On Writing Fiction and Writing Fantasy

In this blog post, I’m going to write about fiction and fantasy, and my thoughts about writing the two.

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I can think of three different meanings for fantasy, so let me clarify what I mean.

Fantasy is a genre of fiction; meaning, a classification for marketing purposes. Other genres of fiction are Romance, Western, Historical, Science Fiction, etc. Fantasy-genre fiction is about magic and magical creatures; a Fantasy story might have fire-breathing dragons in it, or a housecat might turn into a puma.

However, please note that nowhere in this blog post will I write about Fantasy-genre fiction, even Fantasy-genre fiction that I myself have written. You’ll need to go to other people’s blog posts if you want to read about shapeshifting housecats.

Fantasy also means an elaborate want or wish. As in “Paul Ryan has a fantasy about becoming president.”

Lastly, fantasy means a simplified story. To explain what I mean by this, I have to tell you what a “story” is.

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A story (without the simplified modifier) is a writing that is fiction. Well, any work of fiction, whether it’s a children’s story or a New York Times bestseller. contains three elements—

1) The hero has set a goal to accomplish something; he intends to accomplish something positive, or to stop something bad that is happening now, or to prevent something bad that will happen in the future. In pursuit of his goal, the hero makes plans and takes actions.

Note that the hero doesn’t just want or wish for something to happen (or not to happen); he has set a goal of “I will make this happen” (or not happen).

When the hero’s goal is thwarted (as it must be, or there is no story), the hero makes new plans and takes new actions.

2) The hero has opposition. Some person, group of people, or natural force opposes the hero achieving his goal.

3) The opponent is much, much stronger than the hero. Oh, he/it/they has a weakness, but it is a seemingly irrelevant weakness. Conversely, the hero has a strength, but it is a seemingly irrelevant strength. (For example, the evil Army general might be allergic to cat fur, while the hero might be an expert on plants of the Amazon rain forest.) The bottom line: It seems impossible that the hero can defeat the villain, however much you want him to.

Both those words (seems impossible) are important. If the hero sets out to achieve something difficult, but with enough hard work and dedication he can (barely) achieve it, this is not a story. Conversely, if the hero is deluded into setting a goal that is flat-out impossible (for example, a man who is five-foot-two wants to become Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World), readers will cast this story aside, uninterested.

Besides all fiction stories having the same three elements, all fiction stories have the same structure: Normalcy-The goal-Rising action-The crisis-Resolution. At the crisis, it not only seems certain that the hero will never achieve his goal, but he now also faces death or ruin besides.

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Let me remark that writing fiction is hard. This is because it goes contrary to how real life works. In real life, if you try three times, three different ways, to achieve something—by then, you’ve either achieved your goal or you’ve quit. People do not normally keep trying to achieve something when they keep losing yardage on every play. Also contrary to real life, when the powerful villain has the hero in his clutches and is about to kill him—well, someone usually can’t save himself from this.

It takes lots of thinking and planning on the author’s part, to come up with a story that meets the requirements of fiction. As I said before, writing fiction is hard. Trust me on this.

But I (in my Doctor MC persona) am a soft-core pornographer; so I have an alternative to writing difficult-to-write fiction. I have the same option as what many fan-fiction writers take: I can write fantasy (a simplified story).

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There are as many kinds of fantasy (simplified) stories) as there are kinds of fantasy (an elaborate want or wish): romance fantasy, vengeance fantasy, money fantasy, hero fantasy, sex fantasy (a.k.a. porn), etc. In fan fiction, any kind of fantasy is called fluff.

A fantasy throws out the universal structure of a fiction story; in particular, a fantasy has no crisis. A fantasy also disregards at least one of the three elements of fiction.

1) If a fantasy throws out “goal-directed action,” you get a story in which events happen to the hero and the hero doesn’t make anything happen. This kind of fantasy isn’t interesting, because the stories don’t move toward anything; such stories come across as “a day in the life of Joe” stories.

2) If a fantasy throws out the opponent, you get stories in which the hero enjoys easy success, again and again. In a vengeance story, the bad guys whom the hero is trying to kill, put up no more resistance than targets in a shooting gallery. In porn, the hero propositions a babe, she says yes, he beds her, the hero propositions a second babe, she says yes, he beds the second babe…

3) If the fantasy throws out the fiction-element that the villain is much more powerful than the hero, you get porn stories in which yes, the hot babe has a boyfriend who doesn’t want his girlfriend boinking the hero; but the babe’s boyfriend is a 97-pound weakling. In vengeance porn, a bad guy might have a bodyguard, but the bodyguard is a fat, slow geezer who spends most of his work-hours sleeping in the guardhouse.

