Greetings once again and welcome to the blog. Last week’s discussion of Discworld and all its fantastical nature caused me to reflect on another element of fantasy- magic. While not all fantasy stories have this directly, there is usually a hint of it or it is part of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. However, magic is often portrayed as the ‘answer’ to various questions in these novels. This is understandable since magic is undefined and can really do anything. However, stories that use magic do need to have rules that define it, or magic simply becomes another dues ex machina.
Magic in Books
Because magic is imaginary, it can be bent to serve many forms. Wizards and sorcerers generally can use magic for anything they desire, or there are specific types of magic (fire-magic, for example) that can do certain things but not solve all problems. It also serves a difficult balance of not always needing to be explained. For example, if Merlin the wizard casts a spell, we accept whatever he does because he is Merlin and an established wizard. But at the same time, if a character was somehow affected by, let’s say, a healing spell, and then developed the ability to stop time, then we are left wondering why a spell would have such a different reaction on this person. An example of this kind of magic comes from a parody from The Simpsons, in which actress Lucy Lawless responds to fan questions with “A wizard did it’. This causes issues because it makes magic a blanket answer that also means that it has no rules and can answer a question without establishing why.
Many books do establish severe rules for magic. In the Dragonlance Chronicles, it is explained that magic requires not only innate talent, but perfect recitation and writing of spells. The use of magic also drains the user, until he or she must rest and regain their strength. This explains why wizards do not take over the world with their power. There are also divisions in the ranks- three distinct orders that focus on good, neutrality, and evil. While they are different, all orders are bound to magic and its preservation, and will work together when the need arises. However, not all examples of magic are so heavily regulated. Many fairy tales use magic in simpler ways that do not require a lot of detail. We can all remember the witches of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast that could use magic. But since these characters are generally established to have power by designation alone and use it for evil, an in depth explanation is not required. However, this example proves that simply having magic is not enough.
This brings me to one of the reasons I chose to do this blog- a series of discussions I have had with a friend over Disney’s Frozen, which is based on the fairy tale of the Snow Queen. While I generally liked the film, I was disappointed that no explanation was given for the cryokinetic powers of Queen Elsa. When I brought up this point, my friend countered that this was clearly a magic land (as it had trolls that used magic) and that I was overthinking the matter. While that may be true, I still found this blanket answer an issue, as the trolls do not show the powers Elsa displays nor do her parents (nor do they have an encounter prior to Elsa’s birth that would explain it, as seen in the film’s predecessor Tangled). It paints magic as random and unpredictable and while it is conceivable that any of the reasons I mentioned might have happened, it is a blow to the film to not show them, especially as Tangled managed to do so in a two minute segment. Because while magic can do anything, it requires proper logic and rules behind to function, or it simply becomes the tool of a lazy writer to explain without actually explaining. And that is something no magic wand can wave away.
On a side note, I will be hosting a book signing at the Westfield NJ Town Bookstore this Saturday from 2-4. If you are in the area, stop by, meet me, and pick up a great book.
Since I spent last week talking about an author that inspired me, I felt I should continue the trend with another highly influential author. A longtime source of classic fantasy literature, the work of this particular author was what convinced me that Lightrider would even be possible to attempt. This author is the one and only, Terry Brooks.
Points of Light: Terry Brooks
A writer since high school, Terry Brooks first drew attention in the seventies with his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, above the adventures of the Ohmsford family, last descendants of the Elven house of Shannara in a multi-cultural medieval land reminiscent of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Brooks then turned the novel into a long running series, with each book dealing with a different generation of the Ohmsford family and their allies, usually linked by one of the ancient Druids (first the grim and dark Allannon, then his sucessors) or another character from the previous books. While the series has been a hit, Brooks has also expanded into other series, such as the contemporary fantasies of Kingdom of Landover and Knight of the Word (which has been linked to his Shannara books). Brooks continues to write to this day, currently working on the next volume of Shannara.
Last week, I discussed how a video game gave me inspiration for the worlds and diverseness of Lightrider. And since I’ve already discussed TV and literature, I’d like to discuss another aspect that helped in a particular area of the book’s development- my love of music. Obviously, this didn’t mean I was now writing about rock stars, but as Zelda helped me to create a diverse, rich world, music helped me to create real people to populate it.
