Magic versus Technology: Setting the Rules for Your Fictional World

Today the terms “fantasy” and “science fiction” are becoming broad, catch-all terms that encompass a wide range of sub-genres. Most people don’t just write fantasy, they write urban paranormal romance or YA epic fantasy. The same with science fiction: there’s everything from space fantasy to steampunk to retro-futurism. This is a good thing, because the person who likes fairytale retellings with a dark urban flair may not be a fan of epic high fantasy. There’s room for all of the sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative sub-genres, and all their mash-ups and cross-overs, too.

But even with all of the genre-crossing, I believe it’s still important to define whether your world is magic-based or technology-based.

This does not mean that anything with magic is automatically fantasy, nor does it mean that anything with technology more advanced than the steam engine is science-fiction. I believe the distinction lies is how the world of the story is governed. More to the point, it’s how you as the writer establish the rules of your world. A magic-based versus technology-based world has more to do with the culture of the characters and how they interact with world around them, and less to do with whether the characters wave magic wands or fly around in space ships. Continue reading

Love Tropes in Stories

Even though Valentine’s Day was yesterday, I feel obligated to write a Valentines-ish post, just because. Even those of us who don’t call ourselves readers of the romance genre usually enjoy a good love story. So here are a few of my favorite couples from books/movies/shows, and the different types of loves stories they represent:

The Against-All-Odds Love – Sheridan and Delenn

This couple is from the sci-fi show Babylon 5, which I’ve blogged about many times, and which I hold up as one of the best examples of storytelling in any media. The main plot of the show is war, good versus evil, and the shades of gray in between. But there’s a little romance, too. Sheridan and Delenn have everything going against them: they’re busy leading an army, trying to save their respective governments, and dealing with cultural difficulties between the two of them because they are two different species. But they fall in love anyway, determine to make it work no matter what, and their unity makes them and those who follow them stronger for it.

Continue reading

How to Invent Fantasy Words

This post is similar to one that I wrote a while back for Mythic Scribes. But I wanted to write another post with some tips for inventing words and names for fantasy, and next week I’m planning to do a similar post about how to write technobabble for sci-fi.

So here are some of my tips for creating convincing words for your fantasy stories:

Use a real language as your base.

J.K. Rowling is famous for using Latin and Latin-esque-sounding words. How about the spells of “lumos” and “nox” to create light or make it dark? “Lumi” is Latin for “light,” so “lumos” isn’t much of a stretch; and “nox” means “night.”

Especially if your fantasy world is inspired by or reflective of a real culture, then go ahead and use the language for inspiration. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien based the people of Rohan on ancient Viking culture. Many of the words used were either Old Norse words, or based on that language. Continue reading

What every Fantasy Writer can learn from Star Wars

I’m a few days late, but I thought I’d do a Star Wars-themed post in honor of May 4th (as in, May the Fourth be with you). Whether you’re a big-time fan of the series, or it’s just not your cup of tea, I believe that all writers of fantasy should watch and learn from Star Wars.

Yes, I said fantasy writers, not sci-fi writers. Of course, sci-fi writers can learn storytelling tips from Star Wars, but the Star Wars saga actually fits into the overall fantasy genre more than science fiction. So if you’ve never bothered much with Star Wars because you’re a sword-and-sorcery writer, then perhaps this can help you.

(Side note here – I’m drawing most of my examples from the original trilogy of movies. I’m not here to argue the pros or cons of the prequels, the books, the cartoon, or the video games. Please save your Jar-Jar Binks fan mail for a different post).

Star Wars is what I would call space opera or space fantasy. It’s an epic fantasy tale set in outer space with technology and aliens, instead of a setting of kingdoms, magical talismans, and monsters. The story would work just as well set on one planet, with all the magical trappings of standard fantasy. Here are some key elements of Star Wars that I believe any fantasy (or sci-fi) writer can use in their own work:

Archetypal characters and the hero’s journey. George Lucas followed the format of the hero’s journey, as laid out by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler. This does not necessarily make the story “better” than anyone else’s plot, but the key stages of this storytelling format are common in folktales and classic fantasy alike. Character archetypes of the hero (Luke Skywalker), the guardian (Obi-Wan Kenobi), the skeptic (Han Solo), and so on can drive many fantasy tales.

It’s okay to use traditional fantasy terms. We all want our stories and the worlds we create to be totally original, and many of us like to invent our own terms or even languages. This is a good – and expected – element of fantasy: Sith, Jedi, Dagobah, Wookie. But Star Wars also shamelessly uses “classic” fantasy terms that we’re all familiar with: Light, Dark, Knight, Lord. Using these terms helps the audience to understand a plot point or a character’s role without having to devote a lot of time to explanations.

Redemptive story and happy ending. This is certainly not a requirement for fantasy – even the non-dark “high” fantasy genre. And many readers aren’t satisfied with a tidy “and they all lived happily ever after.” But most of the main characters should grow, overcome, and be victorious in at least some way. And everyone loves a good “redemption from evil” story – another staple of fantasy. Darth Vader’s rejection of the Dark Side of the Force, the destruction of the second Death Star, Han and Leia becoming a couple – despite all the pain and loss throughout the saga, things end on a high note.

