It has taken me a bit longer to get to this post than I would have liked. Actually, I’ve rewritten it a couple of times because it just didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it. Not that I’m saying this post will be a work of art, but it is time to get something out there for April. After all, it is the 7th!
I’ve blogged about genre fiction before in my post where I complain about Pacing and Coincidence. I’m sure the average reader does not agree with me on that one. They might agree with me in principle, but if they’re reading the story, they want the coincidences that make the story snappy. That is, unless they like the exact opposite where a story meanders about going on and on without a whole lot of anything happening. (My complaint with epic fantasy.) In one of the podcasts that I listen to, one of the speakers recently talked about George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. He said one of the subtexts he enjoyed about the first book was that “oh my, winter is coming!” in a world where winters could last a decade this could be important. Then he says, “Now I’m reading book six, and winter’s still coming…”. Mind you, Martin’s books are behemoths and definitely not “snappy” in their presentation. If he’s writing six books before the change of a season, I’m not interested.
In my book Dim Speak, I tried to keep things on the middle ground in terms of pacing and coincidence. Though, Dim Speak is a parody at heart and I’m trying to mock some of the these tropes. I do have some “coincidences” in my plot which I pawn off on one of my characters whose magical Gifts include the ability to read omens. She usually refuses to discuss them, so they become plot coincidences in my eyes. I found this to be the best way to advertise the coincidences that often go unmentioned in other stories. A way of playfully pointing out similar things I have read in other books that made me ask WTF?
In terms of fantasy and its magic, far too often I see characters get into a situation where, they come across problem “X”, if only they had some sort of magical solution “Y” they’d be saved. And of course, it just so happens someone in the group has solution “Y*”. It may not be exactly what they need, but conveniently enough, it’ll do. When it comes to this sort of problem solving in stories, I would prefer Harry Dresden’s “I’ll just burn everything with my fire rod and sort through the ashes later” approach because at least it is honest from a story telling perspective. We know Harry can do this and he does it all the time.
In my opinion, any solution that involves magical means really needs to be set up delicately. Everything my main character, Chip, manages to do with magic is something you saw him practice or happened to him earlier in the book. He’s a beginner, so any solutions he comes up with had better be simplistic. And honestly, this was my thought process as I wrote the story. I put him in a situation and asked, “Okay, based on what he’s learned so far, how can those lessons get him out of this danger?”
On the other hand, I did force my main character into another fantasy trope that annoys me. (Mind you, this complaint is often not true in epic fantasy!) The protagonist is often an orphan never having known their parents, or their parents passed away while they were young. That’s if the protagonist is young, if the character is older they tend to be estranged from the parents or their relationship is at a point where everyone is ready to move on, “Time to make your own way in the world my son/daughter,” says the father/mother. Either way, there is no parental subplot. They’re just not involved in the story. In epic fantasy, one or more parents are alive and part of the “droning on” of the story. The relationship between protagonist with both parents becomes added intrigue, subplottings, and so forth.
I wanted to defy this trope, so in one of my earlier drafts, travel was possible with the earth dimension. (In short, when Chip was brought through the barrier, it broke and allowed dimensional travel again.) I wanted Chip to have a relationship with his parents that wasn’t estranged or filled with intrigue. Just two parents dealing with a teenager who he could control plants in another set of worlds. The problem was that there was very little story to be had by adding in these characters with so little dynamic. They bogged down the plot more than I was willing to let it get bogged down, so I had to cut them. In the end, I cut off travel/communication with earth entirely, but not before removing both parents from Chip’s life at an early age.
I guess some tropes are there for a reason and even I can’t find an excuse to avoid them. It took me some time to learn that lesson, and I had to write the story to see why it wouldn’t work, but it was a good lesson to learn.