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What do you look for in Fantasy?
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 5:19 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I was sitting down reading reviews one day for an Ursula K Le Guin book and found out that everyone looks for something different in fantasy. As a site of readers and writers, I wondered what you all looked for when you write your fantasy or read some. Now it doesn't necessarily have to be an objective answer. I want to know what draws you in, not your mother-brother-sister-cousin, or best friend in the cubical next to you. What do you think makes a story for you? What themes do you like?

To make this discussion more fun, I would like you to describe the current fantasy project you are working on (if you are working on one), or one you want to work on, and some the themes you employ. Describe why you employed those themes. Do they draw you in? Do they interest you? Are you just really good at writing them with no particular interest?

I don't want to describe my work until there are a few posts here since this thread is not all about me. I just thought it would be fun for us to discuss the variety of fantasy subjects, themes, and characters that might draw others in while not attracting some.

E D Johnson
Posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 9:10 PM
Joined: 6/11/2011
Posts: 18

Well.. I like several things. I want complicated plot lines, sub-plots, and characters. I want a quest or story that affects more than just the immediate characters. Bonus points if the entire world or universe are at risk. I like magic and technology together. I like urban fantasy especially. I want elements of mystery and romance and suspense as well. I prefer themes that are universal and timeless, but I accept themes of smaller magnitudes as well.

Current work in progress (Affinity) has most of the requirements, save perhaps risk to the entire universe (or even the world). Affinity is supposed to be an Urban Fantasy with some Cyberpunk, so it covers the technology and magical requirements. I have attempted to make the characters as complicated as I can. The theme revolves around a saying that everyone is good at something, they just have to find out what it is.

Previous work (Code name: Veil) has the characters and overarching plot, but I think it lacks execution. It will need a complete re-write to fully encapsulate the mystery, romance, and suspense factors. It is also a full high/epic fantasy setting, not an urban one. The theme centers around betrayal and redemption.

I have as much interest in writing a good story that I would enjoy reading as I have in reading a good story that fills these qualifications, so definitely writing with interest in mind.
Alex Hollingshead
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 1:27 PM
Joined: 5/2/2011
Posts: 61

Varies, really. Keeping in mind that I basically only read otherworld fantasy, one thing that I love is a world that feels like it had to be fantasy. A lot of the stories I read are carbon copies of Earth at some place and time, but with magic. And historical/contemporary fantasy is a great thing, but I feel cheated if I am reading high or low fantasy and I am faced with "Etolia" or "Nijon" and am expected to act as amazed as if this were a brand new world. Because it isn't. I like worlds that are different, significantly so. Give me a flat earth, or a hollow earth, or a world where it always rains, or - better still, as a political fantasy fan - a culture that is genuinely different. Bits of this, bits of that, add some magic and it's something unrecognisable, something I am forced to become familiar with and can't just jump into saying "so this is 1800s England, then?"

Most of my other loves are either grossly specific (stories that involve ink-based magic are flawless) or very general (strong characters, interesting themes, etc. which is true of all fiction ever). As for my own works, I'm writing about a socialist monarchy set in a drug-ridden, flooding world within the shell of a Molusk, and the main character's entire motivation is obtaining the ink of the Amaranth (basically Lovecraftian gods) for a pasta dish.
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 2:19 PM
Just take me somewhere else. And once you've taken me to that other world? I need an escort that I actually like following around. So the characters have to be interesting, the action compelling, the conflict real. I've only read 1 or 2 fantasy works where I just couldn't put up with something any longer and had to stop reading it... I can dismiss smaller issues if the characters are enjoyable... I like multiple perspectives in a work... I didn't realize how much I liked it until reading the Wheel of Time series... By the 4th book Jordan really has you sucked into each individual plot, and right when its getting spicy he sends you across the world, to an equally important plot, but i think it pulls my strings as a reader very well...

As for my current project, Revenant... there is a lot of big picture stuff happening... We've zoomed in on a small event that will be significant for the entire world. I really just put in another perspective and viewpoint, and a whole new plot line arose. I'm exploring warring factions, the middling neutralities and how they respond to the tug and pull of supposed good and evil. I'm also exploring an undead narrator.
Katie Kerr
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 3:02 PM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 5

I won't lie. I really don't like quest sagas very much.

Romantic fantasy and political fantasy are my strong suits and, as such, I'm in it for the characters. I can put up with the flimsiest plots ("Maledicte" is relatively high on my list of favourites) for the sake of great characters. I want visceral, gut-wrenching moral crises, I want to scream out loud at my book when the protagonist makes the wrong choice, I want to fall in love with the villain for just a moment, then have the rug pulled out from under me and remember why I hate them. I want lies, sex and intrigue. Set the whole 100,000-word novel in a single room and never move, but give me great dialogue and fluid, evolving characters, and I'll be happy as a clam.

I'm also in Alex's camp, as far as loving that feeling of "Otherness," too. Maybe I don't need Strange Worlds where it always rains, but I love to become engrossed in completely alien cultures. Alternate/conflicting moralities are my weakness -- Jacqueline Carey's D'Angeline or, to a point, the North/South divide in Martin's Song of Ice and Fire -- because my biggest drawing point are the people, but if they're going to act and react just like "Earthlings," why not just read contemporary fiction?
Bill Gleason
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 11:16 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 18

Unbelievably, awesomely terrific responses, I wish I could give each of you two thumbs up.

If readers want historical or alternate history, they will seek it out, but fantasy should borrow as little as possible from the specifics of human history. The balance must be struck, however, with the fact that human history is all our readers have from which to draw reference and metaphor.

Try to imagine a civilization that might arise on a planet in our galaxy and you're soon writing science fiction (not that there's anything wrong with that), but there's a reason that old tropes keep popping up in fantasy lit (e.g., most lately vampires).

It is far easier for a writer to conceive of a truly alien world than it is for them to describe it in a way anyone else would understand. And readers don't want a world entirely divorced from their own reality, they want to escape to a place that is understandable, yet new and fun.
The Revelator
Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 12:58 AM
Joined: 7/2/2011
Posts: 2

Stephen King's Dark Tower series changed my life. It was the first fantasy series I ever read that so wonderfully blended alternate realities. I have versatile interests, so why shouldn't I be able to read about cowboys, telepaths, wise-guys, monsters, robots and building-sized bears in the same story? The idea of a western-style gunslinger being a knight in an ancient kingdom, questing across worlds to unlock the secrets of a mysterious tower that serves as the lynchpin for every reality floored me.

Therefore, my writing has taken on the same traits. I find myself fascinated with the possibilities behind a futuristic assassin who favors the the use of a high-powered shock rifle being pulled into a world where he must team up with a swordsman from medieval times and a modern-day soldier. Throw in a beautiful, far-future based enchantress who comes from a world where people have figured out the secret behind unlocking all of the mind's potential, then ask the rag-tag band of castaways to fulfill their destiny and combat the epitome of evil to bring a post-apocalyptic world back from the brink of total annihilation.

Add a religious element and plenty of action; sprinkle in some romance and political intrigue; garnish with liberal amounts of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll; and you have an idea of what you will come across in my series: "The Chronicles of the Exiles." I have posted what I have from the first book "The Duelist," so if anyone wants to take a read I would be glad for any constructive feedback!

Finally, I will caveat that while King opened my eyes to infinite possibilities, George R.R. Martin helped me find the right voice. My work is fairly gritty and has darker undertones, so if you don't want to read sexual or violent themes, it may not be for you.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 5:15 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Wow! These are all great responses. I'm so glad that people have no problem discussing their draws.

I myself was raised on Science Fiction. I know, that seems strange considering that I am currently working on a fantasy series that is taking some heavy steam punk like themes the more I write it. My mother used to watch Star Trek: NG when I was growing up (you know, when the episodes were new) and she still watches reruns, so I find SF easy to respond to. Then there was high school in which I was drawn to (and found that I still am) anime with heavy western themes, Trigun being my favorite. In college I had a friend introduce me to Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea books. From there I have moved into her other works like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Currently I have picked up a book of dystopian short stories published by Night Shad Books called Brave New Worlds that has inspired me to write a short set in my world, but with none of my characters called Papers to Paradise. I hope to post it up here shortly. My only real fantasy "training" would be the Lord of the Rings and Martin. I also have some experience with King's Tower series.

So how does all this sci fi pedigree lead me to write a fantasy? It seems strange, but why can't you treat fantasy with the same treatment. We have urban fantasy and historical fantasy, yet they are driven by character or a plot of political change. I chose to focus on technological change due to a massive event much like has happened in America's history. Large wars always spark a boom in tech. It happened in the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. Technologies are developed and put to use out of necessity to win (perhaps "desire to win" would be a better term, but in my book its a necessity). In my world they should be in their industrial age, but due to a document that prohibits any use of new technology that can be used for warfare they are still swinging around swords and shields while riding horses. No use mechanical vehicles, steam engines, or gun powder, yet it exists. Its a little hard to explain the politics in short, but thats the gist. To say that there are no wars though would be silly, this is man we're talking about. So essentially I'm dealing with the new use of "forbidden" technology and the change it will bring after the threat is defeated, but I have a while till I get to that broad topic.

For now the story is pretty basic I'm sad to say. I'm doing work on it now to try and introduce some of these ideas sooner so people will stop thinking that its medieval and saying I have anachronisms (of which even Tolkien can be to blame but I won't go there). Its mostly about the characters at this point and the introduction of the world as they see it. The Descendants still needs a lot of work.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 6:20 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

I'm something of an odd duck, I think. I like strong prose. I've enjoyed every SubGenre of fantasy. I've also had books in every subgenre that I want to throw at a wall. For me it's about the line-to-line writing. I never, ever want to be thinking 'what did he mean by that'? about the author.

I like stories with a mix of various bits, much like a few others here. I like genre crossers, both in terms of sci-fi / fantasy and in terms of action / intrigue / romance / slice of life. Because of that, I tend to like epic fantasy, not because it's epic, but because it's long enough to contain everything I like.

What I write... I write a mix of fantasy and sci fi, usually leaning toward the 'fantasy' side of things. I've done Science Fiction, Steam Punk, Urban Fantasy, and Contemporary Fantasy. I tend to mix in all the subgenres I like, but I try very hard not to add anything gratuitously. if something is in there, it's in there for a reason.

One thing I just realized I write about, and like to read about, is what makes humans human (and heroes heroic). As a natural outflow of that, I find myself writing about various minorities that have been, for one reason or another, labelled 'not really human' and illustrating humanity and heroism through them. What I think may be weird is that I rarely point it out that way. Forex, Crowbar Girl has three lesbian characters (two heroes one villian) and a bisexual character. Other than where it impacts the plot, ti's just not *mentioned* much outside the POV of the character who is pining for one of the others.
Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 5:54 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

Ooh, I love this question.

I really just want a really good story where the author is confident in the world they have created. I like depth... I love stories where I go back and I'm always learning new things about the culture the world has created. I like going to new worlds, seeing new things.

That said, what I really, really look for are writers where I get so absorbed by the world I disappear into just reading. I'm focused, and all the worries of the real world go POOF. I read quickly, but that hour or two of respite is so refreshing for me.

I like characters that feel like they aren't just a stereotype. And this may sound odd, but I like mostly happy endings. It doesn't mean the hero has to live, but that there is a good future left for those left alive at the end of the day. I'm really into the happy endings.

Magic is always fun, too.
Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:18 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

A world that sweeps me away, that makes me wish to heartache it was real so I could visit. Characters that pop up off the page and make me root for or against them, characters that feel real.

I honestly don't pay much attention or mind to theme/message. I just look for a book that can take me somewhere else. If it has a message about the enduring nature of the human spirit, so be it. I probably won't pick up on the moral or message.
M Tucker
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 4:58 AM
Joined: 8/9/2011
Posts: 13

Isn't so much easier to tell others what we -don't- like rather than to really think about what makes us love a story? I had to think on this one for a bit!

