Please join me in welcoming Cinda Williams Chima.
Fear of Fantasy
Those of us who write YA fantasy often feel like we’re straddling two worlds—that of mainstream teen lit, and that of fantasy fiction. Similarly, authors of paranormal romance walk the borderline between two audiences—fantasy and romance fans. We want to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. But it takes a little planning to make fantasy accessible to mainstream readers. Here are some strategies that have worked for me:
- It’s not all about the magic. All of the usual elements of fiction have to be there—character, setting, and conflict. Mainstream readers are not going to be so smitten by your fabulous magical system that they overlook those things.
- Character is especially important. If your characters are engaging, readers will follow them into any fantasy world you can conjure. But give the reader time to bond with your characters before you overwhelm them with fantasy fireworks.
- Root your fantasy world in the real world. This is easier to do with contemporary or urban fantasy. My Heir Chronicles series (The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, The Dragon Heir) is contemporary fantasy set in the magical world of Ohio. Ohio is accessible and familiar to most people, except for those who live in New York and LA. So there’s less explaining to do.
Your story doesn’t have to take place in Ohio, however. My new high fantasy series is set in the Seven Realms, a quasi-medieval collection of warring states. Still, real-world sensory detail seduces readers and makes them believers. Since the Fells is a mountainous queendom, I draw heavily on my memories of recent visits to the Canadian Rockies, Yellowstone National Park, and New Zealand in creating my fantasy landscape. Remember: all fantasy worlds are built from elements of the familiar, put together in a different way.
- Measure out your magical elements. Don’t overload your readers with unfamiliar creatures, events, and terminology, especially at first. It’s bewildering and intimidating—kind of like being the only Baptist at Latin Mass.
One way to meter out fantasy elements is to have the reader discover them along with the viewpoint character. Stephenie Meyer used that strategy in Twilight. As the book opens, the only clue that something magical is going on is on the bookjacket.
In many contemporary fantasies, the fantasy elements are subtle, adding just a hint of extra interest. Think of one of those hand-colored black and white photographs from the last century.
- Magical systems and settings should be delivered on a need-to-know basis. Is it absolutely necessary that the reader know all of the names in a dynasty of wizards? I thought not.
- One key to efficient world-building is to allow your reader to participate. Writers and readers are partners in story, so give your readers room to operate. Writers contribute the architecture—the frame it hangs on. Readers do the detail work—they color in the lines.
In other words, be selective in your description. The world and characters the reader creates will be slightly different from your own, incorporating their own individual experiences and images. And that’s okay. The bottom line: trust your reader.
The Demon King is now available in paperback, and The Exiled Queen will be released September 28. There will be four books in the Seven Realms series, followed by two more Heir books.
Excerpts from each of my books are available on my website, www.cindachima.com. Help for writers can be found under Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens.”
I blog at http://cindachima.blogspot.com/, where you’ll find rants, posts on the craft of writing, and news about me and my books.
Thank you Cinda for spending time with us.
BOOK DESCRIPTION: Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, hunted by the powerful Bayar family, Han Alister makes a devil’s bargain with the clans. If they sponsor his schooling at Mystwerk Academy at Oden’s Ford, he will become their magical sell-sword against the power-hungry Wizard Council.
Han and his clan friend Fire Dancer undertake the dangerous journey south through war-torn Arden. Once in Oden’s Ford, it doesn’t take long for the smoldering feud between Han and Micah Bayar to kindle into flame. After several attempts on his life, Han knows he has to find a way to defend himself.
In the magical dream world of Aediion, Han meets the mysterious Crow, a wizard with a long-standing grudge against the Bayars. Crow offers to tutor Han in wizardry in exchange for his help. Han agrees, once again forced into a bargain he hopes he won’t regret.
Meanwhile, Han’s friends Fire Dancer and Cat Tyburn struggle with their own demons. Dancer is determined to become a clan flashcrafter, despite his charmcaster status. Cat carries a load of guilt, as the only survivor of the slaughter of the gangs in Ragmarket and Southbridge.
Resuming her disguise as gently-born Rebecca Morley, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna travels with her friend Amon Byrne and his triple of cadets to Wien House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. There she hopes she will find both temporary sanctuary from a forced marriage and the education she needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.
Much of Raisa’s education takes place outside of the classroom. As she mingles with students of all classes from throughout the Seven Realms, she forges the kind of friendships that don’t happen amid the cut-throat politics of the Gray Wolf Court. She also struggles to deal with her attraction to Amon—an attraction he seems determined to discourage.
When Han Alister asks the girl he knows as Rebecca to tutor him, she agrees. The streetlord turned wizard with the complicated past fascinates her, and he makes it clear the interest is mutual. But Han blames Queen Marianna and the Bayars for the loss of his family. As their relationship deepens, Raisa suspects that if Han knew her true identity, he wouldn’t want anything to do with her.
Book Trailer from The Demon King: