I’m writing outside my comfort zone.
It’s a quest.
I think I’m naturally a science fiction writer. It’s the rules I find attractive. You take a main idea, one only, and run with it.
Rule: SF should have a single idea, except for Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
Of course, that applies to any fiction, it’s just more obvious in SF. Because it’s the genre of ideas and so the ‘big idea’ sticks out more obviously. It’s easier to spot a Triffid than, say, the cycle of destruction that revenge brings or that falling in love can be a bit scary. In that big debate between ‘plot’ versus ‘character’, I like to point out that ‘theme’ is the third leg of the stool. In SF, theme is front and centre, you need a plot to hang it on and so character tends to suffer.
So, I saw how everyone was constantly using their smartphones, and wondered how this trend might develop. The light-bulb moment was when I realised that Artificial Intelligence wouldn’t turn up as massive computers in a lab or as killer robots from the future, but as a thing your pocket. What would it be like if a sentient being was thrown away when it became unfashionable? Once I came up with the title, I, Phone, it was just too delicious an idea not to write, and it had to be in the first person from the point of view of the phone itself.
Certainly you have other ideas in a book, of course. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, has walking tripod machines, heat rays and so forth, but it has the invasion concept at its core. Everything comes from that central element; it’s not Martians and an Invisible Man. (The exception is Wyndham’s carnivorous plants and everyone going blind, but, for some reason, he bagged that one first and we’re not allowed.)
You need to establish the rules of your world. The first thing I had to do was specify what the hero could do, and, more importantly, could not do. I looked up phones on Wikipedia: OK, it can do all that, but it’s far more intelligent. Everything then, must follow from that. Science Fiction has a ‘what if...’: so ‘what if phones were more intelligent than their owners.’
It was Aristotle, who said that an ending should be ‘inevitable and unexpected’. i.e. obey the rules of your world and, within that, pull off the surprise. This gem is in the middle of his rant against ‘modern’ playwrights (who are all Ancient Greeks now) who rely on the deus ex machina far too much and so write rubbish plays. I paraphrase.
Following the rules, therefore, makes sure of the ‘inevitable’ part of the ending, and rules work well for all realistic novels. So, historical, modern day thriller, romance and even proper SF. Warp engines work like this and, once stated, everything that follows must be realistic in that reality.
Except for fantasy, which, by definition, is not realistic.
I’m currently writing a fantasy novel.
So how does magic work? I’ve no idea, it just does. You see; well outside my comfort zone.
In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the magic just works and solves everything. All you need to do to defeat Voldemort is wave a wand, say a Latin phrase like ‘deus ex machina’ and the day is won. Of course, she wasn’t writing a book about magic. She was writing about growing up, boarding school and preventing the rise of Nazism. This she did very well indeed. However, the lack of rules rankles for me. (And the stated rules of Quidditch don’t make a playable sport either.) I’m not saying they are bad books, because they aren’t; they are excellent, but she should have put more effort into laying the foundations for the Harry Potter Role-playing Game supplements, as it were.
Writing a fantasy novel is in part a chance to explore the genre, to strike out on my own through the landscape armed with my sword and spell book to see what I might find. Will I find out how magic works in this world? Will I have to resort to a deus ex machine at the end? (Certainly not! I’ve written that bit of the next to last chapter.) Will I discover an amazing revelation about fantasy writing? Possibly, possibly not, but I’m enjoying the scenery. I certainly haven’t had a major revelation yet. Even if I do, I doubt it’ll end up in the book.
The book, you see, isn’t about magic: instead it’s about warfare, its effect on the lives of women, and how my oft renamed protagonist (why will she not settle on a name!?) deals with... well, I’ll keep that to myself until I’ve finished it, if you don’t mind.
About David Wake
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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