Visions: A Set-Up Round

by Cooper Young

Writing a fantasy novel takes a good deal more research than one would think.

“Why?” you ask, “You make everything up!  How would you research a  world you created?  Classes on magic?  Interviews with dragons?”

No, and don’t be a smartass, Hypothetical Reader.  The only thing about an utterly foreign world which interests people is its commonalities with their own lives. The genre exists to demonstrate that once science, society, and overarching plot are stripped away there are certain core truths- or, at least, what we want to believe are truths- about humanity and psychology.  Making characters believable is the first step to any good novel, and its just as important in fantasy as in any other genre.  Making a world believable, on the other hand, is the difference between a Tolkien-clone hack and Tolkien himself.  Any half-decent writer can create a believable protagonist, and any superior one can create a similar supporting cast.  Only a true master can make you smell flowers he himself has never seen.

Thus, the great challenge of a fantasy writer is drawing out the commonalities between their world and that of the reader.  It is the art of firing a shot which purposely and ever so slightly misses the mark- just enough to remind the reader what mark was missed.  Different authors focus on different things; Tolkien and Le Guin both used language for depth and nature for familiarity, Rowling used variations on a familiar culture, Dunsany and Lewis used animals, and Jacques used, of all things, food.  Hell, at age twelve I had never even seen a scone , but  I KNEW that all the best ones were baked by anthropomorphic mouse priests.  Think about that.

So, who made you believe?  How did they do it?  For those of you who write, how do you intend to do it?

***I swear this is going somewhere.  Also, for those of you who don’t already know, I’m going to England again tomorrow.  I will have my laptop this time, however, so posts should theoretically go on uninterrupted.  Theoretically.