Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

What is fiction?

Creative fiction is tapping into a semi-conscious part of your brain to find other worlds that have no immediate connection to ours, but have content and ingredients that are recognisable to other, human readers. The only difference between fantasy fiction and plain fiction is that when you plan to write fantasy, your goal is to write something that is truly magical.

Fiction is about harnessing creativity and leveraging artistic expression. If you cannot use vivid mental images, if you cannot imagine and dream up new stories, ingenious creatures, crafty plot-lines, dreamlike scenarios, and fantastic features (for some, sadly, the inclination to employ mental images is repressed or restricted), then fantasy storytelling is probably not for you (sorry, just telling it like it is!)

are we there yet

In everyday life, people use their power of imagination to explore potential outcomes (we generally label this ‘daydreaming’ and we use it to imagine what we could do in any circumstance or when we visualise a desire). We also use our power of imagination to play (children play ‘pirates’ while adults play RPG video games.)

But you will need to have a deep involvement with imagination, probably an extensive and lifelong involvement with it, if you want to be a successful fantasy novelist. For example, a person with a vivid sense of imagination might:

  • have had imaginary friends in childhood
  • created a detailed imaginary world “in their head
  • still have a tendency to role-play or cos-play
  • possess a fantasy identity
  • experience imagined sensations as “real”
  • have vivid sensory perceptions

If you check any of the above (like I do) then you have what it takes!

Angela's Ashes Frank McCourt

Fantasizers get absorbed by their vivid mental images and, for creative fantasizers, this total absorption generates a work of fiction (fine arts, dramatic expression, poetry, prose, music) which others will connect with and participate in.

In terms of a formal distinction between fiction and nonfiction, the lines are uncertain and flowing (see my blog post on good storytelling). Non-fiction titles are regularly much less truthful than you might think, even though they make pretensions to be “real life.” A great example is Frank McCourt’s memoir “Angela’s Ashes” which caused a frenzy of outrage when the author later admitted that it was “not an exact history” and his mother confirmed that it was indeed “a pack of lies.” (This did not prevent the book from being an exceptional literary work, but some readers felt McCourt had over-stepped the mark when he’d added “memoir” to the messaging.) There is more overlap between fiction and nonfiction than readers will I would like to admit!

Discworld

And it works both ways too — fiction generally has elements of truth in it. For example, you could invent a new language, perhaps elvish, but you can’t write an entire book in it (because it’s unknown in the real world.) You can create a main character who might be a mole (Duncton Wood) or a rabbit (Watership Down) but these animals will think and act like humans. You can create a fabulous universe, but any universe that you create will have to be “logical” or your readers will become bored.

Terry Pratchett, a master fabulist, if there ever was one, placed his Discworld series on a flat planet, balanced on the back of four elephants, themselves stood on the back of a giant turtle (artist’s impression above) You will notice how turtles and elephants are recognisable/measurable animals and are found inside this, our real world: his fiction may be a fantasy but, like dreams, it is based on what we know.

The distinction between fiction & non-fiction is best defined by those readers & viewers who choose to consume it…

The distinction between fiction and non-fiction is best defined by those readers & viewers who choose to consume it: that is, from the perspective of the target audience: in other words, some viewers will think their favourite soap opera is a portion of ‘real life’ ( when, clearly, it is nothing of the sort) but the same spectators will turn their noses up at “Game of Thrones” because it is “fantasy.”

William Shakespeare knew this truth about fiction and how audiences respond to it, so he labelled some of his works as “histories” (to mark them out as pseudo non-fiction) although he also wrote fantasy titles: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest are two good examples. From these titles we might learn that truth can be presented through imaginary structures, while, on the other hand, imagination offers meaningful conclusions about truth & reality when it’s used creatively in non-fiction.

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

This is an extract from: “So You Want to Write Fantasy?

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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