Placing Fantasy in Reality

I was in a creative writing class where we alternated writing ten to twenty page stories. Each of us wrote three stories throughout the semester, and my turn was coming up. I was beside myself as to what  I should write, so I chose something simple: a fan fiction. I was playing Exalted, a very fun and exciting, anime based, table top role playing game. The world used a great deal from our own in order to make it easier to connect. There was whiskey, rice, shacks made of wood, and other very common items in our every day life. Being a writer, whiskey was very common in my every day life. So this was the story submitted to my fantasy hating class.

The advice given each time was make it so people could connect to the character. No one understood a character fighting a dragon. So I made my character an alcohol whom lost his daughter and wife to a twisted creature. People could relate, and for once it felt like I won a battle in this class of hard critics. Until one classmate spoke up. “Why is he drinking whiskey? That’s from our world. Why is it here?” This isn’t where he stopped. This colleague became a chef, and I was tossed into the oven. However, when he roasted me, it left a lasting impression. How much fantasy in the world is too much or too little?

Star Wars was my first major introduction to a science fiction setting. Nearly everything is imaginary. The material for buildings to the drinks commonly served all had names foreign to any earth tongue. Drugs were unique, and even common guns were called slug throwers instead. It takes a lot of work keeping it all straight, but for most fans of the genre it didn’t require too much effort.

However, do writers of science fiction and fantasy lose fans because of the numerous foreign objects which show up on the pages? Is it too difficult to connect with the common person when every other drink, food, and building material is something the average reader doesn’t understand? Most fantasy has ale, mead, or other forms of alcohol. They use swords made of steel, iron, or bronze. Pig leg is a common meal. Now and then one or two mysteries are introduced. You have pipe weed in Lord of the Rings. Swords might be made of star metal, or armor of mithril.

Then comes the question of physics. One of the most liberating moments in my writing experience was the realization physics in each and every world we create is alterable. Every time we introduce magic we shake up the physics of our world. Since magic or super science is common to our genre, however, we don’t think twice about these changes. However, also an inspiration primarily from Exalted, why do we have to stop there?

Suddenly there is a mystical waterfall which falls up instead of down. The world has a border of mist, and even though it’s a modern world they don’t think twice about it. Trees in a natural park are actually made of crystal due to a science experiment gone wrong or nymphs which became bored. While too many alterations can make it difficult for the readers to follow, a few interesting quirks ignite the imagination. These deviations from reality make your world stick out from every other world created. Just look at nature for a good long while and brainstorm what you can alter to give that zip to your own setting.

My first question is when do we deviate too far from reality or not enough in our writing? Is fantasy and science fiction different in regards to how much we may leave the known? Those really are related, and in some strange way one question. We’re changing the physics of the English language. Also, go observe nature. Sit out there and ponder what you could change. Watch the wild life, the rivers or oceans, the trees and shrubbery, and come up with something to make your own.

Now write your heart out and make something that awes even you, as the creator. That’s when you know it’s something amazing.

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