At recent book reading for Dormant, someone asked why I write fantasy novels. My gut answer was that I’m all about escapism and what better way to escape than by hiding in another world?
As I thought about it, I realized there’s a longer answer. I write fantasy stories because of the world building, the chance to create the rules and structure the characters inhabit. To me, a good fantasy story balances between describing the world and describing the characters’ journey — it’s not always an actual journey, of course. For that matter, it’s not always another world. Many wonderful fantasy novels take place in our world…with a twist.
In each world, there are rules that define how life works. The rules can relate to magic — does using magic make a sound that other magic users can hear, can only certain people use magic, or are only certain locations magical? Where does the power comes form — is it an inherit ability, or does it come from a magical object? Are you born with the power or does it turn on like a flipped switch? Does magic come from a fragile balance between man and nature that can break without explanation?
The writer defines the rules — she must follow those rules or else build the story around why the rules are suddenly suspended. It’s both fun and daunting to face creating a world with certain guidelines. Staying within the rules can be just as frustrating for the writer as it is for the characters. However, rules must exist because if the character can suddenly change within the story to resolve an issue then there is no conflict.
In The Well World series by Jack Chalker, he creates a planet where the rules change geographically by creating hexagonal like worlds with the major world. The rules of one hexagon might allow magic while the next one over doesn’t. Machines work in some hexagons while they don’t in others. It’s one of my favorite series simply because the rules can change so quickly but within the construct of each little world, the rules are absolute. Machines go from useful to lumps of useless metal just by crossing a border, geography deters poisonous gases, and an extreme patriarchal society borders a hive world run by a queen.
Sometimes people assume authors spend time creating the rules before starting to write the story. Obviously, everyone has a different process but many writers develop the rules while writing the story. I began Dormant with some basic rules — you’re born a supernormal with basic package abilities (super speed, super hearing, super strength, etc.), your significant ability manifests at age thirteen and you don’t get new abilities once you’ve grown into the significant ability. This means I can’t decide Olivia’s ability is fire and then add the ability to fly because it would be an easy away to get her out of a sticky situation. Other rules of the supernormal world inhabited by Olivia and her family evolved as I wrote the story.
As I write Root, the second book in the series, I’m having fun defining more rules — for supernormal beasts, for Ben’s mind reading ability, and, well…you’ll just have to see when Root comes out later this year.
What is your favorite fantasy novel and what are its rules/laws?
LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.