Magic or technology that is unexplained yet consistently accepted. This is one of the elements that makes Star Wars more predominantly fantasy rather than science fiction. The futuristic, high-tech world is there, but there is little explanation given from a scientific or technical side. Yes, any good geek has read the tech manuals for the Death Star and knows all the specs of X-Wings versus Y-Wings – but none of those details are part of the story itself. Within the world of Star Wars, everyone knows that Jedi Knights carry lightsabers. No one wonders about how a lightsaber works, nor do they care. Like a magic sword in a high fantasy tale, the how’s and why’s behind the magic are (usually) of minimal importance. The point is that everyone knows the sword is magic.

Good versus Evil. Yes, the old good versus evil thing is the plot of most stories, fantasy and otherwise. And often – in any genre – good and evil are not absolutes. But a well-defined “bad guy” or “force of evil” is what drives a lot of good fantasy tales. In Star Wars, there’s never any doubt as to who the enemy is: the enemy is the Dark Side of the Force. Characters come and go and switch sides, but the Darkness is always there and is always the enemy.

So now go grab some popcorn and cue up Netflix or your old DVDs, enjoy Luke and R2-D2 and the gang, and then go write some fantasy!

The ABCs of My Awesome Life

I totally stole this idea from The Magic Violinist. She has a great blog, so pop on over there (after you’re done reading my blog, of course!) So in this post, I reveal many deep secrets (or not) about myself, in alphabetical order.

Ambition: My ambition is to be a successful author. What makes a successful author? Having ten loyal fans? A hundred? A bazillion? Dunno. But I’ll start my journey of success by getting published first (hopefully by the end of this year/early next year).

Bad Habits: Sleeping late. Personally, I don’t consider this a bad habit unto itself—except that the world is run by morning people, so I wind up looking lazy by trying to sleep in till a decent hour.

Celebrity Crushes: That guy who played Hawkeye in Avengers. And the guy who played Thor. I don’t keep up with celebrities, and I’m too lazy to go look up the actors’ names. But who doesn’t like hunky superheroes?

Drink: XS Energy drink. I’m not an energy drink fan, really, but since XS is more of a nutritional drink than a standard “energy” drink, I’m all about it. Lots of flavors to chose from, too. Which is good, because I like variety.

Education: Always. I have a college degree, but I don’t think that education should be defined by the number of schools attended or the certificates on your wall. If you read, or connect with new people, or basically live life with your eyes open, you’re learning (or you should be). My education is increasing every day.

Food: Chocolate. Peanut butter. Chocolate and peanut butter. I also like fresh fruits and veggies, and hotdogs that have been cooked over an open fire and are all crispy and burnt on the outside.

Guilty Pleasures: I’ve never been quite sure what this is supposed to mean. I try not to do things that I will feel guilty about later. With the possible exception of eating cheese or ice cream. I’m lactose intolerant, but man, I love dairy. Sigh.

Hometown: Richmond, VA

Ice Cream: Love it. Except, as I just mentioned, I can’t have diary. Sigh.

Jonesing for: Ice cream, since I’ve been writing about it. Sigh.

Kryptonite: Bunny rabbits. And music. If I’m out in public and a song I like is on the muzak, then I’m pretty much ignoring my shopping or my lunch partner till it’s over.

Lookalike: Periodically, I’m informed by random strangers that I look like Meg Ryan. And a friend recently said that I look like Eivør, which I find flattering beyond words. When I grow up, I want to be as pretty and talented and famous as Eivør is…

Movies: Lord of the Rings (all of Peter Jackson’s thus far to date). Star Wars (all of them, but mostly the original trilogy). Miss Potter. Clue (y’know, that 80s movie based on the board game). August Rush. Most anything starring Will Smith.

Nickname: Don’t really have one. Some people call me “Gracie,” which is fine.

Obsessions: Music. Writing fantasy stories. And those forbidden dairy products. Sigh.

Perfume: I don’t use it.

Quirk: Which one? I’m rather quirky (aren’t all writers, really?) I’d be happy to live every day and go everywhere in sock feet. I’m borderline neurotic about checking my notifications on my phone, Facebook, etc. It bugs me to have a bunch of little icons or red flags in my notification bar.

Regret: I don’t do regrets. Sure, there are some things in the past that I wish I’d done or hadn’t done. But since I can’t change the past, I’d rather devote my mental energy to making sure that I don’t do or neglect to do something in the future.

Starbucks: Nope. I don’t like coffee. And there are cheaper places to get tea or giant cookies.

The Last Book You Read: I’m always reading 2-4 books at once. Some recent reads I enjoyed: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Wisdom by Bonnie Watson. You can always stalk me on Goodreads if you really want to know what I’m currently reading.

Vacation: I went to England and Norway a couple of years ago, and I’m hoping to go to Iceland later this year.

Wine: Don’t drink it much—maybe one glass a month. I prefer red over white.

X: X-Men. I spent my college years and most of my 20s reading nearly every X-Men comic in existence.

Years: I’ve lived a few, and I intend to live many many more.

Zen: I guess this means what brings me bliss or peace? Music. Long walks in the woods. Scratching my rabbits’ ears.