Fantasy Fantasy Fridays world building

Mixing Reality with Fiction

I love fantasy. I love reading fantasy and writing fantasy, for it is such a wondrous genre. My imagination can roam and romp through imaginary lands, sometimes for weeks after I’ve read a great book.

And yet I still want a fantasy tale to have some connection to reality. The protagonist doesn’t need to be from “here” like the leper Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson’s stories, but I still need some reality to help me cross the span of imagination to that fantasy land.

Here are three areas where I like to see our reality mix into a fantasy realm:

Anthropomorphism– This term is often used when describing the tendency to give the human attributes to Deity, but I think it can also be applied to fantastic creatures. Is the writer humanizing something alien so that we, as readers, can relate. If your main characters are mice, they had better be rodents with human characteristics like our emotions, our speech patterns, our societal structures. If your characters are elves, dwarfs, or dragons and you want me to relate to them, then show them to be human-like in some way.

I know some villains are distant and their alien ways are vital to the story, but then you can’t bring the reader in close. Tolkien understood this. We never get “into the head” of Smaug or  Sauron because they are too different, but we do get close to Boromir and sense his fatal flaw of envy when he tries to take the Ring for himself and his country.

Flora and Fauna– An alien landscape should have some link to our world in how its plants and animals look and act. Frankly, it is that connection that helps to make the truly fantastic stand out, be it the magical forests in Tolien’s the Lord of Rings or the Ranyhyn steeds in the Thomas Covenant books.

It is because their land is similar to ours, that the hobbits are awed by Ents just as we are. If every tree in Middle Earth walked or grabbed people, it wouldn’t be as startling without overwhelming the story. Because the living trees are unusual in Middle Earth, it is a wonder that doesn’t take over the whole tale.

In Donaldson’s series, the Ranyhyn horses are wondrous because of how they are similar to ours and yet so far beyond any earthly equines.  Their stamina is far beyond any normal horse but we can accept their power because it first awes the protagonists and then is accepted by them too.

Geography– This is an area where I think many writers stumble. I have seen too many lands where the terrain drastically changes without any good explanation or any connection to our world.  In reality, things like oceans and mountain ranges will alter weather patterns and temperatures. I think a writer should be aware of the basics of physical geography or face the danger of creating an unbelievable land.

Tolkien made Mordor different, but he was wise enough to separate it from the rest of Middle Earth by mountain ranges and to show that it was the exception to the land’s reality.  Outside of Mordor, the land follows the same rules as ours. You don’t encounter deserts abutting rain forests or balmy mountains towering over snowy lowlands.

Reality highlights fantasy. I feel that it is the reality, well-applied, that helps to make the imaginary creatures and locations stand out that much more. It is the mundane in a fantasy world that adds awe to the wondrous places.

Interest in how I’ve mixed reality with fiction? Learn more about my first two  published novels: Road of Leaves and Fallen King

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays

Fantasy Maps

In  fantasy, the author takes the audience into a strange and often dangerous land. We want to see that land, to smell it, to feel its wind and temperature shifts. There are so many strange and unbelievable things in this wild country, that we often need a sense of “place” so that we can better follow the story. Maps help tether us to this new land. Maps help us to understand a very foreign place- a land where magic lurks.

Personally, I love having a map whenever I enter a  new fantasy land because it helps me visualize where the characters are and the places they are traveling through.  Here are a few of my personal preferences in fantasy maps (and a few pet peeves):

1. Clarity- I detest blurry or tiny maps crammed onto a page. Even if I could locate that magnifying glass that’s around the house somewhere, I still won’t be able to find anything on that smug the publisher threw into the front of the book. I know its usually better in the hardcover edition, but really? Does it have to be that bad for the paperback?
2. Applicability- Does the map have anything to do with the story? Are the important locations even shown? No, I don’t mean the major cities or highest mountains. If half the book is spent in a particular town, then you need to put it on the map. Please.
3. Beauty- I love it when a map is a piece of art as well as informative.
4. Sense of Wonder- Can you taste the magic in the map? Does the map add to the fantasy? I have always felt that the Middle Earth maps do that; I can sense how wild and dangerous the lands are, just by studying the maps. The mountains soar high, while the forests brood.
5. Mysterious– Are there other places hinted at on the map? Lands beyond its boundaries or areas that are murky on purpose? I like a map that implies an even-greater world beyond its borders.
6. Believable– I want a map that either follows the laws of nature or has a good reason for breaking them. Do you have a desert next to a rainforest? Well then,  I expect the author to have a good story to explain why the rain never makes it to the sand. Do you have radical changes in topography? Then the story should reflect how that influences the weather and temperature and commerce. Do the distances between places match up to what the story implies?  There are a few authors out there who should enroll in a basic course on Physical Geography (or at least the artist who drew the map needs that class).
7. Details– I want some intriguing details in a map. I love Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea map, with all of its tiny islands and their quirky names. The novels and the map work together, creating a richer experience for the reader. I wanted to go sailing around those islands myself, after reading  the books and seeing the map.

Na Ciria map
Copyright 2011 by Eric Lorenzen. All Rights Reserved.

What about my worlds?  I have two fantasy series, one with maps and one without. The Cirian War Saga novels actually have two maps each. One it the map of Na Ciria and the other is a more local area (the Border Realm for the series’ first book: FALLEN KING).

My map-making skills are modest, but I hope that the Na Ciria maps help readers to better visualize this wild and beautiful country, with its rushing rivers and majestic mountains.

For my other series, the Ways of Camelot novels, I chose not to include any maps since the Arthurian legends are so full of contradictory locations and place names. I had no desire to wade into the middle of any of that. Instead, my stories center around a nondescript magician named Thomas and his journeys through the magical routes that lead into and out of Camelot. The first book in that series, ROAD OF LEAVES, stays mainly on that enchanted way and the Road cannot be mapped since it shifts every night.

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