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I talk about fantasy stuff
#1

http://sailorfate.blogspot.com/2013/01/p...s-for.html

I think this is the page I put this under? Anyway attempting to write more and hoping that I get less terrible about putting my thoughts down.

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#2
AAny article that opens with "be more like Morrowind" gets my seal of approval. SEALED.

Also some all-around good advice, so bravo for that.
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#3

Actually while I think there's a lot of standard and boring fantasy stuff going on in the series The Elder Scrolls in general is actually way better at a lot of stuff than a good deal of novels!

I love the fact that most of the history in the world isn't given to you as a fact, but from books written by obviously biased sources. Facts aren't set in stone, different cultures have different views on events that transpired, all of that stuff is really good.

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#4
ACurrently playing through Morrowind. A female high elf mage-thief atronoch. But I play her as a deformed crippled outsider subversive.
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#5

Well now you have to die.

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#6

Cool article, I feel like the fantasy genre treads water in a way that doesn't seem to be as big a problem with scifi. I wouldn't mind if elves, dwarves and orcs were retired.

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#7
A[quote name="bosskplissken" url="/community/t/146603/i-talk-about-fantasy-stuff#post_3463443"]Cool article, I feel like the fantasy genre treads water in a way that doesn't seem to be as big a problem with scifi. I wouldn't mind if elves, dwarves and orcs were retired.

 
[/quote]

One of the first thoughts to pass through my mind upon hearing today's update about the never-going-to-happen World of Warcraft movie. Not every fantasy story needs to be Tolkein with the serial numbers filed off.
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#8

I wrote a fantasy novel about a bookish, snarky outsider once, but he was more "optimistic and high-spirited" than cynical and deformed. In fact, he was more "jokey" or "quippy" than snarky. But yeah, definitely a boy.

I mean, c'mon, let's not get crazy here.

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#9

I gotta say I'm still not sure I "get" Lauren's issues with the cynical snarky outsider--I mean, I see how they can be written badly, I just don't quite understand what's inherently wrong with it.

When it comes to "magic systems" I think there's an important distinction to be made. Plotting out a D&D-style elaborate rules for everything is indeed a waste of time, in the same manner as fleshing out the barely-relevant history of the kings of your imaginary kingdom. But...when you're dealing with incredibly powerful forces that have the potential to violate the basic rules of narrative, I think some forethought is required, and that extends to laying down some rules.

One of the problems I've had with some of the more "mainstream" fantasy efforts like Buffy and Harry Potter is that the authors are clearly making up the rules of their magic as they go along, which makes for sprightlyness in the early going but can turn things really convoluted and baroque, or else insubstantial, as the story progresses. To use the obvious example, if at one point an author has a character be brought back to life by spouting a mystic chant and waving a Wooga-Wooga branch over their prone body, for the rest of the story whenever someone dies you're going to be wondering why everyone isn't combing the forest for Wooga-Wooga branches. And yet I would hardly write off the idea of resurrecting characters entirely; done with intelligence, it can be powerful, a la The Monkey's Paw. But it requires careful consideration, and has to tie directly in with your themes, or you're trivializing death and making me wonder why I should care whenever the characters are in danger. Similar issues apply to abilities like time travel, telepathy, or the idea of a guardian God or spirit (or demon) who's always intervening on the protagonist's behalf. You start mucking around with the rules of the universe, and you mess up the narrative, too.

Alternately, an imaginative "magic system" (I agree that's a lame term) can be a big part of what makes the story work. I remember a good novella--well, 13-year-old me thought it was good, anyway--by Stephen R. Donaldson called "Daughter of Regals", in which the principle of magic was that it was "real" and the regular non-magic world was a shadow of it. So the only "real" fire was one that burned beneath a certain volcano, the other fires were all pale reflections of it, and a sorceror could tap into the "real" fire to generate magic fireballs or whatever. Then the plot hinged on a line of "Regals" who were basically fantasy monsters in human form, and sorcerors could generate their own copies of Gryphons or whatever to do their bidding as long as there was a Regal matching that particular monster. So the principles of magic tied into the whole premise of the story, beyond some kind of nerdy hit point counter or whatever, which I thought was really effective. I guess the key is that magic needs to be about a certain philosophy, or ideas, instead of just being a superpower characters can use because it's "cool".

