Saturday, October 30, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo Day Six: Fantasy

Welp. It's Saturday. Two days to go. No preamble today. If you haven't been with us on the countdown this week, click here.

Today's post is possibly my favorite of the workshops I attended at Chautauqua.  Of course, I'm a fantasy junkie at heart, but this workshop was magical.  Editor/author Patricia Lee Gauch gave it, and she talked all about Fantasy writing, and what makes it so great.  If you're as big a nerd as I am, you'll love these notes.

Fantasy is a place where trees walk, rocks talk, giants exist, owls deliver our mail, where our own shadow faces us… It is through the looking glass, and nothing is expected.  Everything is unexpected.  It is slightly dangerous terrain... and you’ve elected to be here.

-          It is supernatural, archetypal, magical.  The basis is Mythic, and that is what makes it go so far.  Freud and Jung: these myths live in us.  They are a part of us.
-          Monomyths… these are not patterns.  They are not things to try on for side.  It lives in us.  It will come up.  And that’s why, in a fantasy, the characters are outsized.  They are nightmarish and dreamish, and they are not held back by the boundaries of reality.  That is what you want to get to. 
-          You must use your mind, but so much of it comes from inside you.
-          Starts in this profound place we can barely understand.  Projections of the unconscious.  Almost like Jack and the Beanstalk, reaching for the stars, uniting two parts.

-          Light and dark
-          The unindividuated hero (Bilbo-type; Pinnochio), Just a piece of wood, reluctant hero.  Gets a call to adventure from Somewhere. 
-          There is some kind of a sign, and a decision to be made.  The threshold guardian is ambiguous, not sure if he’s good or bad.
-          But that hero is ready, and off he goes.  And what he faces in the uncharted territory is chaos, tests.  The world turns upside-down.  Nothing is familiar.  (The Odyssey.)
-          Some of the tests are:
o       The ID (Yourself, the wild parts of your own nature.  Or, Animal, not civilized.)
o       The Anima (The Blue Fairy; seductress, or mother-type, or ambiguous… Projection that the hero must figure out.)
o       The Animus (The father-figure the heroine must deal with.)  Or the Jiminy Cricket figure. 
o       There is always a turning point before the cliff.  And when you go off the cliff into the Land of Darkness, you are alone with yourself.  Once you have overcome that womb-like place of darkness, you are ready to join society.  It is the Belly of the Whale, your place to be reborn.
(Webbing is a good way to brainstorm events, and let your subconscious have a chance.)
-          When the hero returns, he brings something back to the community.
-          This format works with Star Wars
-          What’s happening is profound.  When you go to the center of you to tell a fantasy, something magical happens.  

-          THE HOBBIT 
            o There is something warm, and something humorous about MOST fantasies.
o       You access your primary world by the STUFF of the secondary world.  Ie., the coat-pegs on Bilbo’s hall walls. 
o       The house is all about the word COMFORT.  Bilbo doesn’t want to go anywhere.  The Bagginses don’t do anything unexpected or have any adventures. 
o       Narrator: your choice.  Tolkien’s narration is very prominent.
o       Fantasies love Two Sides.  (Ie, Tooks Vs. Bagginses)  New writers tend to understate.  Don’t be afraid to come right out and say something.  Don’t be afraid to overwrite.
o       Bilbo’s wooly toes neatly-brushed are another thing that grounds the reader to the story.  Specifics.
o       “I have no time to blow smoke rings,” said Gandalf.  “I am very busy trying to find someone to take part in an adventure I am arranging.”
o       Analogies from This World root the fantasy world in something that feels familiar to the reader.  “Selling buttons at the door.” 
o       The Hobbit is a great model.  Starting in a hole.  Going on an adventure.
o       The terrain is important in fantasy ALMOST ALWAYS.  It is a character.  It is accessible. 
o       “He thought of himself frying bacon and eggs in his own kitchen at home…”  “After some time, he felt for his pipe.”  He’s still who he is.  He’s still linked to comfort, though he’s in the darkest pockets of the world.  And with the comfort of his elvish blade, he is able to get up and go forward.
o       Unconscious narrative
o       Steeped in a history of the story, of the place.  It feels authentic.
o       Gollum: “They had a feeling that something unpleasant was lurking down there.”
o       If you want to introduce a character, you have to take time to do it.  And you need a good name.  Not just an interesting one, but a good one that fits, that rolls off the tongue.
o       Don’t be afraid of "suddenly," if it’s done right.

o       J.K. Rowling thought and thought… and eventually let go to what she conceived.
o       Jo is so bold in the first chapter.  She isn't afraid to be ironic.  “…the dull, grey Tuesday our story starts…”
o       “None of them noticed the tawny owl that fluttered past the window…”
o       Jerks back to the ordinary are signposts in a story.  McGonagall and her map on the corner are signposts.  “Drills were driven out of his mind by something else.”  Storytelling.  Transitions back and forth from the ordinary to the extraordinary slowly pull readers into the story with the promise of something wonderful.
o       Mr. Dursley’s refusal to acknowledge the strange things around him are just like Bilbo’s refusal to be taken in by Gandalf.  They build tension.
o       Buying a bun from the bakery is another anchor back to reality.  Juxtapositions from our world to theirs are what entice us.
o       Jo inserts her narrator again after Mr. Dursley is hugged around the middle and called a Muggle.  “which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination.”
o       Build up to unusual things at the end of almost every paragraph.  In and out of ordinary… she doesn’t go too fast.  Getting that other stuff in—the ordinary stuff—is what makes it authentic.
o       When you accept the call to adventure, you enter chaos.  Things that were natural are now unnatural.  The ordinary things are on hold.  As long as your world is consistent in its unnaturalness.

A final thought from Patti Gauch: When you go through the darkness, over the sea that turns to land, and face your own shadow, you’ll get it.  When you see a book to write, write it.

What do you think?  Anyone writing Fantasy?  Anyone connect to this kind of storytelling?  Do share!


  1. Oh, I'm right there with you, Melissa. :) Isn't it wonderful?