Why I Write Fantasy: To try to Touch the Unknown.

The adventure of a blank page is the infinite possibilities it represents. Each word written at first narrows the choices left for those to follow, words determining their most likely successors, options being lost due to the rules of grammar, the syntax of language. But, after a time a magical thing can happen: the groups of words, obeying some rules, perhaps daring to break others, become more than the sum of their parts, and even careworn old collections of letters can shine in a way that is novel.

I write fantasy because it is freeing, the lack of initial constraints, no need for faithfulness to known geography, period, technology, or language. I admire writers of contemporary fiction – it is no easy task to capture parts of our world faithfully, present what many people are familiar with as new, and not trip up over some detail that has pedants howling at the author for getting ‘it’ wrong. I wrote something set in what might have ended up being a version of Denver a few years ago, though I intentionally kept it vague because tying myself to modern landmarks felt stifling. Already so much of the technology mentioned in passing in that story is obsolete. I doubt the Devil will use messenger to communicate in today’s stories! And I couldn’t even begin to keep up with the landscape of phone apps and interfaces, it seems each year has its own fad, a next big thing that is so two years ago to those in the know, and which flames out or gets bought by the tech giants just in time for the next sensation to appear.

So, intimidated by the thought of keeping such modern details accurate, fantasy appeals as a place in which you are in command of the rules, at least at first. I’ve talked about that a little elsewhere, and maybe I’ll go into more depth about the attractions of, and my approach to world building in another blog. The other thing I like about fantasy is that it is easier, I think, in this medium to push characters and ideas into new hypothetical positions, to explore quandaries and conflicts that the contemporary writer cannot easily access. I mean, all of human experience can be described in contemporary realism, every emotion, every conflict, overt and internal can be explored, the shape of life and how the sublime can exist in even the most apparently mundane circumstances, but you’re never going to get to pit your characters against blood spirits, or explore what thousands of years of life does to the perspective of someone who was once merely human. For me fantasy offers those chances (and so many more!), frames of reference that cannot exist in contemporary realistic literature, but can share the same aims, namely to find novel ways to explore what it is that makes us human, what characteristics we share, what responses we might have to the unknown.

And in fantasy, big metaphysical ideas can be given form and flesh, personified and played with in ways that cannot be done in other genres, and because the situations can be so varied, so new, very strange hypotheticals can be born, yet still have an impact beyond their novelty, can still trace their way back to our world, our experience. Dark, bright, or distorted versions of our world can slide through fantasy, even as the tale simply stands on its own as an adventure worth reading.

That is another lure for me in writing fantasy, this urge to not only capture new conflicts, new ideas, new demonstrations of strength and frailty, but to do it whilst telling a rousing tale filled with old familiar things: love, hatred, family, friendships, betrayal, and to have the old and new coexist, perhaps complement each other, while never getting in the way of the story, the magical journey our minds share as we turn pages, or swipe screens, the incredible human experience of words allowing one mind to touch another even if oh so very indirectly, and maybe, through fiction, share something real.

When I said aim high in another blog, I meant it. I also know that reach exceeding grasp is a very real thing, but dammit, I have to try.

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