Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Living in the (Un)Real World

A reader asked...

I'm most curious about how you integrate the rules of your "fantasy" world, with that of the real world.

This was in reference to a comment I made in a recent interview about how I was working on an urban fantasy. (It's on hiatus at the moment until I finish Shifter 2, but I'll be back to it before long). I said that I was finding it a bit of a challenge to write in the real world with real world constraints.

In any fantasy world, you have rules. The author makes them up, so they can do whatever they please within the constraints they set for themselves. The reader doesn't know any better, so unless the author breaks their own established rules, they're golden. In the real world, the author is constrained by the rules every reader is going to know. You can't have Bob suddenly able to read minds in you have no other supernatural element before that point. The telepathy has to be there from the start or the reader won't buy it. Just like they won't buy a student nurse suddenly able to perform complex brain surgery just because the hero needs it. As Scotty says, you cannot change the laws of physics.

But urban fantasy is different. It straddles both real and unreal worlds and plays by a mix of rules. With my urban fantasy, I kept trying to play by real world rules, even though I had already broken them by adding the fantasy element. What I had to do, was find a set of rules that worked with both sides. Create a world where this fantasy element co-existed and everyone played nice together. (well, not nice, that would be no fun, but you get the drift)

I did my world building the same as any other. I knew my fantasy element, and I did a lot of research so it fit as realistically into the real world as possible. I found adhering to what was known made it feel a lot more plausible. (Beta readers kept asking me how much I made up because it was so believable. I took that as a huge compliment)

But mixing the real and the fantasy caused me some trouble. I struggled for a while with this, especially when plotting the end, because I kept trying to find realistic ways to solve my fantasy problem. I kept trying to play by real world rules. Naturally, everything I came up with felt small compared to the problem at hand, and there was no way a typical teen gal could do what needed to be done if I played by real world rules.

Then it hit me.

This is fantasy. Duh.

So I took a step back and thought about what I would do if this wasn't a small town in Georgia, and it was Hildenar, a village in Gamdem. It was way easier to figure it out. And a lot more exciting to boot.

That made me realize that the block I was facing was in being afraid to push the story over the top. To make it work, I had to break the rules, and still stay in the rules. Yeah, I know. Sounds confusing. I had to shift my thinking some. I wasn't putting fantasy elements into our world, I was shoving a human girl into the fantasy world by putting her in contact with them. Even if they all stayed in that small town in Georgia. She was playing by their rules, not ours.

And those were the rules that mattered.


  1. I like the idea that there would be a transition of awareness there. That you'd start trying to work by the real world rules, and then realize you could change paradigms when you got deep enough in. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one...

  2. Janice, thank you so much for answering all of my questions and mentioning that it's helping you come up with blog posts instead of driving you batty :) This was really helpful in terms of really changing my thinking when it comes to how to approach the fantastic in real world situations. And they've been super helpful because besides Orson Scott Card's book, I've found very little helpful information on world building and world integration. So a huge thank you and I'm excited to read your urban fantasy project oneday!

    And, if you need further ideas for future posts, would you mind talking a little about weaving in subplots into your main plot? There's always so much talk about the main conflict, but what about subplots and weaving them together?

    Thanks again!

  3. Glad to help :) Subplots are fun, so I'll do that tomorrow!

  4. Janice, how long do we have to wait for your book? What about a sneak peak? Can't we get one sneak peak? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!?!

  5. It comes out October 6th. I can give you the opening paragraph, but you'll have to wait for more :) Though keep your eyes open for a opening scene except between now and October...

    Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken. With chickens, you just grab a hen, stuff her in a sack and make your escape. But for eggs, you have to stick your hand under a sleeping chicken. Chickens don’t like this. They wake all spooked and start pecking holes in your arm, or your face, if it’s close. And they squawk something terrible.

    The trick is to wake the chicken first, then go for the eggs. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure this out.