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#10

I'd agree with Prankster; I think it's a great idea for an author map out what magic can and can't do before they start writing it into their narrative.  For their own purposes, though, to maintain consistency and thematic clarity.  Spelling out all the limits to the reader up front could sap all the fun and allure out of things.

But I don't seem to read the same type of fantasy that Lauren does, because for me magic without any rules is a more common and frustrating problem than magic with too many limitations in most properties I encounter.

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#11
A[quote name="bosskplissken" url="/community/t/146603/i-talk-about-fantasy-stuff#post_3463443"]Cool article, I feel like the fantasy genre treads water in a way that doesn't seem to be as big a problem with scifi. I wouldn't mind if elves, dwarves and orcs were retired.[/quote]
I dunno, I think they still have their place. It would, however, be nice if A. they stopped being obligatory, and B. authors that use them would start thinking of maybe coming up with their own take on the ideas and/or drawing on other sources than Tolkien and (more typically) D&D's own take on Tolkien for their conceptions. (I mean, not to jump back to Elder Scrolls fawning, but a race of scholar-engineers in Mesopotamian fashions who wiped themselves out trying to attain godhood is a hella different idea for "dwarves" than your standard RPG beer-swilling miner tank.)

[quote name="The Prankster" url="/community/t/146603/i-talk-about-fantasy-stuff#post_3463843"]I gotta say I'm still not sure I "get" Lauren's issues with the cynical snarky outsider--I mean, I see how they can be written badly, I just don't quite understand what's inherently wrong with it.[/quote]
I think there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but it's so often written badly, and so often written in imitation of something where it's written badly, that if you find yourself doing it you ought to at least step back and think about why you're doing it and whether it wouldn't work better to take a different approach. Like the boilerplate Tolkien ripoffs, it's something that probably did work, originally, in a few stories that used it back when it was a new idea, but that has since become irritatingly omnipresent for all the wrong reasons.

Well, that and the fact that postmodern too-cool-for-school attitudes are tired shit, but that's probably another discussion altogether.

Quote:I guess the key is that magic needs to be about a certain philosophy, or ideas, instead of just being a superpower characters can use because it's "cool".
^ This. I'd point to Fullmetal Alchemist as a solid example of how to do that right.
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#12
Quote:
I gotta say I'm still not sure I "get" Lauren's issues with the cynical snarky outsider--I mean, I see how they can be written badly, I just don't quite understand what's inherently wrong with it.

Because the POV of these characters is always immensely dull to me.

There's something so boringly checklisty about these characters! Like every time I see one of them I ponder "Hmmm I wonder if he's bookish and has a constant stream of internal dialogue that like LAYS BARE all the hypocrisy of the feudal establishment?" And in a few seconds of reading I usually prove to be right.

It also doesn't help that these authors seem to love focusing on these characters instead of people with far more interesting narratives. Like I can't actually remember any of the court women in The First Law Trilogy* but god do I get to repeatedly hear how rough of a time Glokta has getting up and down stairs!! And god it's so funny how people might smile in your face but secretly they plot to stab you in the back.

But I'll admit that I'm biased against those stories in the first place. They don't interest me whatsoever.

Quote:

When it comes to "magic systems" I think there's an important distinction to be made. Plotting out a D&D-style elaborate rules for everything is indeed a waste of time, in the same manner as fleshing out the barely-relevant history of the kings of your imaginary kingdom. But...when you're dealing with incredibly powerful forces that have the potential to violate the basic rules of narrative, I think some forethought is required, and that extends to laying down some rules.

I just tend to be really apathetic to how magic functions as a general rule.

Like I understand why somebody's annoyed when somebody in a story goes "Hahahah my instant magic escape hatch" and gets out of a jam without any problems. But at the same time I'm EXTREMELY disinterested in seeing how the fantastic functions whatsoever.

if anything I can agree that magic needs to serve some degree of philosophical purpose. I'm just will never begin to care about the mechanics.

*Granted I don't think Abercrombie cared either! Which is how you get such an offensive "man-hating lesbian" cliche out of Terez.

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#13
Quote:
But I don't seem to read the same type of fantasy that Lauren does, because for me magic without any rules is a more common and frustrating problem than magic with too many limitations in most properties I encounter.

I think I should also point out that I DON'T read a lot of popular fantasy.

