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This week I explore what WONDER means and how to employ the emotion in your fantasy fiction by using what I call the: wonder-equation. Also, I look in some depth at creating a credible system of magic for your fantasy fiction and the wildflower of the week is the Anemone (my photo below)
What does WONDER mean and how to employ it in your fantasy fiction
As an emotion, wonder is compared to awe though awe involves an element of respect and a fear response rather than pure joy, so wonder is a joyous surprise that is usually produced by an unexpected or very rare set of circumstances or a remarkable series of events
The 16th century philosopher Descartes suggested that the emotional reaction to unexpected phenomena is wonder. And it’s more than mere admiration, it’s astonishment.
Perhaps wonder can be linked to curiosity through a simple equation: curiosity brings surprise and surprise brings wonder.
The the Polish-born American philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote: wonder is a key emotion in living a worthy life.
It’s worth trying to evoke wonder in all of your creative writing, but it’s especially important when writing fantasy fiction. Think of it in this way: If a concept is unfamiliar to a reader, he or she will turn pages to find out more; if it becomes difficult to understand (but worth it and can be read easily) it will generate more interest, attention, and even enthusiasm. And when there is satisfying resolution, it will evoke great pleasure.
So follow the wonder equation in all your story ideas:
Create curiosity: bring peculiarity, rarity, distinction, strangeness, juxtaposition, and exoticism
Curiosity brings Surprise: delight the reader by giving rewards for hard work, provide compensation
Surprise brings Wonder: resolve all the puzzles you set, provide explanations, bring satisfying conclusions
Creating a credible system of magic for your fantasy fiction
If a hero or MC can snap fingers to make everything suddenly seem okay, or they can raise a loved-one from the dead, stop rushing the bullets in their teeth, fly at will, transform into whatever creatures they desire, travel time and they regularly act like they’re indestructible and almighty, where’s the tension in that? Where’s the drama? Your readers will soon be bored with a superman / superwoman character who possesses divine superpowers and can snap their fingers to resolve conflict. I always thought this was Superman’s biggest flaw. Why bother with a full plot? He could wake up in the morning, save everyone from possible harm, and then go back to sleep. A character, whether good or bad, is only interesting if he or she has flaws. And a story is only interesting to us if it contains conflict. And where is the feeling of anxiety if the reader already knows that everything will be fine because a character can snap their fingers or wiggle s nose and everything will get re-set to zero, nobody gets hurt, everyone lives, and there’s a happy ending. Life doesn’t work like that. The real world doesn’t work like that. Crap happens. And when it does, there is a sense of loss. And there is anxiety even even when crap doesn’t happen… because we all know that it will probably come. And there ain’t much you and I can do about it. So your fictional world should deal in this “actuality” too… the actuality that bad stuff will happen and there’s not much that many of your characters can do about it… but there might be, just might be, a secret hidden knowledge, a rare and dangerous cure, or some person with an incredible gift, that might possibly be able to provide a cure for the bad stuff. But, if that miraculous knowledge is “out there” then it must be extraordinarily rare or extremely unreliable or incredibly expensive (or, most likely, all three)… otherwise everyone (but especially the wealthy and the powerful) would have access to it wouldn’t they? In fact the selfish rich would probably squirrel it away for themselves and their family. (In fact, Queen Elizabeth the First actually had her own wizard / magician, Dr. John Dee, who had extraordinary powers. Other famous historical rulers did too.)
We know that Harry Potter and his friends work hard, very hard, to be good at magic. Magic is not easy and it is not free … if magic was free and easy then everyone would do it! We would all be wizard/magicians and there would not have to be hunger, poverty, disease, crime, disorder, chaos or anxiety in the world. But everyone isn’t a wizard/magician… very few are. So, why is that? Is it because only a small elite group has the innate talent to be wizardly or were born blessed with special characteristics that make them magical? Or are so few likely to become magical because it is extremely difficult, requires a lot of work, great effort, years of devotion, a life of dedication and will have other costs or burdens (perhaps hidden) that are directly imposed on the individual? I equate it to becoming a very good, first-class musician. It takes hours-days-weeks of practice to become a very good musician, you must focus on your talent morning-noon-and-night, you must dedicate your whole being to your art, every ounce of your energy, each thought, each word, every action, and even your dreams must be consumed by it. In fact, you probably won’t sleep, rest, or play, because that would hamper practice. And practice makes perfect. Soon, the only thing that is important to you is mastering your craft.
Magicians are like musicians. So, while Harry Potter and his friends are making a supreme effort to become better magicians, other average people like you and me are casually “wasting time” having romances, playing sports, listening to parents, living upstairs in bedrooms (and not in remote castles miles away from our families) dating, learning to drive, playing computer games, listening to pop music, going to fast food restaurants, etc. But the adept abandons all these things to improve his or her magical craft.
What type of magic do you want to create? Ceremonial or Sympathetic? I’ve already covered these categories in Episode of Myth and Magic.
Why? How will this magic propel the plot, add new dimensions, change or motivate characters, propel events or add tension and drama? Don’t forget Chekhov’s Gun principle
Now, check-out the Three Main Points of a Magical System:
Main point 1: Magic shouldn’t exist without a need for it. . .
nor without favorable conditions and without a trained and committed magician — the adept.
