Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blurring The Lines Between Fantasy And Reality

This is the fourth and final article of mine that was published in Kalkion in 2009.

The Fantasy Genre is by nature a mixture of the fantastic and the real. Pushing the boundaries is what this brand of fiction is all about. But, though such stories are at their hearts imaginary, there are times when real world objects stand side by side with the fantastic.
As writers we put a lot of care and work into creating our mythical worlds, you should put just as much care and work into making sure the real in your story is true to life.

Weapons can be an important element of your fantasy story. Some readers may not know a long sword from a broad sword but many readers, and editors, do. As a writer, it’s your job to help your readers maintain their suspension of disbelief. Even something like not using the right terms regarding your weapon of choice can damage that.

I once attended a conference where a former policewoman turned crime novelist was telling us about a book she’d read. She said the book was good, until the writer said her lead character ‘cocked a glock.’ Up until that day all I knew of glocks were that they were guns. I had no idea that you don’t cock a glock, but this crime novelist did. She didn’t finish the book or read anything else by that author because it was clear to her that this writer didn’t know what she was talking about. She told us about this and some of us told other people and they told still more people. It’s the domino effect and it can hurt you as a writer.

Even when writing a fantasy story, you have to be careful. You have to know about the weapon you’re describing and make certain it fits both your main character and the story itself. This isn’t as hard as it might seem. When I first began writing I knew almost nothing about weapons. I had no idea there were different kinds of swords until someone read one of my stories and asked me exactly what kind of sword I was describing.

You may not go into a detailed description of your weapon of choice, but it’s still a good idea to know the facts, even if you won’t be using all of them. This doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with actual weapons, or even invent your own, only that you don’t want to turn your reader away by an obvious mis-use.

Search engines on the internet provide easy access to tons of information on swords. However, doing a blanket search will give you so many options it’ll make your head spin. If you go to and search ‘types of swords’ you’ll find a list of swords from various countries that you can read about and then do further research if they interest you. I don’t recommend relying on a single source for information.

This can also be helpful if you intend to create your own sword but aren’t exactly sure where to begin. Looking at pictures and reading descriptions of real swords could give you that spark you need to create your own. This is true of any sort of weapon you could think to use.

Once, I was writing a story and I wanted my character to use a double bladed dagger. I didn’t know what a double bladed dagger was, I just thought it sounded good. Once I looked it up I realized it was not at all what I had in mind, but I did find a double edged dagger, which looked exactly as I’d pictured in my mind. If I had used the double bladed dagger as I intended, with the description I had in mind, it wouldn’t have made sense to anyone who knew what a double bladed dagger was.

When it comes down to the more fantastical parts of your story, such as mythical beasts, it can sometimes be harder to know when to hold true to legends and when to alter them to fit your story. I once had a story rejected because my black dragon breathed fire. Yet, I’ve since read a published novel in which all of the authors dragons breathed fire, regardless of color. Sometimes it just comes down to an editor’s preference and there’s nothing you can do about that.

When it comes to well known mythical creatures, such as dragons, it’s best to know what’s commonly conceived as correct before you try to alter things to your own liking. But don’t be afraid to get creative, after all these are not real animals you’re dealing with, so there is much more leeway for changes.

I chose to change my black dragon into a red dragon, which traditionally breathes fire. It wasn’t a story changing move and it didn’t damage anything I was trying to say. I’ve since had that story published. But no matter what, your story is yours. If an editor makes a suggested change, think it about it hard before you make a decision and if you can’t live with the change, don’t make it.

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