I've long admitted a deep love and admiration of Sword and Sorcery(most of all the 70's boom that quietly ushered in a sometimes sneaky progressivism underneath all the swords and blood) but for the most part I don't really care for most of the major series.

I'm a much bigger fan of the New Weird or the authors that tend to have a more avant-garde approach to the genre. If somebody wants to look at what I consider a perfect bit of fantasy narrative you'd be better served by picking up M. John Harrison's Viriconium collection(http://www.amazon.com/Viriconium-M-John-...Viriconium) or one of Tanith Lee's Tales of Flat Earth novels than some of the more well known bodies of work.

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#14

I love JRRT but one problem I've always had with Fantasy, moreso as I've read more real history: they always show a rigid "Medieval" society where nothing changes for 1,000's of years. Yet the Middle Ages in Europe only lasted a few hundred years, and they were in no way static. Society, religion, politics all evolved constantly. Yet we never see that reflected in S&S or High Fantasy in general. And to me that not just boring, it's pretty damn depressing.

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#15
Quote:
Originally Posted by LaurenOrtega View Post


I just tend to be really apathetic to how magic functions as a general rule.

Like I understand why somebody's annoyed when somebody in a story goes "Hahahah my instant magic escape hatch" and gets out of a jam without any problems. But at the same time I'm EXTREMELY disinterested in seeing how the fantastic functions whatsoever.

if anything I can agree that magic needs to serve some degree of philosophical purpose. I'm just will never begin to care about the mechanics.

Oh, I'm not suggesting it needs to be charted out in any kind of detail, and yes, it's great and indeed necessary to keep it somewhat mysterious and unearthly. Which is why the philosophical thing is useful. When you use magic as a metaphor or other narrative device, it lets your audience get a sense of what it can do without having to have all the details laid out bare.

In terms of mechanics...necessary evil, I guess? I mean, it just seems like basic due diligence if the author's not just going to say "and then magically stuff happened that helped/hurt the protagonists". Of course it can emerge from the story rather than being elaborated on in tiresome detail, but surely there has to be SOME kind of basic outlay of how the magic works?

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#16

I guess but I think I ultimately most agree with N.K. Jemisin(who I love by and by)

http://nkjemisin.com/2012/06/but-but-but...ake-sense/

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#17

Granted I also understand that you can't get fantasy without some bit of magic but I also tend to dislike when authors feel the need to dwell on it. Magic exists, it is strange, nobody can ever understand it, is the perfect version for me.

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#18
AI know Lauren hates it, and I'm not at all versed in fantasy tropes, but I thought that Patrick Rothfus mapped out a consistent magic system in his Kingkiller series that made sense, was simple, and integrated unobtrusively into the narrative.

I'll admit, Kvothe kind of sucks.
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#19
AFundamentally I agree with her point that anal focus on hard-and-fast rules kills the sense of wonder that is essential to really good fantasy. On the other hand, a story that doesn't adhere to at least some kind of internal consistency is just the prose equivalent of a group of eight-year-olds playing wizards. Not that there isn't a worthwhile level of giddy spontaneity there (you're not gonna catch me hanging around playgrounds and scowling at children for not working out the rules to their games,) but to anybody who's not in that fugue-state the way the players (read: authors) are, their level of suspension-of-disbelief is much harder to achieve. Try to write a book or a movie that way, and it's going to be a lot harder for you to get the audience to see your deus ex machinae as anything but, or to believe that there really are things at stake - after all, why couldn't your wizard beat his necromancer lord by the Power of So There Times Infinity Plus One, Nyahhh?

I guess ultimately I wouldn't say it's about the things that happen making sense, let alone being part of a fully-explicated system of The Rules, as just not violating the principles of good storytelling. Having a system is one way to do that, but yeah, it's not the only way.
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#20

Yeah, if you have the self-control not to use your anything goes magic for deus ex machina or bullshit retconning purposes at any point, then by all means keep it free and loose.

But it seems like nobody can resist it for too long.

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#21
Quote:
I know Lauren hates it, and I'm not at all versed in fantasy tropes, but I thought that Patrick Rothfus mapped out a consistent magic system in his Kingkiller series that made sense, was simple, and integrated unobtrusively into the narrative.

To be fair I'm a buzzkill who seemingly doesn't enjoy anything but 40-year old paperbacks and a bunch of semi-surrealist works!

