Why Write Fantasy?

I’ve been seeing a lot of these “Why I Do Such and Such” blog posts lately, so I decided to add my own thoughts as to why I write fantasy.

In addition to being a self-absorbed writer who thinks you’ll find all of this interesting, I am a world-class escapist. Some of my closer friends and boyfriend wonder why I’m severely oblivious. The fact is, I spend more time in my head than I do in the real world.

As I leave important belongings like my cell phone and keys at a friend’s house, I’m not thinking, “Hm, I should check my bag to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.” No. I’m watching already-famous and wildly successful writer S.Z. being interviewed by Jon Stewart. Or creating a diabolical robot servant and considering the many ways it will turn on me. Or fashioning a zombie apocalypse strategy and then watching my leg being ripped off my body like a turkey drumstick on Thanksgiving Day after my plan fails.

To an escapist like myself, books are dependable portals into oblivion, and fantasy is the ultimate destination. No passport required.

SZW the Witch

Faeries and Witches and Gods, Oh My

I’ve been nestling my brain between the cracked spines of fantasy and mythology books since I could read, starting with fairy tales illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, selected works in Cricket Magazine, and The Illustrated Bulfinch’s Mythology. As a teen, I turned into a hippie of sorts. Faeries (I used to insist on spelling it that way), elves, nature gods, etc. were right up my alley.

Around 13, I went through a phase where I desperately wanted to be a witch and read every young adult witch novel I could get my hands on. Witch Week, Witch’s Sister, and The Letter, The Witch, and The Ring were some of my favorites. When I was 17, I shoved the first H.P. book in everyone’s faces like I’d discovered the cure to cancer, only to be told I was reading a kid’s book. Little did they know!

I was also reading adult novels, but young adult has always been my favorite. Possibly because, like so many teens, I had severe identity and self-esteem issues growing up. I really relate to that sort of struggle. When I read those books, I felt like the underdog could succeed. I felt like someone understood what I was going through, and that amazing things could happen to the flawed and overlooked.

It was also easy to ignore everything around me, the judgments I imagined, the loneliness and insecurities, when I was living vicariously through characters so like me in a world so unlike my own.

 A Perfect Fantasy

I was always on the lookout for a great fantasy novel. With each visit to the bookstore, I’d tell myself, “Today, I’m going to find the perfect book.”

The perfect book was a vague idea I’d fashioned, and in which I’d placed implicit faith. It would have everything I wanted: the fantasy, the intrigue, the main character I’d always wanted to be, breathtaking scenery. I scoured the aisles like a starved bookworm, but I could never find this book (H.P. is still the closest I’ve ever come to finding it).

One day, I decided I had no choice but to write this book myself. So I started working on it. In the ninth grade, I wrote a short story about a girl who finds fantastic creatures in her own backyard only to wind up in the nut house. Nope, not it.

I started writing a novel that was mostly flowery description of another world. A friend said it was “gay.” Still not it.

I wrote tons of flash fiction and novel beginnings that glided off the path to nowhere onto a mountainous trash heap.

I realized that writing the perfect fantasy novel was not going to be easy. But I’m still trying my hand at it, and I’ve come closer than ever with my current project.

At this point, I realize there is no such thing as the perfect book because everyone’s perfect book is unique. Now, I’m determined to get my version of the perfect book out there; to share my vision. The best part is, there isn’t just one vision. There’s a world of them.

And who knows? Maybe some introverted, acne-ridden, socially awkward kid will pick up my book and find comfort in its pages like I did with so many novels.

14 thoughts on “Why Write Fantasy?

  1. That sounds pretty similar to my own reasons and thinking. However, I don’t view it as “escapism” or think of myself as an “escapist.” Part of that is probably because I believe in magic and the supernatural/spiritual and part of that is because, to me, the issues and problems addressed in stories are much the same as the ones dealt with in real life anyway. For me, stories…both experiencing them and creating them are (apart from simply their beauty) tools of exploration and understanding.
    But I’m right with you on the desire to make ones own vision manifest and thereby visible to others and I hope that through my stories I can provide encouragement, pass on some of what I’ve learned, and help people maintain a memory and sense of wonder in our increasingly materialistic and “rational” world.

    • The escapist in me enjoys that happy endings exist in the fictional world (not in all books of course), whereas the real world isn’t so black and white. I can often count on the main character to survive the struggles and be better for it.

      I agree that exploration and understanding are both major, and wonderful, parts of the reading/writing experience.

  2. Happy endings exist in the “real world” too 🙂 And I think we are always better for struggles we survive.
    It’s all a state of mind. Well…not all. But a lot of it, and even what isn’t, your state of mind can certainly improve.

    • You are totally right, and I’ve been lucky enough to have many, many happy not-so-much-endings-but-moments in my life. 🙂

  3. This was an awesome post – thanks for sharing! My vision of why I write (fantasy fiction too!!) is very similar to the image that you left us with in the closing of this post… I used to hang out at the library all the time, just wondering through the bookshelves until a book jumped out at me, shouting ‘read me!’ I would take the book down to decide if it was worthy of my time, always pausing to noticed three things first – the cover art, the book title, and finally the author’s name. That’s the image that I cling to when writing gets tough, it’s what keeps me going – because someday it will be another kid pulling down a book from a shelf somewhere and they’ll inspect the book with my name on the cover. Then they’ll decide that my book is more worthy than all the others to take home to read.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Amanda! I’m glad you liked it and related. That really is what it’s all about–knowing that someone out there chose your work (even if just for the cool cover at first), invested the time to read it, and got what you were saying.
      And coming up with a title is one of my favorite parts of writing a book.

  4. Heh. I re-read all your earlier posts on the front page, and this struck a chord in me, so I decided to play out the tune.

    Agreed. I’m similar. I spent a lot of time reading when I was in gradeschool, a lot of time in theater and playing soccer in high school, and a LOT of time pursuing girls in college (along with that nagging requirement: studying). Now I’m looking at books and realizing not all of them are the same, and not all of them resonate. I enjoyed the story, I enjoyed the characters, I enjoyed the writer’s voice, or I enjoyed the setting, but not all four.

    I’ve been trying to write that perfect novel, like you, since I was in high school. It’s a noble journey as long as you don’t lose yourself (or starve to death) along the way.

    I don’t read so much anymore, and I realized that’s an issue for a writer.

    • A noble and trying journey. I read a quote the other day, “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” It really feels that way.

      When I started reading again I realized how many words I’d forgotten; how limited my lexicon had become. I was also horrendously out of touch with modern writing. It is hard to take time away from writing to read, though. Whenever I kick back with a book, I feel like I’m being lazy or doing something sinister.

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