A fantasy (simplified story), because it does not have all the elements of fiction, is interesting to the reader if and only if the reader shares the fantasy that the simplified story is built on. So for instance, a porn story in which the hero works his way through a sorority house, boinking every woman there, would be fascinating to straight men, whereas gay men would react with “Meh.”

(This principle also explains why wives and girlfriends are generally uninterested in porn movies. The porn movie does not have the three elements and universal structure that would make the porn movie be fiction; and the wives and girlfriends don’t share the elaborate want or wish that the porn film is built around.)

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I write the stories that I would rush over to Amazon.com to buy, if someone else had written those stories. Well, sometimes I buy from Amazon, stories with drama and can’t-put-the-book-down suspense that lead up to the-hero-is-doomed crises. At other times, I go to Amazon to buy porn stories where life for the hero is one nonstop cakewalk. Since I write what I would want to read, sometimes I write fiction stories (which are more difficult to write, but they also give me more satisfaction), and sometimes I write fantasies.

Here’s a listing of my stories, broken down by fiction stories and fantasy stories—

Fiction (containing the three elements of fiction, plus a crisis)
Three More Wishes: Be Kind To Your Genie (M&F1)
The Bimborg: Part Nanobot, All Woman
The Hypno-Talker of Zlar (HTOZ1)
Nerd Saves Women (HTOZ4)
The Hypno-Talkers of Zlar FOUR-IN-ONE (Books 1 and 4)
One More Genie (M&F2)
More Genie Problems: Can the Hero Billionaire Hold off Judgment Day? (M&F3)
Wishes, Genies, Sex, and Death: Marvin and Fatima THREE-IN-ONE
Ring of the Wizard Vampire
The Mind-Power Avenger
The Inseminator: A Parody

Fantasy (some of these have a final crisis, just to give the story more kick)
Captive of the Barbarian King
Names Have Power: Tim’s Magic Voice Makes a Harem
Hypno-Talker’s First Download (HTOZ2)
Revenge at College (HTOZ3)
The Hypno-Talkers of Zlar FOUR-IN-ONE (Books 2 and 3)
Ye Olde Book of Magic
Bimbo-Midas: His Magic Touch Changes Women
What You Want Most: Magically Given

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18 thoughts on “On Writing Fiction and Writing Fantasy

  1. This post is very well written and thought provoking. I completely agree with your definition and explanation of a “story”, but I’m not sure of “fantasy”. The way I look at it, stories can either be “fact” or “fantasy”. A “fact” story can be something that’s happened in the past, present or future, but it must be grounded in logic or truth. My main example would be “Star Trek”. We know it takes place in the future, but all (or most) of the technology is something that could happen (example: the communicator of 1967 is the cell phone of today). “Fantasy” would be the “Harry Potter” series. Of course, in both cases there are cross-overs between fact and fantasy. And we’ve all heard of Arthur C. Clark’s third law that says “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

  2. Dear, dear Doctor,
    I thought you were going to give us your thoughts about writing fiction and fantasy, but I see only your opinions on defining the two genres.
    In the dry sense of defining fantasy it can mean a classification of fiction, indeed, but most who read the once-defined “swords and sorcery” kind of fantasy have a much grander of definition, where they know they will see a variety of creatures—non-familiar and not, doing magical things, fighting bad guys, triumphant good guys, all in a world that might be similar to ours, but might also be as different as orange skies and seas, blue people, and dragons soaring across the skies.
    But in the sense of writing fantasy, you must first start with world-building. Your fantasy world must be developed and be a place where people can live, work, have families, and do what people do everywhere-exist. You must then create jobs, governments, laws, communities, houses, in fact, everything you would use to describe a city, town, or village anywhere in the world.
    Once you have decided where and how your people will live, you must define them. Their appearance, kinds of people, their wants and dreams, what they aspire to and how they plan to get there.
    In other words, fantasy must include a place where the reader can find themselves, and live the adventures alongside the characters. Because there must be adventures, that aren’t limited to our world’s rules and confines.
    I don’t see a fantasy as a simplified story by any means. If anything, they are more complicated than your average work of fiction, because most of those writers are working with a civilization that already exists. They have only to decide where they will place their characters, and plunk ‘em down. Half the work is already done.
    You define a story quite well, but you certainly can’t be serious when you imply that fantasy doesn’t meet your definition of a story. How can you say it has no crisis, that it “goes nowhere,” that it is mundane, tedious, or relies solely on some central element that plods along (sex and violence, especially) dragging the poor reader with it.
    If the writer’s story is comprised only of the elements you list, then no matter what the genre, it will not be an interesting story. It won’t take the reader anywhere; that reader will not get the opportunity to take a wonderful journey to a place that exists on pages and in their mind. How boring! I did note that you said ‘simplified story,’ but your sad elements could apply to any poorly-written book.
    I, too, would read my own books, and love the world-building and characters. Our versions of fantasies, as defined and written, are very different. But the world of books would be boring if they were the same, wouldn’t it?