Points of Light: Music
This week, I’m continuing Points of Light with a look at a source that was so essential to the book, I would never have been able to write it without it. When I started writing, one thing I very much wanted to avoid was creating a sword and shield style fantasy book. Even though I love stories like Lord of the Rings, I felt there wasn’t anything new I could add to this genre, and that having those elements in modern times was far more interesting. However, one such fantasy book series provided such tremendous insight on concept and character that I found myself compelled to use it. That series was the Dragonlance Chronicles, by Track Hickman and Margaret Weis.
Hey everyone, decided to try the Write on Edge challenge today. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Write on Edge posts weekly writing prompts that anyone can participate in – you simply link up your post on the website. This week we were prompted to compose up to 500 words on the following Dr. Seuss quote and image:
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” – Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax
One question every author gets asked is: what advice can you give to young writers? I say there are only two things that young authors can do. One of them is simply to write. Writing is a skill like any other, and no one develops a skill or talent without extensive practice and fine tuning. But there is another practice, that I must put before all others: READ! Because as much as writing is a skill, it’s also something that requires an understanding before you can start. Just like you wouldn’t start constructing a building without learning how, you can’t start writing a story about vampires without first reading vampire stories and understanding the rules and just how the genre works (unless your name is Stephanie Meyers).
But while you should always read if you plan to write, there are many ways to see a story progress and learn from it. Lightrider was born out of books, TV, film, and even video games, so you should be no means limit yourself to one medium or genre. As such, I’ve decided to start a series on this blog about some of the influences that went into the making of Lightrider and how they left their mark on the book (I may also start a series on the reverse). But also, I want to hopefully show how to pick up on themes and concepts from bodies of work in order to really get something that you can use out of it. And with that said, I’d like to begin with a TV series that taught me not only about the mechanics of Lightrider, but also a tremendous amount on character and morality, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
While everyone remembers the escapades of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, there’s one scene that’s valuable to anyone that wants to write. It’s the scene in which Fox comes across the high school version of his father, a man furiously writing down his science fiction stories, but too afraid to ever risk showing them to anyone; to quote the man, “What if people don’t like them?”
For writers, that is a constant fear. But just to be able to write period, we can’t be George McFly. A writer can’t improve, can’t learn, if he doesn’t have feedback from people around him. What people don’t like may point the way towards improvement and better technique. But at the same time, a writer can’t allow everyone else to change the story, or it loses any touch the writer might put into it. As I’ve continued to write and show my work to others hoping for even the barest criticism, I’ve learned three very real ways to determine whether or not you should take the advice of others on your work.
Even if you never picked up a comic book in your life, there’s been some time where you wished you had some sort of special power. It could be something simple, like warming yourself when it’s cold, always knowing where your keys are, or even just being to vanish to another place whenever you like. But if you’re like me, with a love of comic books and understanding of powers like molecular reconfiguration and astral projection, then you have plenty of ideas as to what you would do in your wildest dreams- and what you could write about in a superhero-esque fantasy novel. But then the question becomes how you make them work, and what the rules are for them.
Writing is a career everyone asks questions about. They want to know what you’re going to write about. They want to you how you plan to support yourself. They want to know everything you know or are finding out about the process or how publishing works. But most of all, they ask one question- Why do you want to write?
For me, it’s simple. I don’t have a grand design to be looked at as the next great American writer. I don’t expect people to think of in twenty years as the new Tolkien or Asimov or other great fantasy/sci-fi writer. When I sat down and seriously began to write The Lightrider Journals, being self-sufficent on writing and getting some credibility was on my mind. But mainly, I was just eager to start creating my own fantasy world, and using it to talk about what matters to me.
It’s that last one that really matters. No matter what it is, everyone wants to do something they like for a living. But if you’re a writer, then you cannot just focus on the act of writing, or the potential rewards. Let’s be honest, everyone knows writing is not a guarantee and plenty of people have to balance it with another job just to stay afloat. And while the love of writing may be enough to sustain you through that, be able to write and having something to write are completely different things. Beyond anything else, you have to look at whatever you have and think, KNOW, that it’s something that needs to be told. And that when you put it down, that whether people agree with you or not, that it’s something that said what you needed it to say.