04 October 2014

Writing Fantasy is like Writing Horror: You Can't Walk Away from the Dark.

Evil Looms and Good Approaches.
 By amdandy. Licensed from iStock.
Stephen King wrote that we crave horror movies because the genre is "innately conservative; even reactionary. [...]"
It is true that the mythic 'fairy-tale' horror [...] intends to take away the shades of gray [...] It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites.
I appreciate that King throws out the reference to fairy tales in his quote, because it helps cement my belief that the horror and fantasy genres have always been closely related to each other. That's why I think I can claim fantasy, in its own way, shares a lot of the traditional morality that tends to crop up in horror--namely that good will prevail and evil will be punished. (It's usually how those punishments are doled out that determine the genre.)

Ever since I was little I always hoped that justice would be served for those who suffer and those who inflict suffering. Justice happens in fairy tales, and reading fairy tales led me to write fantasy. And I have to admit, a degree of fairy-tale morality has trickled into how I structure the plot of my stories. But I draw the line at how I create my characters.

In fairy tales, it's very clear as to who is evil and who isn't. There's no mystery about it; the Wicked Stepsisters and Evil Queen are just what their names suggest. And even if these characters get away with being evil for the duration of the story, a final, horrible justice compensates for that. In Cinderella, the Wicked Stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by doves. In Snow White, the Evil Queen is forced to dance to death in hot iron shoes.

My series, Worldwalker Tales, does contain various influences from fairy tales; namely the Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (ahem, the original) version of Beauty and the Beast. I'm working the Beast's background from the de Villeneuve tale into The Step and the Walk, the novel that focuses on the character Andresh Camomescro from The Name and the Key. 

From the very beginning I knew de Villeneuve had a darker origin story for the Beast, including the nature of his curse. To oversimplify the plot: for his own protection, an infant Prince is raised by a Fairy in an enchanted forest. When the Prince grows into a handsome young man, the Fairy decides she doesn't want to be his mother anymore, but his lover. The Prince rebuffs her sexual advances and as a punishment, she turns him into the Beast.

Part of the reason why this version of Beauty and the Beast appeals to me is that there isn't a black-and-white morality tale here. Unlike the more popular versions of the tale (which we now default to as the Disney version), the Prince does nothing to deserve his punishment. And if I remember correctly, the Fairy isn't given the kind of justice we see in such stories. The Fairy fades into the background, and to be honest, she's disappeared from my memory altogether while the traditional plot of Beauty and the Beast picks up from there.

In Worldwalker Tales, Andresh is my Prince/Beast character. The Step and the Walk serves as his origin story, and it is dark. And I did want it to have some semblance of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast.  Instead of an enchanted castle in an enchanted forest, Andresh is confined to the caverns inside of a mountain. Instead of a Fairy, Andresh meets Narjineyah (whom he calls Nara), a woman who is nowhere near what she seems to be. Nara does mentor Andresh, and what starts out as a relationship between a teacher and her pupil becomes something cruel. And following the de Villeneuve tradition, Andresh is unjustly punished for his relationship with Nara.

The Puppeteer by Denis Zorkin.
Licensed from Dollar Photo Club.
I always knew the plot of Worldwalker Tales would take a disturbing detour during The Step and the Walk. I knew I would have to "go there" and I wanted to arm myself as much as possible for the journey. Doing research on a topic like this certainly wore me down. After reading case studies, first-person accounts, news reports, and works of fiction that address the issue, I felt like I might've gone off the deep end for trying to remotely understand why human beings are so good at hurting each other.

And then I was scared to write.

In horror, you take readers down a dark journey, and there is no promise of a return. Justice may be served, but justice does not equal a happy ending. Horror is not a genre of happy endings, anyway, as Stephen King has said: "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."

With fantasy, the expectation is that although there may be twists and turns that plunge readers into darkness, ultimately, there will be a return: a resolution that is happy or, at the very least, fulfilling.

I think I'm asking a lot of my readers. I'm taking a character they love and I'm throwing every twisted thing I can at him to see if he will bend or break. If my fiction can capture any shade of the realities from my research, readers are going to be disgusted. Maybe it will trigger something horrible for them. Maybe they will bend and break just as Andresh bends and breaks, but in doing so, they know  the suffering is temporary because something far more fulfilling will come along to make up for that pain.  Justice tends to offer such fulfillment, but what if I deny it?  How do  I bring readers back from the brink?

I don't have easy answers for this. But if I think of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, I might have an idea. There is no Hammurabi Code-level of justice in her fairy tale. Resolution came simply because her characters--Belle and La BĂȘte--kept moving forward into a different story altogether: their own.

If I bear this in mind, I should be able to fulfill the requisites of my genre. When things seem especially bleak, there will be hope for the reader that the darkness of the journey will end with reward.

Writing is never a small feat.

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