  3. Mike–

    How about this definition of what I mean: “Fiction is when the hero decides he will accomplish a certain task, or solve a certain problem; and then his life goes to shit,” whereas fantasy is defined as “The hero’s life is not shit.” Whether the story universe has magic or advanced technology, or else the story universe is “real,” is beside the point, so far as this definition goes.

    As for a magic story not having logic, this is not the case. For _Three More Wishes_, I worked out the rules of that universe very carefully, before Fatima even showed up in Ch. 4. Without such advance planning, it is _so easy_ to fall into the _deus ex machina_ writing error when at least one character can hocus-pocus things!

    Also, please remember that I distinguished between Fantasy as a genre (stories that have magic) and Fantasy as a simplified story. _More Genie Problems_ has _djinn_, demonic, and angelic magic in it, but it’s also a story where Marvin Harper’s life goes more and more to shit. _More Genie Problems_ would be, by my definition, fiction, not fantasy, though it is clearly a Fantasy-genre story.

    • In fantasy, the characters clearly “have bad days.” Or, their lives can just suck, in general. They can start out as having a nice life, and things go so badly wrong that, instead of jail, or out on the streets, they end up enslaved as an apprentice to an evil sorcerer. Or enslaved as a ragged worker to a tyrant of a woman (right??). But the paths those characters take to find themselves in a bad place, and what they can and must do to get out of it are what make it a fantasy. Instead of getting unemployment until they get back on their feet, they sneak behind the sorcerer’s back and steal his magic invocations. Or they get in good with the local prince and bewitch him (by fighting with magic).
      I don’t think you can’t define true fantasy as writing a story that takes place in this world, today, except that you’ve sprinkled some magic elements into it. It isn’t by any stretch, that simple, even if that is the premise of the story, how people deal with that magical element is going to be what take it into the realm of fantasy. But I definitely agree with your statement that your book More Genie Problems is fiction, not a fantasy, although it does have elements that one might fanaticize over, were one a young male.

      • Debi, all main characters in fiction have a problem of some kind. It is the decision of “I _will_ make this problem go away,” to set this as a goal, that is part of what distinguishes fiction from fantasy (simplified story). The other thing that distinguishes fiction from fantasy is that when the hero takes goal-directed action in order to solve his problem, he actually makes his life worse (while still not solving the problem). For instance, the detective who is spending hours trying to track down a murderer, not only hasn’t caught the murderer yet, but now the detective’s wife is convinced that he is spending hours out of the house because he has a girlfriend on the side.

        Change of topic: If a story has magic in it, it is fantasy-genre. Period. How can we have a discussion about writing stories if we’re stuck on defining basic terms?

  4. Debi–

    You are mixing up what I wrote about fantasy (simplified stories) with the Fantasy genre.

    Also, I do not define Fantasy-genre stories as just “sword and sorcery.” Something like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, which seems at first glance to take place in “real” Saint Louis, Missouri — but where vampires and werewolves are real, and Anita Blake can raise the dead — I would define as a Fantasy-genre story. Similarly, I consider my own story _Bimbo-Midas_ to be Fantasy-genre, even though the magic element is brief. (The hero, an engineering-major college student, meets a leprechaun in a truck-stop diner, and the leprechaun gives the hero an enchanted wooden ring.)

