Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fantasy Writing Tips

A major part of this project will be spent constructing ideas through writing as well as drawing. A 'fantasy world' tends to evoke images of knights in armour, beautiful elves, mischievous goblins and heroes with some kind of an important quest. I'd like to avoid all of these and other widely recognised fantasy cliches.

The prospect of creating an entire alternative world that seems believable is fairly daunting as I haven't done any focussed creative writing in a long time, and I haven't really done any research into how to do it well. It's something I've always loved the idea of, and I wrote a lot of stories as a kid, but it's just never been something I've considered as one of my main creative pursuits. I hope this project will finally be a chance to stretch my imagination and use these skills, and see if it's something I could do more in the future.

I've done a little research and I'm aware there's many things I need to think about in great detail if I want to create a world that is compelling, consistent and unique; similarly there are many aspects of a character that need to be considered in order for them to be relatable and interesting. There's countless online tutorials, guides, tips, generators, prompters, etc. that can be a source of guidance and inspiration in doing this.

Creating good characters 

It is generally agreed that entirely 'good' heroes and entirely 'evil' villains are dull. Characters are what drives a plot, not vice-versa, and therefore they need to be complex. It's important to consider every aspect of your character, even if it isn't explicitly stated in a narrative, as it will still inform the writing and designing process and allow the character to 'write their own story'. You can make a character interesting by giving them exaggerated qualities, but they shouldn't fall into the trap of being one-dimensional, e.g. being "the funny one", "the smart one" etc. Although characters can have these traits, it's important to expand upon them. Asking as many questions as you can think of about a character's past, upbringing, appearance, habits, likes, dislikes etc. and the reasons for these develops them and helps us to understand them.

A useful way to think about personalities that differ from your own is to look into astrological signs and personality types. For example:

Regardless of how accurate astrological signs may or may not be, they do offer an interesting array of character ideas.

There's also the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which measures "psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions." We took the test a while back in college to discover more about ourselves and how it might effect my work. For example my personality type indicator is 'INFP' (although I think this has probably changed since then) There are pages of lengthy descriptions of the INFP indicator on the web that go into great detail of both the positive and negative aspects of this type of person, like here.

The wide range of possible indicators that exist again offers insights into the many different ways a person can perceive the world, and can help inspire ways of creating diverse character traits. A list can be found here.

Motivations and development

Powerful stories are driven by primal emotions: love, hate, jealousy, revenge, lust. Combinations of these create intriguing internal conflicts and greatly enhance drama. It's also important that over time the motivations of a character (therefore the plot) leads them to grow and change in some way - the most widespread examples being the coming-of-age story of a protagonist finding strength and their place in the world. A character can also redeem themselves and become more 'good', or decline into evil, the development of which can be the base of a very compelling story (though, again, it's important to avoid too many cliches). The development of a character often happens as a result of the choices they make, as when we are faced with difficult choices we often discover our 'true' selves, and this can go on to have long-lasting effects in life.

Although creating a fantasy story opens up almost endless opportunities for creating bizarre, unique creatures and characters, the story will fall flat if people find the protagonist they are following dull. It's important for them to be many-layered, and to have these layers slowly unravel as the story goes on and they are faced with complex dilemmas, leading them to question themselves and their choices. These are the things that make them tangible, emotional and interesting.

Creating a world

The most important part of writing a fantasy world is for it to be consistent: there needs to be a set of some sort of rules of the world which the characters and their actions remain true to.

Magic is often a driving force behind many fantasy stories, and comes in many forms: witches and wizards, magical jewels, sacrificing to gods, scrolls and incantations... The source of the magic, who wields it, what non-magic users do to compensate, and how they treat magic users, etc. are all crucial aspects to think about.

I feel I'd like magic to be something fairly obscure and difficult to attain in my world; something that there used to be in abundance, but has since faded (similar to how it is presented in Game of Thrones). This opens up possibilities for thinking about the ways in which people would try to make up for the loss of magic. I think this would fit in rather well with the more 'gritty' tone of my world. I'd also like for it to be something that is only evoked through the creation of an artefact, for example through the particularly skilled way of writing a symbol or weaving a tapestry. This way it isn't something innate to someone from birth, and it isn't something which can be done by anyone: it is, above anything else, a craft. This way it isn't something that is widespread without really questioned, but a skill which takes time to develop.

Details play a very important role in creating a consistent fantasy reality. The details of the technology, clothing, weapons, architecture, etc. should all make sense and have some sort of reasoning behind them that follows the world's rules. It's important to take reference from real-world history to gain an understanding of how our technology works and has evolved, so that we can decide on a level of technology that would fit in with the world we're trying to create. A lot of fantasy takes place in a Middle Ages-type world where the majority of tools are rather basic and crude. This is reflected in the lifestyle of the citizens, in what they wear, what they eat, and how society is structured.

I know I'd prefer for my world to be without modern-day type technology, but at the same time I'd like to avoid the typical Medieval influences. I need to think a lot more about the reasons behind why and the overall history of the world that has influenced this.  In the more developed parts of my world, such as the larger cities, I'd like there to be a more unique aesthetic that combines influences from different eras of our world (whilst still making sense). I will define and design this further in future posts.

A list of tropes can be found here:
Reading through the most common tropes and plot devices can help the writing process as you can think of ways to subvert them into something original and fresher.

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