So determine the following:
The need for magic in the fictional world you ant to create. Why is it required? What is its function? (For example, does it replace technology, medicine, or chemistry?) If that’s what it does, then remember, you must consider the consequences of having NO technology, medicine or chemistry in your world and stick to it!) Ask what the conditions would have been like before you introduced magic into your fictional world and speculate what it would be like for characters if they lived in a world without magic. If it wouldn’t be much different or the story can be told without magic, why present it at all? Ask yourself what your fictional world would be like with and then without magic? Test a few ideas and speculate on outcomes. Could the monster be defeated another way? Could the Princess be saved by cunning, wit or strength (without) magic? Could the invading force be held back without a magical staff?
Then ask, who is adept? Why are these types adept? (Maybe they’re elves, so have evolved magical prowess over millennia, or maybe they come from a lineage or underclass, like Romani gypsies, so have a long history of learning and practicing magic within their hereditary group. Or maybe they are “specially recognized” individuals who get taken away to be isolated and trained for long intense periods of tutelage… these are the so-called Magician’s Apprentices ( like Harry Potter and his pals.) How long would it take an adept to become fully proficient in wizardry? Many years? A lifetime? Or, like a musician, would they never be satisfied with their proficiency? Would they never become“fully skilled” (like medical surgeons) so they must practice and rehearse their skills always-and-everyday to get better-and-better.
Main point 2: Magic has a cost, the cost must be paid before it can work. . .
paid by someone or something
it ought to cost
the cost might be effort, outlay, or a handsome price
the cost might be tremendous effort, or a few “silver pieces” (like Gypsy fortune tellers ask) or it might be a larger sacrifice, for example something that can’t be given up easily
Main point 3: Magic is esoteric (the secrets are kept by a few)
Ever wondered why Hogwarts is a castle protected by walls and a moat, lots of enchantments and spells, and is impossible for a Muggle to locate? Or why candidates for the Jedi Order are taken away from parents, at the age of five, to be asked to “release all earthly attachments; to let go of all they’ve grown to love,” before they begin a journey of initiation. Or that stage magician’s belong a secretive “magic circle”?
It’s because magic is esoteric.
Derived from the ancient Greek adjective esôterikós (which means: to belong to an inner circle) it came to define anyone who could belong to a subculture or clique that is outside “normal” religious ideas or viewpoints or has ideas that are at odds at with secular culture or established science; and whose members claim to have some kind of “higher knowledge” (think of Jedi, for example).
An expert in magical esotericism was the English historian Frances Yates, who studied in depth the lives of wizards such as the Renaissance heretic Giordano Bruno.
She concluded that there were six types of esotericism
Here is my spin on it, for fantasy fiction writers:
1: the idea of “correspondences” This is the idea that there are symbolic and real correspondences between all things in the universe. For example, the stars above us act in the same way (and even look the same) as the atoms we are constructed of — that is, the microcosm corresponds with the macrocosm
2: the idea of “living nature” This is the argument that the natural universe is imbued with its own life force and is a “living organism” in its own right (think of “the Force” used by the Jedi)
3: the idea of “mediation” This is the idea that some people act as conduits for mediation, and that accompanied by rituals, symbolic images, mandalas, intermediate spirits and mantras, these people can provide access to “hidden” worlds or other levels of reality (think of witch doctors)
4: the idea of “transmutation experience” This is the emphasis on transformation through practice, for example, superpowers can be obtained through some kind of spiritual transformation (think of Gandalf the Gray becoming Gandalf the White)
5: the idea of “concordance” Many esotericists believe that there is a fundamental unifying principle for all religions and spiritual practices in the world. The principle of the idea of concordance is that upon reaching this unifying principle, the different beliefs of the world will unite into one (think of the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”)
6: the idea of “transmission” In esotericism, due to its secret nature, the emphasis on transmitting teachings is through a process of initiation that allows the apprentice to gain access into an elite “magic circle” What happens to those initiates who fail to make the grade? They already know some of the “secrets”. Are they killed or, in some other way, silenced?
Wildflower of the week: Anemone
In my front yard (we call it front garden in England) under an upright blue juniper tree that my mum gave me several years ago (which she grew from seed) I have grown Anemones. They bloom at this time of the year and are quite startling in their beauty.
Anemōnē means “daughter of the wind” from the ancient Greek (ánemos, meaning wind) and the Roman poet Ovid (born 43 BC) suggests tells that the plant was created by the goddess Aphrodite (aka Venus) after her mortal (as in human) lover, Adonis was gored by a wild boar, and was killed. Aphrodite’s tears at his death mixed with his blood to gave rise to the anemone The name also used is the windflower.
These origin stories reflect the dual meaning of the arrival of the spring breeze (the windflower nods in acceptance, see my video) and the death of a loved one. There is also Christian symbolism here: Lent and Easter is the time of renewal and rebirth but will bring death before resurrection. The anemone remains “hidden” underground (when I got mine, they were hard little nuggety bulbs that needed to be soaked in water before planting) and doesn’t not emerge until Lent. When it emerges, fern-like leaf and blossom together, it is a thing of beauty.
In the Victorian language of flowers, the anemone represented a forsaken love of any kind. The According to Bucklands Book of Gypsy Magic, the Romani people considered it to be a magical herb and it was used to to ward off pests, disease and bad luck. Though some Eastern cultures believe that the anemone is a symbol of bad luck or ill-tidings.
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