Monday, February 27, 2012

A Fantasy Reader's Demands

Up on Heroines of Fantasy this week, our first male blogger for the spring! Peadar Ó Guilín is a writer of YA fiction out of Dublin, Ireland. His first book, The Inferior ranked among the very best books I read in 2010. It is available in the US. His second book, The Deserter, will be available in the US on March 12th! For more information on Peadar and his work, click on the name-ticky up there. Unless the Nork has incapacitated him again, he'd love to hear from you.

Dear Fantasy Writers,

I'm a writer too and what I want, is to be remembered. Oh, I'm not talking about eternity here. What I mean, is that five minutes after you have finished reading one of my stories, you'll still be able to tell a perfect stranger what it was about.

A humble ambition, you might think, except I suspect that like me, you have wasted far too much time being mildly entertained instead of thrilled.

People read our work for different reasons: some like wizards; some *want* to be wizards, or thieves or dragons. There are fantasy fans who dream of escape to what they imagine were simpler times, when people had purer motives and better dance moves.

But for me, the true power of the genre lies in its name.

Fantasy means "imagination". It is creativity gone wild, or rather, that's what it should be. As a reader, I enjoy the tropes, but deep inside, there's a part of me that yearns to be astounded. I long to use the word "marvel" again and again in superhero-free sentences.

Science Fiction writers do this to me all the time, or they aspire to it anyway and it blows my mind that so many fantasy writers are content to let their genre cousins steal this crown right from under their noses.

But there's profit in old rope, isn't there? Perhaps it's no accident that SF sales keep shrinking, their shelf space collapsing before a never-ending stream of dragon-this or dragon-that.

Which is not to say I have anything against dragons! Or any other trope you might name. The important thing, for me, Peadar the Reader, is that when you use tropes, you twist them so hard that my lazy eye finally uncrosses; that I forget to go to the bathroom until I embarrass myself; that my coffee goes cold in the flask. That's all I want. Something new. Something amazing.

Oh, I'll still visit ye olde medieval kingdoms from time to time, like so many branches of McDonalds, because, well, when I'm hungry, I'll plug the gap with whatever comes to hand and... and Good for you! McDonald's do great business and not everybody can blow minds with every steaming plate that comes out of their kitchen.

But I want you to try. I insist on it. This is my demand and it is non-negotiable.

Or maybe you'd prefer for me to forget you while I'm still reading your book?


Terri-Lynne said...

No! Don't forget me!! :)

You speak for fantasy readers everywhere, my dear. While I do find comfort in some of those old tropes, I too want to be amazed. I want to forget the coffee in my cup and the urgency of my bladder! Ok, maybe not the last one. But I do love to sink into a book that keeps me in my skychair long after the sun has become intolerable.

Peadar said...

If you lived over here, the sun would never reach the "intolerable" stage, believe me :P)

Terri-Lynne said...

Never?? Really? Not even if you're sitting in the sunshine?

Peadar said...

Sitting in the what?

Terri-Lynne said...

Hahahahaa! Ok, point taken.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Do you mean amazed by plot or setting? Probably both, I'm guessing.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Peadar, this is a great post. Thanks so much for joining us on HoF this week.

What constitutes 'new' and 'amazing' is, I think, going to be a little different for every reader.

I often find that new writers, especially, can be paralyzed by the perceived need to come up with something 'entirely new'. They spend so much time trying to figure out what would be 'new' that they forget to sit down and write their story.

When someone asks me "How do I make my novel new and original?", my response is most often, "Write the story from your heart. Make sure it comes from inside of you."

I've come to believe this is the best advice I can give, because if each one of us is unique, then the stories born of our imaginations must also be unique -- no matter what the setting in which our characters live, no matter what tropes appear along the way.

Of course, people who have only eaten at McDonald's will keep cooking hamburgers and fries...

But a lot of folks out there have a more varied diet, and can serve up a good meal with a great twist.

Peadar said...

@Jennifer either is good enough for me. I want to come away from the book with my brain twisted. It's up to the author how she does that.

@Karin agreed. Bring what is unique about you to the book, distill it down to its purest form and don't hold back.

Guustavo said...

Spot-on Peadar. I think this is actually why I spend most of my time in the golden age of SF (and sometimes a little later) and quite a lot less in fantasyland.

And I salute you for avoiding any mention of Vampires...

Peadar said...

Thanks, Gustavo. The Golden Age had a great respect for big ideas.

Mark Nelson/ Pevanapoet1 said...

I agree with Peadar in that I want the author to hold me with story not a series of tricks and surprises. LeGuin, Orwell, Campbell and a slew of others have spoken/written about the recycling that occurs in literature--and especially in SF&F. I don't have an issue with tropes such as they are. LeGuin's dragons will always intrigue me. I'm a sucker for a good quest. Mix it all well with some passion, battle blood and chaos, along with a good bottle of red and I am a happy reader. I think that is why so many of us return to all our old friends periodically: it isn't the over-used, familiar necessarily, but that we find other stuff in there beyond the obvious, trope-like material. And that is the core of the matter for me. A story whose dust is true will take me every time. I don't need to be shocked. I don't need all the guys in red to die. I need the truth.

Terri-Lynne said...

Mark--I'm a sucker for a quest novel, myself. A good adventure tale can have a few more "tropes" than I might otherwise tolerate, because they're so much fun when done well.

Peadar said...

I don't need all the guys in red to die.

Dunno, I'm rather fond of that part myself ;)