Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's All About People, Not Things

Yesterday I talked about a bad example of Christian Fantasy. Today I want to talk about a problem that Fantasy and Science Fiction writers face. I hope to also address how to correct this problem.

When writer chooses to write speculative fiction, it is because he wants to place elements in his novel that you won’t find in our concept of the world. In speculative fiction you can have elves and fairies, wizards and dragons, spaceships that move faster than light and pretty much anything you might want to dream up. As fascinating as these things are, they are just things. A novel isn’t about things. A novel is about people and how far they are willing to go to accomplish their goals. In a fantasy novel, a person may be a troll, but the troll has something he wants, even if it is eat the human princess. That is the story that we must tell, even though it is so easy to get caught up in talking about the odd characters, the scenery, the political climate and everything else except the story.

Let’s look at what a story is.

The old troll has been hungry for several days. He sees the princess out for a stroll and decides to hide under a bridge and wait for her. A young knight sees this and comes riding down the road. When the troll thinks the princess is on the bridge he reaches up to grab her, but feel a sword slicing through his hand instead.

Billy’s sister has a new boyfriend. Being the great brother he is, Billy hides behind a corner, ready to spray the new boyfriend with a water gun. The boyfriend approaches and just as Billy is about to jump from his hiding place, he feels his sister’s sharp fingernails grab his ears.

Do you see the similarities between the two stories? One is fantasy, one is not, but they are both the exact same plot. There is conflict here. Each character has different goals and these goals work with and against each other. The troll’s goal of eating is helped by the princess’s goal of going for a walk, but her goal is hindered by the troll’s goal. The troll’s goal is hindered by the knight’s goal of protecting the princess, but the knight’s goal is helped by the troll. In each case, we learn something about he character by what he or she is willing to do to accomplish the goal. The princess risked death by walking alone. The troll risked death by attacking the princess. The knight risked death by protecting the princess. As we see more of the plot, we can learn more about these characters and what they are willing to face.

Fiction allows us to learn how people will handle different situations. That allows us to consider how we might handle the same situation. Readers don’t care what things look like or how they work as much as they do about how characters will handle the problems we throw at them.