Thursday, November 9, 2017

Just Change One Thing (A Simple Formula For Modern Fantasy)

If you're trying to write a modern fantasy story, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. After all, what do you let in, and what do you keep out? Does your world have vampires? And if you do, are there werewolves as well? What about angels and demons? And if you allow them in, do you keep things old testament, or do you let in all the pagan gods along with their hosts of spirits? Does your world have magic, and if so, what kind? Or do you have several different kinds, each with their own history, philosophy, and requirements?

Take a deep breath... You don't have to make this so complicated.
Stop. If you find yourself in this situation, just stop.

Now, put your gears in reverse, and go back to the beginning. Make one change, and see where that gets you.

Avoiding Kitchen Sink Settings

Let's be real, some authors are perfectly comfortable with a kitchen sink setting. They've got everything in their world, and they can explain it effortlessly to the audience in a way that is easy to digest, and which makes everything seem wondrous and vibrant. However, something a lot of us seem to forget is that not all of us can pull that off. So, if you find yourself getting overwhelmed trying to make your modern fantasy setting vibrant and unique, do yourself a favor and keep the floodgates closed.

Instead, change one thing. Flick one element, and see what sort of ricochets it makes throughout the world.

One change is usually enough for most settings.
Take the standard zombie apocalypse scenario. Whether it's what we see in Night of The Living Dead, or the near-future setting of The Newsflesh Trilogy, there was one change made to the world we know and love; the dead get up, and hunger for the living. Everything else in this setting revolves around that singular difference, and the world's response to it.

If you want to make a setting where you can focus on your story, while also making everything feel unique and surreal without feeling crammed, follow that same logic. Change one thing, and then follow the ripples to see where they go.

As a for-instance, let's say there are people who have learned the secrets of ancient magics, and can wield them from the shadows. Their doings are kept private, and secret, known only to a few, and believed by even fewer. So you have a world where strange, inexplicable instances suddenly take on sinister meanings, and where agents of those learned in the secret ways go forth to do their master's bidding. What you have here is Harry Potter, if it had a baby with Jason Bourne. The intrigue and escape of a secret world where magic is real, but where only a privileged few know about it. Thus you can reveal, or not reveal, as much as you want through those who are in-the-know. Same way spy novels work, giving you access to the world beneath the world where only spies and operatives tend to lurk.

You don't have to throw ancient gods, fairy tale monsters, demons, or vampires into that mix... magic and skullduggery creates a unique enough setting on its own that you don't have to hang twelve lampshades on it to stand out. More importantly, though, there's less stuff for you to keep track of, and for your audience to have to learn. Because you're essentially giving your readers a crash course in your world, its language, and the rules it runs on. The fewer things they have to keep track of, the less chance there is they'll get confused, overwhelmed, or find cracks in the foundation.

It's Not For Everyone

To reiterate, this is just one way of doing things. It isn't inherently better, or worse, than any others. But if you keep finding the disparate elements of your world rising up to overwhelm you, then maybe you should remove some of those elements entirely. After all, if you've got your audience hooked with, "Club DJ necromancer has to survive death threats from fireball gang to uncover what really happened that night in a Brooks Street alley," then adding in vampires or werewolves won't, necessarily, make that better.

It will, though, make it more complicated. That might not be what your story, or your audience, needs.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. It's a day late, for which I apologize, but I'm getting prepped for Windy Con. So, if you find yourself attending, feel free to track me down to say hello! Also, if you want to stay up-to-date on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little love in my cup. For as little as $1 a month, I'll even send you some free books as a thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment