Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Telling the Truth Through "Lies"

Bruce Coville* once said: "I make my living telling lies to little children."

He went on to explain that the "lies" he tells in his fantasy fiction expand the mind and let kids see a whole new world.

For some beginning writers, writing fantasy might feel like "lying". They feel the need to point out the discrepancies between the rules of the world they're creating and reality. They forget that the point of good fiction is to entice the reader to enter in to a separate reality, to leave their preconceptions behind and move into the writer's world for a time. The fantasy world must not be intruded upon, if the spell is to remain unbroken. Reality must not interrupt the fantasy the author is creating.

The backbone of good fiction is truth. A believable fantasy starts with a skeleton of rules. The laws of physics in a fantasy world, for example, might be different from the laws of physics in our own world, but they must be adhered to or the fantasy starts to fall apart. There must be reasonable limitations.

Even fantasy needs to make sense, needs to follow rules- laws of physics and rules of social behavior. Those rules don't have to be the same as our rules, they're very flexible. They just need to be consistent. If your character has a super-power, he must also suffer from kryptonite, a weakness that makes him relatible and human enough for your reader to identify with.

Take Piers Anthony's character from his novel Ogre, Ogre, Tandy. Her ability is throwing temper-tantrums:

Desperate, Tandy wreaked her ultimate. She threw a tantrum. Her body stiffened, her face turned red, her eyes clenched shut, and she hurled the tantrum right at the demon's fat chest.
It struck with explosive impact. The demon sundered into fragments, his feet, hands and head flying outward. His tail landed on the bed and lay twitching like a beheaded snake."

A real-world temper tantrum would hardly have such a devastating affect, but in Xanth, Anthony's fantasy world, a temper tantrum is a formidable weapon to wield.

Tandy's weakness lies in the guilt she feels after throwing a tantrum, and the fact that a tantrum, once thrown, takes time to recharge. Tandy's weaknesses make her a sympathetic character, one to whom readers can relate.

Bryan Davis** writes
We have within us a craving, a deep desire to commune with a power greater than our own, yet many of us crawl along in life without even a glimpse of our hidden passion. There has to be a reason for living. There must be a Camelot, a hidden Utopia where we can rest from our personal campaigns. Fantasy opens our eyes to a better place, a shining city we do not yet know.”

Write for the reader who is searching for that city, and you will find the common thread that runs through the hearts of men. We are all searching for something more, something unseen. We long for adventure. Write to that need, and you will write fantasy readers crave.

Happy writing!

Rejoicing in the day,


*Bruce Coleville is the award-winning author of
The Unicorn Chronicles series, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, I Left My Sneakers In Dimension X, and many other brilliant books for middle-grade readers.

**Bryan Davis is the author of Dragons in our Midst, Oracles of Fire, and Echoes from the Edge, three family-friendly series of mystery and adventure.