Why I Write Fantasy: Ideas, Imagination and the Power of “What if?”

Last week I discussed the allure of creating worlds, the joy of it often being in the freedom it grants you as a writer to shape the drama of your story from the ground up, and have the universe in which your narrative takes place become, in a sense, an active character in that story. Or if not an active character, then at least a defining influence upon the people whose struggles and adventures are played out within that milieu.

I like to have strong ideas running in the background of my creations. (Yes, I only have one in publication at present – but there are more waiting in the wings!) Like an operating system they are not meant to be the star of the show, but enable everything else to function. My aim is not to create a gazetteer or almanac of any particular world, but to provide reasons for why things are as they are, and why characters react and think as they do in a way that makes sense. For me the opportunity created is that different worlds can provide contrasting psychological baselines for the people living there, versus our own world experience.

In worlds of fantasy you get to create characters for whom magic is real, and gods can potentially be met, given the right circumstances, among thousands of other possibilities! That would have a transformative effect on the lived experience. Fantasy literature allows this and other thought experiments to be indulged in, at a step removed from our Earth and its many complications, most of which would strain readers’ suspension of disbelief in a way which doesn’t happen in fantasy. The reader of fantasy comes in ready to allow many things that would be rapidly discounted if inserted into our world, so a few extra concepts about the origins of that particular universe do not tend to shatter the trust between reader and writer, and that all important suspension of disbelief is happily maintained. For me a lot of the fun in fantasy world creation still boils down to “What if this condition in the universe was different? What would the consequences be?”

But the story and the characters still need to come first. The Thief and The Demon started from Fistmar’s opening predicament, his escape from prison, the release of the demon. As I was working on the outline and background of the novel, I started providing explanations for how that could occur, who could want such things to happen and why it would unfold as it does, and the path led all the way back to why the World Belt is organized as it is, which was governed by another “What if?” I had long entertained, the “What if Wizards were not useful old men with awesome powers who don’t seem to have much interest in running the world? Why have all that power and not be in charge? What would such a world look like?” That world needs an explanation for how magic came into the universe, and how Wizards acquire and utilise their power. The reader doesn’t need to know the details (yet), but they have to be there for the actions to make sense before the underlying structures are revealed. You cannot escape the world-building! But in a way the story as originally conceived led to the creation of the rules for that universe. I did not create the universe first and then the story. The story led the way. In The Killer and The Dead I aim to expand the experience of living in the World Belt, and provide more glimpses of the power structures that drive the deeper conflicts within it.

And that is the joy of Fantasy, the ability to use different worlds to explore ideas that despite the strange clothing they can be housed in, are still relevant to us here, or ask us as readers to wonder how we would act in places where some of the rules for living are so very different. That it is possible to do this whilst at the same time writing an action-packed romp that is hopefully exciting and entertaining is a huge benefit. My aim isn’t to give people brain ache, it’s to let them have a good time while reading. Engage, enjoy, entertain – my guiding lights. The level of engagement in whatever ideas I have strewn through the text is, I hope, entirely up to the reader. If afterwards they want to think on some of the ideas behind the world I created for them, or demonstrated through the actions of the characters, then that is a bonus! I’m here, and happy to discuss.

3 thoughts on “Why I Write Fantasy: Ideas, Imagination and the Power of “What if?”

  1. Pingback: Why I Write Fantasy: Infinite Possibilities – Roderick T. Macdonald

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