies . . .’”

There was a rush of cold air as the door of the restaurant opened, letting in another customer. Isabelle shivered and reached for her black silk scarf. “It’s not realistic.”

“What would you prefer? ‘What did the Count eat today, children? One helpless villager, two helpless villagers, three helpless villagers . . .” 

I love these moments; they make the books even more amazing. 

Clare also has to come up with clever solutions for keeping her 'real world' and 'fantasy world' separate; the glamour of the Sadowhunter buildings, for example. A similar technique is used by one of my/everyone's favourite authors, JK Rowling. I can't imagine Harry Potter being half as good if it didn't have that 'real world' grounding . I love that we discover the Wizarding world along with Harry; it makes Rowling's descriptions and explanations more authentic.

On the other hand, I adore the sheer scale and detail of George RR Martin's 'Song of Fire and Ice' series. These books, I believe, are fantasy at its finest. Everything has been carefully thought about and vividly depicted. Martin overlooks nothing and the strength of his world really brings his characters and plots to life.

Fire is set in a completely fictional world. While I was writing, this was something I had to constantly remind myself: my characters couldn't say 'what the hell' because they had no concept of hell. I had to make my own phrases instead: 'flames' is a prevalent Helian swear word and the Arcans say 'what the air?' a fair bit. I also had to edit out problematic words like 'stoic' - unless I had wanted to come up with my own version of Helian philosophy...

Another thing I had to put a lot of thought into was animals. Should my world have the same animals as the real world, or its own? I decided that creating a whole set of new animals would be unnecessarily complicated for a reader to follow. Instead, I used a few mythical ones and Greek or Latin variations on the names of ones  that actually existed, just to keep things different.

For the most part though, creating my own world was an amazing experience. I could invent anything I wanted. My world has two suns,  its own, unique geography and a colourful history of wars and politics, as well as new forms of transport in the Arcan Realm.

I would love to hear your views on completely invented worlds Vs contemporary fantasy and also (once you've read the book) you're opinions on the world I have created. 

1 comment:

  1. (sorry, I realised I commented on the wrong post!
    ) As a reader I think a subtle blending in of the contemporary to the fantasy world is ideal, for pretty much the reasons you've said - a modern-day reference makes the fantasy world much easier to relate to. It also has the power to add a whole level of implicit meaning and complexity to the fantasy world with little effort on the part of the author. For me, your use of ‘switch-tops’ in Fire which are clearly mobile phones really made the world you created ‘pop’.

    I got really carried away by Fire and couldn't put it down. This topic of fantasy/contemporary worlds also really got me thinking about other books that I've read recently, which I've written about as well as more thoughts about Fire, here: Worlds of books: Fantasy, contemporary, and delicious mixes in between