What makes a story for me is lack of detail. I know that sounds a bit odd but I do not want, nor need, a full description of every environment and character. I want to "notice" new things each time I encounter someone or when they return to the important settings. Keep the story moving, evolving, and most importantly keep me thinking about the story when I'm not reading it. I love it when an author drops me delicious little tidbits as the story progresses! Likewise, give me characters that I can love and that I love to hate. I want to see them change as well. In this I can stand stereotypes so long as they fit what's happening... after all, don't most of us tend to fall into one stereotypical category or another when the fate of the world rests in our hands?

As to theme, it used to be all High Fantasy but that became too predictable for me; so now I lean more to mixed genres (steampunk, western-sci, etc.). I really enjoy the blending of familiar things in unexpected settings. This goes back to what I was saying before about lack of detail as well. You don't have to spend time explaining what a 19th century slum looks and feels like, you can just get to the juicy murder by magic plot!

Sadly, I can't describe what I am working on because I'm not working on anything. My Muse got tired of my procrastination and fled to the hills. I am currently trying to coax her back by reading the works of others.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 4:41 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@MTucker: Thats funny. People have a tendency to dislike my stuff due to lack of detail. Its nice to see that someone has a tendency to like the same things in their reading that I do. Even though I am writing a "high fantasy" (i only call it that because its the only genre its the closest to) I read more SF. High Fantasy is really too predictable.
M Tucker
Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 4:57 AM
Joined: 8/9/2011
Posts: 13

Have you read The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks? This man is a perfect joy to read! He does "lack of detail" to perfection.
Erik Martin
Posted: Friday, September 23, 2011 6:47 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 4

I like a pretty wide range of fantasy. Mostly, I like stories that are plot driven and not needlesly complicated. The universe or world does not need to be at stake. (One of my favorite story tellers, not a fantasy author, is Louis L'Amour, who was a master of writing compelling, concise stories that moved constantly.) But it is okay if it is. I read LotR at a young age and it left a deep impression on me. But I liked it mostly because Tolkien created characters I cared about. I was an am less impressed by his intricate and often unnecessary detailing of Middle-Earth.

I also like light-hearted and humorous fantasy. Robert Aspirin and Terry Pratchett are two of my favorites.

And to contradict myself, I enjoy darker fantasy where the heroes are often as flawed as the villains. Michael Moorcock's work enjoys a lot of shelf space in my house.

As to my own fantasy, I have two YA fantasy novels underway. Both feature teenage protagonists. One is fairly light, though there is a kingdom at stake. The other is more serious, though all that is at stake is a girl's future. I do a lot of world-building, something I love--probably a throw back to my nerdly past, which featured many an AD&D campaign. Of course I was always the DM.
Bill Gleason
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 11:59 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 18

On fairly deep world building, specifically on note-taking, I'm struggling with that now in my young adult fantasy novel. I find that I'm better at building my story world as I write the narrative than I am at stepping back, looking at those broad prosaic outlines, and nailing down the world anywhere outside of the text, e.g., in maps and voluminous notes stuffed in folders and cubby holes. None of which is to imply that the story world is incomplete, just that it's bigger than my memory can hold over the long stretches of time that dastardly work and other stuff forces me to set it aside. I do have a spiral notebook I've made tons of notes in, but they're not terribly well organized, and 95% of it I know anyway---but it's the dang 5% I don't want to hunt for. I need to get that part of the deal better organized.
Timothy Maguire
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 12:20 AM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272

What generally draws me to fantasy is the excuse for incredible stories and amazing scenes. I'm a sucker for over-the-top magic and destruction along with cool battle scenes, but what really grabs me is really original ideas. I'm not talking about completely redefining the genre, but merely coming at things from a different angle or creating a new style of magic can often grab and wow me.

As for my own projects, Orphans of Talos, one of the books I've put on the site, is an attempt to put the quest in one single location rather than across a world, so the characters are more seeking knowledge than locales. I'm also trying a very universal form of magic, where everyone is a spell-caster, rather than the usual restricted to a few. Another story I'm working on at the moment, posits that you can only realize magic by seeing it in action, which so rewrites your mental paradigm that you can no longer be considered entirely human.
Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 4:44 AM
Joined: 8/2/2012
Posts: 4

Believable characters thrown into fantastical stories and settings, responding with unbelievable actions

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