Note: this is a continuation of a previous post please go back and read Day Zero if you have not already.
The official convention did not begin until Thursday and not until 1:30 in the afternoon, so I spent Thursday morning writing. I’m well into my revisions so when I say writing, it’s mostly careful reading and tearful goodbyes to writing I liked that doesn’t actually have anything to add to the story. (I had a funny realization today. It’s National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, which is a challenge where writers attempt to write 50,000 words (roughly the length of a novel) over the course of a single month. Usually, I manage to complete the 50K words unintentionally, but this year since I’m in the midst of revisions I’m doing reverse NaNoWriMo and trying to cut at least 50K words from my 190K monstrosity.) Not only did I manage to do some good revision, I also wrote the rough drafts to two short stories. I have not yet been very successful at writing short stories; they usually wind up turning into novels or in some cases songs, but they never stay short prose. I think these two stories will be different, although one of them may end up turning into a series of short stories.
Anyway, once it was time for the con to start, I emerged from my hotel room and attended four panels.
Magic is the Essential Ingredient of Epic Fantasy – Except when it isn’t:
I learned upon arrival at the con that each year everything revolves around a specific theme. This year’s theme was Epic Fantasy which is lucky because that’s primarily what I write. For those who don’t know, Epic Fantasy is generally told on a large scale. The consequences in Epic Fantasy tends to be world-changing, and yes it usually has magic. The first panel I attended focused on trying to figure out whether magic was actually essential to a story being Epic. I thought this was an interesting topic (of course I did, I attended the panel didn’t I) and one I hadn’t given much consideration. I’ve always kind of assumed that fantasy = magic. Much of the panel focused on deciding what constituted Epic Fantasy (a conversation that cropped up several times over the weekend), but I think the most interesting thing that came out of that panel was the idea that magic is a tool that writers use to allow their characters to influence events on a great scale than they’d be able to if they didn’t have magic.
Real World Nomenclature, Taboos, and Cultural Meaning (AKA The Don’t be a Racist F*cker Panel)
The parenthetical part of that panel name wasn’t in the actual program, that’s what one of the panelist Alyx Dellamonica (author of the absolutely fabulous Portal Fantasy Child of a Hidden Sea) called it. This panel delved into issues that I think about a lot, like racial and cultural sensitivity within fantasy and how much responsibility writers of fiction have to be, for want of a better term, politically correct. I think about this a lot. I very intentionally set out to write a book with an even spread across many races, genders, orientations, etc., but sometimes the very best intentions can blow up in your face. (One of the panelists equated trying to write from a cultural perspective that’s different to ones own to navigating a mine field). The conclusion that the panelists ultimately came to is that if you’re going to touch on potentially offensive issues do it in such a manner that you’re not “punching your readers in the face” and to very carefully consider your reasons and purpose for including those elements in your story in the first place. That said, they also said that you usually do your best work when you’re not writing with any theme or purpose in mind. From my own experience I know that if I set out with a certain political goal in mind the story comes across as forced and dishonest, but if I write from a place of honesty I generally do a better job getting certain ideas across than if I’d tried to force them in.
I have to admit this was the panel I was most excited about. Some of my favorite characters both to read and to write are rogues. Rogues, for those who don’t know, are the tricky characters: the thieves, con-artists, pirates – those who live in the moral grey area. My favorite character to write is a rogue. I love how unpredictable and free rogues are and they play a very important role in the story. Frequently, I find that if things are moving along too smoothly it’s time to bring in the rogue to muck things up and cause problems. Saying it like that makes the Rogue seem more like a plot device than a character. But there are some very complex rogue characters out there.
An interesting question that came up during this panel was whether or not there’s a difference between Rogues and Tricksters. Ultimately the panel came to the conclusion that Tricksters are more primal forces: they’re unpredictable for unpredictability’s sake whereas Rogues are unpredictable for practical purposes. That said, I’m sure there’s some overlap between the two archetypes.
For anyone interested in reading some great stories featuring these kinds of characters, check out the Rogues Anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.
When Magic Meets Science
There’s been a recent trend in Fantasy for very scientific magic systems, which is something that I both enjoy and find a little boring. These magic systems have very firm rules, there’s no room in them for wonder. Then again, I feel like it’s cheating when the story is nicely wrapped up by some very convenient mystical magic, so I try to strike a balance in my magic systems, there are rules, there’s cause and effect, but I like to leave things a little fluid.
Something that struck me from this panel was the idea of magic and technology being two sides of the same coin, but in many fantasy worlds magic remains stagnant; it exists in one way and it has always and will always exist as it is. One of the things I like so much about Brandon Sanderson’s Wax and Wayne books is that he’s placed it in the same world as Mistborn but advanced the timeline and technology isn’t the only thing to have advanced; the world’s understanding of magic has progressed as well. That’s something I forget about when developing a magic system: what is it that the people using this magic don’t yet understand about the magic; how can the magic progress? These are questions I intend to ponder as I continue to develop my magic systems.
Thank you for reading.