And really I don't want to also sound like I'm saying "Dudes you can't come up with a system for magic!' because I'm totally not! Any moreso than I'm saying 'Guys don't come up with a fantasy country!" What I'm against is systemization for seemingly it's own sake.

There's this idea in fantasy that worldbuilding in and of itself is somehow something of merit, which has far too often left me reading a lot of books with a wonderfully detailed stage and populated by some of the most boring players possible. You see that a lot in reviews with a frequent refrain being "Well the writing was flawed but the worldbuilding was really solid" and this is something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Are these elements in the story? Sure! But all too often there's this fetishization in fantasy fiction to chart the entire world, put everything in a nice box, and make the strange explainable. And my response is sometimes it's better to leave a few gaps here and there.

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#22
Quote:
I love JRRT but one problem I've always had with Fantasy, moreso as I've read more real history: they always show a rigid "Medieval" society where nothing changes for 1,000's of years. Yet the Middle Ages in Europe only lasted a few hundred years, and they were in no way static. Society, religion, politics all evolved constantly. Yet we never see that reflected in S&S or High Fantasy in general. And to me that not just boring, it's pretty damn depressing.

Fantasy's obsession with the Middle-Ages(specifically the Eurocentric middle-ages) is something I'm mostly done with. I say MOSTLY because there's sometimes a book that comes along that uses the environment to create something beautiful or alienating(I come back to K.J. Parker's works frequently) but I generally find those settings tiring.

There's so much you can do in fantasy! I'd rather see a city or culture I haven't seen before rather than the pseudo-historical claptrap that all too often constitutes a fantasy world.

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#23
Quote:
Originally Posted by LaurenOrtega View Post

There's this idea in fantasy that worldbuilding in and of itself is somehow something of merit, which has far too often left me reading a lot of books with a wonderfully detailed stage and populated by some of the most boring players possible. You see that a lot in reviews with a frequent refrain being "Well the writing was flawed but the worldbuilding was really solid" and this is something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Are these elements in the story? Sure! But all too often there's this fetishization in fantasy fiction to chart the entire world, put everything in a nice box, and make the strange explainable. And my response is sometimes it's better to leave a few gaps here and there.

It seems the basic theme you're circling is that the genre needs to flip the script back to where world-building is secondary to character-building.  Yeah?

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#24

Yup.

The genre all too frequently features sub-par writing and barely existent characters. Like I remember reading Veniss Underground for the first time and actively finding myself somewhat let down whenever I picked up another fantasy book. VanderMeer's writing is beautiful, and strange and everything I want in fantasy.

It's practically the same reason I read crime fiction. I'm not interested in elaborate plotting, I'm interested in writing and character. The Last Good Kiss cares little whatsoever about it's mystery, but it's still one of the best American novels to come out of the 70's.

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#25

I will admit though that I do prefer my fantasy surreal more than anything else. There's a reason I find The New Weird to be the biggest breath of fresh air in the genre at the moment.

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#26

Surreal is good. Inventive is better. I give Tolkien a lot of flak but it's not his fault that everyone decided they could get away with basically rewriting his work ad nauseum. I'm really not sure what caused fantasy fans to decide they wanted to read the same basic thing over and over again.

I think it's worth noting that someone like China Mieville is labelled "surreal" because his world of Bas-Lag is so different from what we usually get, in standard fantasy or elsewhere. But it clearly has its own set of rules and world-building in precisely the same way that Tolkien did, it's just far more imaginative. In fact, didn't Mieville originally create Bas-Lag as a setting for a role-playing game? True surrealism is something that you actually almost never see in fantasy, outside of something like Alice in Wonderland. Or, and I swear I'm not trying to annoy Lauren here, but some isolated stretches of ASoIaF/Game of Thrones, like the House of the Undying section in the books, qualify for me. I think that's a crucial point: you can create a strange world but if you're going to suggest that people (or whatever) live and work and exist in it, that it has life outside of the page or the screen, that it's "subcreated" as Tolkien had it, you're not really engaging in surrealism. Surrealism involves dream-logic. There's, for lack of a better term, a sense of instability there, as opposed to the "stable" sub-created worlds of fantasy. That, to me, taps into the "there are no rules" sensibility that people in this thread seem to be suggesting works best with magic, but it also leads to a very different kind of narrative.

