Fiction is not real by definition, but what kind of fiction speaks more truthfully to you as a reader? As a teenager I wished dearly to be transported into Anne McAffrey’s Pern, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Robert Jordan’s Two Rivers, and so on. I wanted to be somewhere not boring and not ordinary. Now I am drawn to historical fiction and classical literature, such as Jane Austen, Pearl S. Buck, and Ken Follett. Last night I began reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith and had to force myself to put it down.
I stopped wanting to escape from our world. I am much happier now than I was as a teenager. I have a lot of awesome people and hobbies in my life to keep it full and vibrant. I also stopped reading purely for entertainment. I feel that my time is more valuable now, and I don’t want to waste it on fluff. I want a book with real substance. Historical fiction, autobiographical fiction, and classical literature are more guaranteed to have insight into the human condition.
When we are writing fantasy, we have to spend time creating the world in which our characters live. In regular fiction the world is our own. As a result, the authors are able to spend more time developing the characters and their relationships. We are also better able to understand cultural nuances because they are our own culture’s nuances. Even when we are reading an author from another culture we are able to connect more with that story because we can place it in the fabric of the world we know to exist.
By no means am I saying fantasy and science fiction lack insight and depth. In fact, those genres are better situated to reveal the common themes of life across all peoples, species, galaxies, and time. Alternate versions of reality enable us to isolate and challenge the status quo.
When I was thirteen I began a book with the grandiose title “Daughter of the Forest, Goddess of the Sky”. It was packed with teenage romance, angst, magic, and conflict between gods/goddesses. Two years ago I picked up that project, dusted it off, and forged it into “Flight”. In this story the magic has been reduced to mystical realism, the gods and goddesses reduced to figments of my characters’ imaginations, and the theme is slavery and bigotry. My aim is to write something fantastical but also real.
I hope I can pull it off!