Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them: Advice for Writers of Fantasy

Where do you get your news? If you’re like me, it’s a combo of Twitter, Colbert, and as little TV as I can get away with. (And then, the shower-crying.) As we continue to build and populate our fantasy world, it’s worth thinking about where your beekeepers, wenches, and princesses get their information. Does your agrarian worker’s paradise have the internet? (Trick question: by definition paradise has no internet.) Is your steampunk city (so many gears!) equipped with a brass and glass version of telephones? Does your underwater domed kingdom communicate with its neighbors by courier-fish?

As always, that’s one of the pleasures of a DIY world–there aren’t any wrong answers. However, there must be answers. (And some of them will be wrong, I was kidding.) In every society, human, inhuman, lizard people–whatever–the drive to communicate is fixed. The only question is how. In one of the most beautiful speculative novels I’ve ever read, Russell Hoban’s post-post-apocalyptic Riddley Walker, the new bronze age inhabitants of a destroyed England get their news via a traveling Punch and Judy show. (And if I can digress, anyone who loves literature, and definitely anyone thinking about tackling the linguistics of world building owes it to themselves to give this book a shot. It’s completely written in dialect and is absolutely challenging, and so worth it.)


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Almost as important as deciding how news travels is who controls the message. And it doesn’t have to be over-the-fence gossip (although that is certainly valid.) In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the religious order of the Bene Gesserit ‘seed’ worlds with the idea of a messianic figure (among approximately one billion other things) just in case they should happen to need to take advantage of the story. This is a process that’s been going on for many generations, so one might say it’s not news as much as it’s prophecy. (On the other hand, we still hear ‘Have you heard the good news?’ so one’s definition of what news even is can vary wildly.)

So now you get to decide not only how the news is delivered and by whom, but also what the news is for. Are your characters trying to help future generations and advance their agenda (like the ladies of the Bene Gesserit) or are they seeking to keep resistance to a minimum? Are they to be trusted? Are there competing sources with different stories? Can your characters tell the difference between news and propaganda? (Not that I’m pulling these examples from real world situations, nope!)

To continue, are you writing about the ones making the news or those on the receiving end? How does it affect the lives and decisions of that beekeeper and his pal the tavern wench if war breaks out on the other side of the sea? Or if there’s a plague, or an outbreak of unicorns? I hear unicorns like honey, so that could be good news. War could be good news for the folks who work in the tavern; lots of new customers passing through. Of course, if it’s burned to the ground that’ll cut into profits. On the other hand, if the war is over by the time you hear about it, is it news at all?

via GIPHY

None of us live on a tiny island in the sea or in the vacuum of space. (Apologies to those who do, although I imagine they aren’t reading this) Neither should your fantasy characters. Doesn’t matter who they are or what their personal arc is in your story, they exist in the world, and the world goes on around them. Let it tell its story.

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Kim Alexander grew up in the wilds of Long Island, NY and slowly drifted south until she reached Key West. After spending ten rum-soaked years as a DJ in the Keys, she moved to Washington DC, where she lives with two cats, an angry fish, and her extremely patient husband. She began writing when she ran out of authors to interview (and they pulled the plug on her channel, Sirius XM Book Radio.)

Kim was in her twenties when she finally read a book not prominently featuring spaceships and/or wizards. Turns out Jane Austen was pretty funny!
THE SAND PRINCE is Kim’s first novel and begins a fantasy series called THE DEMON DOOR. Her husband tells her she needs to write at least ten more books if she intends to retire in Thailand, so thank you for your patronage. Please visit her at kimalexanderonline.com.