Making Make-Believe Believable: A story’s true magic has nothing to do with fantasy elements. Don’t neglect the essence of storytelling simply because you write speculative fiction.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand why people read fiction. Readers want to escape into another world. They want to experience something they can’t experience otherwise. A story transports the reader out of his or her own reality into a new one. Some readers want a world that is just like their own, but one where they win. They want a world where they get the boyfriend, they save the world, or they go on an adventure they never dreamed possible. Some want to escape to a different world altogether. Our goal as writers is to create the world they want.
Mainstream fiction may be bound by the same physical laws and technological advances as speculative fiction, but mainstream stories still create a bit of what I like to call “story magic.” For example: statistically speaking, James Bond is an anomaly. The majority of people caught in his situations probably wouldn’t survive. He is bound by the same physical laws that govern us, but he overcomes. Bond also is governed by different social laws, it often seems. He always gets the girl, and often more than one per movie. We love James Bond’s world because he always wins. We get a thrill when he enacts his super-spy feats. We love his suave character. We love the Aston Martin and the exotic places Bond gets to visit.
Notice what three aspects of storytelling these things represent:
- Character Development
I call these the Big Three. The skillful use and intertwining of these three items is what creates a story’s true magic.
This idea of story magic differs by genre and by audience. Romance readers crave a different sort of hero than action/adventure readers, etc., but each magical plot-point, piece of character development, and bit of description is what touches a reader’s soul. Even though mainstream fiction is bound by natural law and operates in the realm of the believable, it is still full of magic.
Speculative fiction writers have another arsenal of story magic that is unavailable to mainstream writers: actual magic and science fiction (as referred to in an earlier post: the unbelievable). Our fantasy characters use wands. Dragons and unicorns exist. Light sabers are real. Spaceships fly at light speed. Captain America can kill as many Nazis as he wants, and ghosts can scare the life out of people. Our speculative fiction tools give us an edge over mainstream writers. Unfortunately, this edge is part of a sword, and both sides are sharp.
Having so many extra techniques in one’s writing arsenal can make the speculative writer lazy. We might concentrate too much on world building and not enough on character building. Our dialog might feel as though it came straight out of a children’s book. Our plot might be full of holes and uninspiring. I think of movies like Krull, Conan the Barbarian (the original), and Clash of the Titans (the original). Their fantasy elements inspired our imaginations. Their plots inspired us to make parodies.
What to take away from this: Whether you write speculative fiction or mainstream fiction, your story needs magic. Study the art of storytelling. Learn to develop character. Understand the basic story arch. Enrich your description. These elements can add more magic to your story than your speculative elements.
Mainstream Writers: To create magic in your story, you must master the big three: plot, character development, and setting, more than speculative writers. A big part of this involves understanding your particular audience and what/where they want to escape to. Enhance the magic in your books by creating awe-inspiring settings. Reread myths and legends as models for epic characters. Your story might not leave the bounds of physics, but you can still make your readers feel as though they have been on a fantastic journey.
Speculative Writers: You don’t get a free pass at the big three just because you get to use magic and science fiction. You have double the work before you. You must master the art of telling a story and master the use of speculative elements.
Stay tuned for the next post when we discuss the suspension of disbelief.
If you are new to this blog, I’ve been writing a series of posts about writing speculative fiction, including fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, comic books, paranormal, and horror. For the full list, click here or on the category called “Making Make-Believe Believable.” Thanks for stopping by!
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.