    As for what I wrote about fantasy (simplified stories), the fact is that not every writer feels up to the challenge of writing true fiction stories, and not every reader wants to read them. The Hunger Games trilogy is a very grim world, but there is lots of happy Hunger Games fanfic out there—happy, because the story-writers skipped all the drama and Angst of the book series. And I know that there are many male readers who want to read porn stories in which a man has sex with attractive women, without those stories containing all the drama and arguments and misunderstandings and headgames that accompany real-life male-female relations. The key here is that a reader will intensely enjoy the fantasy (simplified story) if he or she shares the fantasy (elaborate want or wish) that the story is built around. This is why so much Katniss-and-Peeta fanfic is written (and enjoyed), and so much male sex fantasy (a.k.a. porn) is written and enjoyed, despite none of these stories being “fiction.”

    • We have actually decided that there are different kinds and level of fantasy. I think that Mike and I thought you were dissing fantasy as a whole. Fantasy not being taken seriously as a genre was a problem a while back, and might still be for some “serious” authors. But as long as the dedication and time that goes into the work is recognized, I’m happy! Cause you sure were right about one thing–writing is a lot of work! Especially if the writer decides to base the fantasy world-building is something that existed (such as Japanese Bushido) and has to do mounds of research! Well, let’s talk about writing stories!

      • According to the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), the Fantasy genre (BISAC category Fic009000) can be divided up into fourteen categories: Action & Adventure, Arthurian, Collections & Anthologies, Contemporary, Dark Fantasy, Dragons & Mythical Creatures, Epic, Gaslamp, Historical, Humorous, Military, Paranormal, Romantic, and Urban.

        Conclusion: Anita Blake is as much Fantasy genre as Tolkien is.

        NOW, since I mentioned the Fantasy _genre_ only as a throwaway remark in my blog post, I had no intention of writing about the Fantasy _genre_ in my blog post, and in fact I had nothing else to say about the Fantasy _genre_ in my blog post, how about we get back to discussing what I actually wrote about in my blog post, hm?

      • Also, why would I diss the Fantasy genre? More than half of my stories take place in a magical universe of some kind.

  5. I tend to think that a simplified story, rather than being called fantasy, or mystery, or just fiction, might find itself labeled as porn, or whatever else it is that draws people to it, who don’t want to read an in-depth story written with all the difficult planning and plotting that the author must struggle with. What say you?

    • Porn _is_ a kind of fantasy (as I define that term). Specifically, porn is male-viewpoint sex fantasy. (If it’s sex fantasy written from a female viewpoint, then it’s called “erotica” and is sold in airport bookstores; if it’s written for males, then the sex fantasy is “porn,” considered to be vile, disgusting filth, and anyone who admits to reading it–or god forbid, admits to WRITING it–is considered to be a pervert.)

      But there is other kinds of fantasy besides sex fantasy. “The Punisher” comic-book stories are basically vengeance fantasy; much Hunger Games fanfic is romance fantasy.

  6. Hey Doc, what’s going down? We haven’t heard anything from you in quite some time. I even went back and re-read all your previous books. It’s funny, in your first book TMW, I never noticed the wall poster at the beginning of Chapter 4 (where Harold first meets Fatima) showing “The Big Bang Theory”.

    • I’m back to working on The Bimbo Plague. Oddly, it was watching the 1940 Charlie Chaplin movie The Great Dictator that gave me the ideas I needed to get back to work. I’ll have more to say in a few months.

      As for the “Big Bang Theory” poster—yeah, Marvin is a bit of a nerd.

      • I guess I’m some kind of Nerd myself. Or better yet, to quote Leonard Hoffsteder in one of his episodes, “I’m not some kind of Nerd. I’m the King of the Nerds.”

  7. Say Doc, I hope everything’s OK. It’s been six months since you’ve made any kind of comment and almost a year since you last published. Between your books and comments I’ve come to think of you as not just an author but more like a friend. Again, I hope everything’s fine and it’s just (dare I say it) “writer’s block”.

    • Mike, I’m sorry I’ve worried you; and I’m glad you consider me a friend.

      Basically, I’ve paused writing _The Bimbo Plague_ to write two fan-fiction stories. Being fan fiction, they don’t pay any money, but I couldn’t get the ideas for those two stories out of my head until I wrote them down. I expect I will resume writing _The Bimbo Plague_ in October or November.

      Secure from Yellow Alert.

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