I wrote this because I'm writing a fantasy story. When I write, I have to set ground rules for myself, otherwise I second-guess myself, revise things that don't need revising, or just plain don't commit to putting words on the page. I thought I'd share these rules. Maybe we can argue about them.
- Fantasy is inherently an adolescent thing. This isn’t bad or wrong. It just means that fantasy appeals to the adolescent in people. We all still have an adolescent inside of us. This is normal. Without it, we’d be kinda boring.
- Fantasy is born of the friction between intense, often irrational desire, and the utter disappointments and frustrations presented by the real world. Whatever disappoints you, depresses you, pisses you off about the real world and what you have to do to get by in it, deal with it in your fantasy. Fix it, or, better yet, create environments that allow you to punch it in the face, or, even better, create protagonists who will punch it in the face even in environments that discourage such punching.
- Why are Tolkien’s protagonists majestic, perseverant, discerning, and/or unconditionally loyal (except when they’re not, but that’s only so they can become so)? Because Tolkien thought those were qualities that people ought to have.
- Why are Howard’s protagonists unapologetic butt-kickers who don’t take any shit, who are always ready to act even when gravely unprepared, and who take beatings occasionally but bounce right back? Because Howard wanted to be that kind of person.
- Why are Stan Lee’s protagonists powerful and valiant people who still have to deal with petty squabbles and relatively mundane problems? Because Lee thinks that it’s the concern over those details, and the concern for others (we only squabble with people we care about), that make someone human and thus able to be valiant in the first place. Notice that Dr. Doom and Magneto don’t have to deal with any of that stuff.
- If an idea scares you, you must use it.
- If an idea turns you on, you must use it.
- If an idea grosses you out, you must use it.
- If an idea makes you go, “Gee, golly, wow!” then you must use it.
- If you come up with an idea that makes you go, “Is that too weird? Is that going to freak people out?” then use it and don’t revise it. What you’re really asking yourself is, “Does that reveal something about me that I’m afraid of?” If you’re scared of revealing things about yourself, then don’t do fantasy.
- If an idea doesn’t do any of the above 5 things, it’s probably not worth a damn.
- A protagonist’s decisions should make you anxious about the consequences.
- When you see what a protagonist is up against, it had better make you go, “Ohhhhhh SHIT.”
- Every time a protagonist triumphs, it should make you want to pump your fist and shout, “Hell yeah!”
- Every time a protagonist fails, it should have you biting your nails or gaping in disbelief. When he suffers, he should suffer horribly.