Friday, December 15, 2006

Seeing Is Believing: Or Is it?

n my last class at the Loft, we ended up on a tangent about a book I’m currently reading which shall remain nameless. It’s a well known urban fantasy novel which has been receiving a lot of high praise. My partner Shawn read part of the novel and got so frustrated with it, that she threw it against the wall. She was so irritated that she actually suggested that I read it, so we could complain about it together.

Part of the problem with this book is the Big Reveal. The question of: when does your hero[ine] “come out” to other people about her magical power/the magic in her life/her magical boyfriend and how do the Uninitiated react to the news that there is magic in the world?

This issue Shawn had with this particular book is that everyone the heroine meets buys into the magic, without so much as a hiccup, in fact, they’re all eager to help despite the fact that their worldview should be shattered or at least upset a titch. That complete acceptance didn’t work for Shawn. (It’s still working for me, but I’m only a 100 pages in.)

Of course, as an author, there’s another tension, I think. Because you know the cover is going to show something fantastical and the back cover copy is going to hint at magic, you don’t really want your readers to have to wait for your heroine and the people around her to accept the magic the reader already expects. I’m having this problem in my current novel (Garnet’s third book: BLOODY CHARMING) because I have the opening where Garnet sees a wolf. One of my Wyrdsmiths’ colleagues is telling me that I’m over doing it with the werewolf “telegraphing,” even though I know that’s a bit of a red herring (I won’t say more for fear of spoilers.) My colleague’s point, however, is still valid. A SF/F/Paranormal romance reader is going to see a wolf and instantly assume magic is afoot. In this case, I want to play against that assumption, but I still have to be aware of it, and to not frustrate the reader so that s/he is shouting at the book, “Oh, for God/dess’s sake, Garnet, it’s a bloody werewolf! How dumb are you??”

The Nameless Book in question has a different problem. That is, I think the heroine accepts the magic in her life at the right pace, but the people around her swallow it far too quickly. “Oh, come on! It can’t be that easy!” was the complaint I heard Shawn mutter as she was reading. And, that’s the other issue a writer of paranormal/F/SF has to deal with – you don’t want your character’s friends to be instantly on board (unless there’s a pre-existing good reason, like s/he is also involved in a magical community of some sort) otherwise it feels like your heroine isn’t terribly challenged. If everyone buys into the magic and offers knowledge and help, then you start to wonder if the whole world isn’t actually magical and only the heroine is stupid enough not to have been with the program from the beginning. I think this author is actually aware that people might be thinking this very thing, because she has a spirit guide tell the character that she’s a brand new soul… thus excusing her for not knowing all this stuff about the magical world that everyone else seems to. As an author, I think that’s a bit of a cheat, because it’s also just as valid to have someone, just once, not know or not believe or tell her she needs to get back on her meds. Especially, since that can be done to humorous effect.

Still, I think it’s a tough question for all speculative writers. How do the other people in your heroine’s life deal with her magical crap? Do they buy it? Buy it skeptically at first? Think she’s crazy? Or, do you have them resist for a while until something magical happens that includes them? Obviously, you need to do what works best in your story, but thinking about how readers will react to other character’s reactions (will they see this as too easy? Too “hard” – as in they feel the magic is so obvious that it can’t be ignored no matter how cynical the character?) helps, IMHO.

Another solution a lot of urban fantasy writers have employed is the magical universe. If, for instance, the existence of vampires is common knowledge, then you don’t really have to deal with the issue of the Big Reveal – at least not where it concerns magic, anyway.

I also think this is a matter of taste. I tend to prefer my urban fantasy just this side of reality, which is to say, the more like the here and now, the better I tend to enjoy the book. I want that feeling of “this could happen to me,” if I could just side-step out of the mundane. So, I prefer incredulous friends.

How about you?

2 comments:

Zoe said...

I like it when the characters are skeptical about all the magical stuff. Like you, I want it to feel as much like the real world as possible.

Tate said...

Yet I'm still reading The Book. I guess it must be compelling enough on other levels.