I'm Writing a Novel - Why I Chose to Write This Kind of Story
I'm involved in a few different free online classes. A recent webinar I listened to told me to be driven by a sense of purpose. Not just as a writer, but this will help you be more productive in general, in all areas of life that matter. You need to have a "Big Why" a big reason to write that will launch you forward.
But, the book I'm writing is a tragedy. I'm not going to spoil the endings for any of the six main characters in The Six Maidens, but a lot of bleak stuff happens, and the characters really struggle. It's also low fantasy, so I don't have awesome magic stuff happening.
So to find out my "big why", I first have to deal with a lot of smaller "whys". Why low fantasy as a setting? Why six protagonists in a group? Why all girls who just turned sixteen? Why not make them more powerful, or more heroic than ordinary? Why make everything so historically realistic, in a "doom and gloom" way? Why have sad events and a tragic ending?
Small Why 1: Why Low Fantasy?
Low fantasy is a genre I fell in love with through George R. R. Martin's work. It's fantasy that's "low" on the traditional fantasy elements. If there is magic, it will be severely limited, specific, and usually a "hard magic" system. If there are traditional mythical beasts, like unicorns or dragons, they won't be as super-powered, and will tend to be more like regular animals.
I like both high and low fantasy. Examples of high fantasy I like include the Wheel of Time series and the Lord of the Rings series. But low fantasy is a setting I like because of my interest in medieval history. High fantasy is based on medieval European folklore, but low fantasy is based on medieval European reality. It has societies with laws and government structures similar to that of real medieval Europe, making it almost historical fiction. But not quite.
Some authors might argue that low fantasy is too depressing. Without as much magic, it's harder to make a compelling setting. Fantasy novels are long, and you need the reader to want to immerse themselves in the setting. Something like Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia can sell books based on that alone, by creating settings that are so charming and whimsical that readers want to spend time in them, regardless of what happens in the plot.
But I chose low fantasy because I want my main characters to be challenged. I've often felt coldness for high fantasy tropes like chosen ones, magical jewelry quests, prophesies, and magical super powers, where it always feels like more power can be pulled out of the author's ass. High fantasy also has villains that are sometimes one-dimensional and don't seem like real people, and that loses me. There are only so many times I can encounter another evil monarch (bonus points if he's an emperor) who does not feel like a real person with real problems and flaws, but instead like a laundry list of standard evil traits.
High fantasy also has the problem of exposition. There's more to explain because the world works so differently from the real world. The stuff you leave unexplained in the books will be fodder for fan speculation, and I cringe whenever J.K. Rowling explains yet another thing about the wizarding world that nobody cared about on Twitter. I don't want to have to keep doing that. I just want a world that functions almost exactly like the real world, because that's simpler. You can immerse yourself in it right away. It has all the same limitations as the real world. The culture is similar to real medieval European culture, with different names and a few minor changes.
Another thing I chose to do is focus my attention on main characters from a small, rural village. A lot of fantasy novels will have main characters who only start out this way, and end up as monarchs and heroes with god-like powers. Though the characters may be humble in origin, the meat of the story still revolves around court politics, the world of nobles and royalty. That makes a story exciting, but history is not just a story of royals and nobles. It's also about carpenters, bakers, shepherds, blacksmiths, merchants, bankers, outlaws, and farmers. I think ordinary people are not only worth talking about, but worth celebrating. They make up the society that noble houses are so concerned with ruling. A bunch of pampered brats back-stabbing each other isn't that compelling to me.
A great example of this is Spice and Wolf, a light novel with an anime adaptation, that is low fantasy and focuses on a merchant. The problems the book handles are the problems of a merchant, like spotting a con artist and handling coinage speculation scams. The book turns the "mundane" life of trading goods across different towns in an area similar to medieval Italy into a compelling work of art.
So, I have six main characters. One is of noble birth, but she's the same age as the others, and to them, she's just another girl in their traveling party. The others are daughters of a shepherd, a soldier, a hunter, a farmer, and a Jewish money lender. Although they vary in wealth, I focus on what unites them - the common bond they share of being sixteen, being girls "of marrying age", and living in a town that cannot offer them a hopeful future, due to crop failures and other disasters. We all had to come into adulthood, and some people had to do that in circumstances that were painful and difficult. That's why I think the low fantasy setting will resonate better with my readers.
Why 2. Why Tragedy? My Sources of Inspiration
It's harder to sell people on, harder to market, the idea of tragedy than to market something lighter and more hopeful in tone. People read fantasy, even some forms of dark fantasy, to be entertained by cool heroes with cool powers doing cool things, right?
But some of my favorite stories have been tear jerkers. I don't go looking for works that depict victimization, abuse, and brutal violence on purpose. We all know that by itself that is not enough to make a story great. But my favorite great stories show both the good and the bad side of humanity. They show that life is a struggle, and sometimes that struggle is harsh and bitter. But the idea conveyed is that the work to try to live is worth it.
Some works that influenced me here:
- Hamlet, especially the part about Ophelia.
- Les Miserables, especially the part about Fantine.
- Real stories of female saints and martyrs like Joan of Arc.
- Historical stories of religiously motivated torture and killing.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Princess Mononoke
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Ancient Greek tragedy
The original Greek tragedy involved a horrible prophesy that could not be avoided. I'm not that keen on prophesy, because it's an overused form of foreshadowing that can sometimes feel like spoon feeding. Prophesies are vague, and the initial main characters' interpretations of them is often wrong. But even a prophesy with a twist is still fairly boring. And can't the being capable of giving the heroes a prophesy teach them about things like plumbing, electricity, and pest management? No, it's always some vague crap about heroes and rulers. Nothing actually of much value to humanity in the long run. Kings are born and rule and their reigns end and they die. Even good ones are forgotten after a few hundred years. The people who believe in king prophesies think that one good King Arthur like dude is going to purify all the evil from the land and create a utopian paradise-like kingdom. That's almost as unrealistic, and overused, as the "tragic prophesy" where a soothsayer or some other type of mystic warns a main character about a terrible thing that will happen, the character does not believe in the warning, and then bam, terrible thing happens.
So yeah, I'm kind of over prophesies and kings. Not in my story! What I like is what can be described as the banal tragedy of struggling to survive in a cold, unfriendly world. Everyday life is already a tragedy for millions of people. Poverty. Sickness. Aging. The inevitability of death we all have but no one wants to think about. These "everyday sufferings" are common across different people divided by religion, politics, language, culture, and geography. When Buddha said that life is suffering, he meant that no human can ever not succumb to suffering eventually. But instead of wallowing in despair over that truth, I see in it the greater potential for humanity to see that we are all one, we all have a shared experience, the human experience. Maybe that's why many bleak novels are said to be about "the human condition". It's not that a human life is always pure misery; it can sometimes involve happy things like beaches, relaxation, beauty, companionship, and half-priced drinks. But, we all have to handle suffering at some point as well, and we all have to deal with our own mortality. I think literature is a great form of therapy for people to meditate on this truth, and find good reasons to stay positive anyway.
So, as to details about my book. I already wrote a shorter version of The Six Maidens. It was about 17,000 words long, I wrote it to enter into a contest. I've had that version up on Kindle at $0.99 and the rough draft on my Wattpad for a while. Right now, I'm working on the expanded version, which will be at least 50,000 words, probably more. I'm aiming for a release date of March 27, 2020. As it gets closer to that date, I will probably put more of the book's content up on my blog, let you guys read a few sample chapters, etc. I will link to the Amazon book on this article, when it becomes available.
What are your thoughts on tragedy and low fantasy?
© 2019 Rachael Lefler