I have to admit, right now I have a fondness for speculative fiction (or any fiction) that looks outward, which brushes up against the idea that the world of the story should basically make sense, or fail to make sense in intriguing ways, if that means anything. So much mainstream genre stuff these days, Harry Potter and Lost and whatnot, are unquestionably character-oriented as their first priority but fall into a really solipsistic kind of attitude where the character's personal travails are all that matter, and the world only exists to reflect the protagonist. This is particularly galling in SF, which is supposed to be about exploring and expanding the human frontier, but I think it applies to fantasy too. Done right, I think fantasy world-building is a reflection of the desire to understand other cultures or aspects of the world that aren't part of our casual experience; contrast this with how an awful lot of Harry Potter seems to have the subtext that "Harry [and therefore you, the reader, because he's a pretty blatant self-insert character] is the most specialest kid in the world, and anyone who doesn't agree with that is EEEEEVIL." Or how most of the characters in Lost (reflecting the show's writers) seemed to think their characters' melodramatic high school-level relationships were way more fascinating than the bizarre island they were living on, which was certainly "surreal" at times but only in the sense that no one bothered to try and understand it. Or how even Buffy, which I love, started to take the initially tongue-in-cheek idea that the characters' emotional turmoil was on par with the actual apocalypse too seriously as the show went on.

Done properly, I think world-building is a hedge against this attitude, which I find pernicious. That's not to say you shouldn't foreground the characters, but they have to live in the world, too. And in the case of fantasy, the world is something the author invents out of whole cloth.

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#27

I don't really have an interest in most of the larger scale plots. Like I really don't care for fantasy when it's not attempting to go into the smaller and more personal.

But again I don't hate worldbuilding! I just find most of it as featured all too often leads to vapid "realism" and the loss of the emotional logic that I prefer.

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#28
ABrian McNaughton's "The Throne of Bones" is my go-to example for magical rules done right. In the shared world of the short stories in that book, McNaughton sticks to one topic - the ghouls dwelling under a fantasy metropolis - and builds a manual on how they work, how they live, and how they interact with the humans above. It's worth a read.
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#29

That's exactly the type of book where the world-building is actually strong and wonderful!

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#30

Absolutely!  Throne of Bones creates and amazingly vivid 3d "mind world"!

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#31
AThing that I'm tired of: omnipresent monolithic continent-spanning guild systems for absolutely everything. Look, I know that the basic idea here makes sense and has historical precedent, but for crying out loud! This is the kind of thing Terry Pratchett was mercilessly parodying in the very first Discworld book released thirty freaking years ago! And even then he wasn't trying to get us to buy that they all extended unbroken beyond the confines of one large city. Why do the thieves in City A give a shit about who's top dog in City J on the other damn coast? Is everybody just really into the organized labor movement?
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#32

Someone doing a fantasy epic about organized labour would actually be awesome. No seriously, it could really work. As you point out, that's what Guilds are.

Actually, come to think of it, the bad guys in Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora books are essentially a sorceror's union.

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#33

So, um. Maybe this is howlingly obvious to longtime fantasy readers, but the bloated length of a lot of fantasy epics have a lot to do with the editors and publishers, right? Someone in the books thread pointed out that Joe Abercombie's First Law trilogy was basically one book split into three, apparently at the publisher's behest, and George RR Martin's made comments that make me think some of the recent padding in his books is the publisher's fault as well. I'm wondering if to get your foot in the door you have to agree to a multi-book series.

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#34

I think there's a certain expectation for authors to tackle these multi-volume books.

It's also why huge swaths of the fantasy genre is garbage.

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#35
A[quote name="The Prankster" url="/community/t/146603/i-talk-about-fantasy-stuff#post_3473134"]Someone doing a fantasy epic about organized labour would actually be awesome. No seriously, it could really work. As you point out, that's what Guilds are.

Actually, come to think of it, the bad guys in Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora books are essentially a sorceror's union.[/quote]
One of the Mage's Guild stewards in Morrowind has you dealing with scab wizardry for like half of her quests. It definitely could be interesting to explore the ethics of that in more depth. I just want to know why it has to be so omnipresent and large-scale so much of the time. Couldn't the wizards of Town A and the wizards of town Z have their own separate organizations? Hell, why not competing organizations in the same town?
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