Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Notes from New York: Meshing Fantasy with Reality

Welcome back to Notes from New York. Last week we talked about world building, but this week we are going to dive into a more specific kind of world building: meshing fantasy with reality.

Contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism and a host of other genres involve placing magical elements into our normal, everyday world. It can be a great way to view modern day issues through a different lens or just spice up the mundane. It’s an extremely popular method of world building and most comic books make use of this trope with great success, in addition to a swath of movies, TV shows and, of course, novels.

However, just because your book takes place in the modern world doesn’t mean the world building is any easier. In fact often times, meshing fantasy with reality can be difficult. So here’s some problems I’ve noticed in these genres and how to fix them.

1. Not fully integrated

Sometimes it seems like the author tossed in a fantastical element without really thinking about how it would affect the world. Like sure, a vampire society sounds cool, but how the heck hasn’t anyone gotten suspicious, considering all of the people drained of blood? If there are magicians that cause such disturbances, why is everyone so aggressively dumb to the magic going on around them? A lot of books come up with various ways to explain this. Memory charms, hallucinations etc. But if you don’t acknowledge how your magic society deals with the outside world, then it becomes a plot hole. Conversely, if the magic elements are fully integrated and everyone knows about them, how has that changed and shaped society? If it hasn’t had some significant effect, then your world won’t seem very well thought out.

2. Skimping on the setting

Just because you’re not making up the world doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give as much detail to the setting of your novel. Your job is still to root your reader in the story and maybe they haven’t been to the city where your book takes place. Make sure you still do your research and know what you’re talking about or the world will seem quite inauthentic.

3. They Just Don’t Mesh

Sometimes fantasy elements can seem downright random. I read a manuscript in which a fairytale like buddy comedy was mixed with a real life abusive relationship and it just did not pair at all. The fantastical elements felt so random and poorly integrated that sometimes I thought I was reading two different books. Make sure your fantastical and realistic aspects are all wholly necessary to the story you are trying to tell and take time to seamlessly fit them together.

In some ways, I think contemporary fantasy is even harder than inventing a world from scratch, because you do have to play by certain rules. However, so long as you focus just as much on the world building, your manuscript is sure to draw in readers.

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