Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Kills Fantasy

What kills faster than anything else?  Yes, despite my prejudices, even fast than not being character driven?

Breaking internal integrity.

Fantasy by nature is a "What if?" question.  That "What if?" is what deviates the book from reality.  "What if?" may be "What if there are dragons?"  "What if the world was flat and you fell off?"  Anything, really.  The kicker is that the author must set up limits to their worlds.  They set the rules at the beginning of the book.  Now, these rules may be "seemingly broken" by the author if they wish the book to evolve past the rules, but they must give a proper set of build ups and cues.

However, sometimes an author will break their own internal integrity.  This means they break their own rules.  A book thrives on us believing in the alternate reality.  If our trust is broken, the story dies.  When one part of the rules are made up or broken partway through the book--"Wait.  Despite the fact I set up that the waterfalls at the edges of the world lead to alternate realities, really they just form a circle that brings you back to earth."  Say wha'?

The reader feels betrayed, tricked, angry.

What books have broken their internal integrity and turned you off them?


  1. Great essay on one of my biggest pet peeves with fantasy/science fiction.

    It is one thing for the characters over the course of the book to discover that the rules they have been told all their lives are wrong; it is another for the author to break the rules willy nilly. In the former--there are still rules for how the universe of the book works; they just aren't the rules the character believes in at the beginning. The later is usually done because it's convenient (not a good enough reason!) way to resolve a problem that the author can't figure out how to resolve within the context of the world's rules.

    I'm all about suspension of belief--I wouldn't read fantasy if I didn't. But once I've suspended belief, I want to stay within it. Breaking with those rules jars me out of the story and is implausible within the parameters set by the story.

  2. The suspension of disbelief can only take us so far. We suspend it to believe in a life other than ours. When that soap bubble is broken, there isn't much going back.

  3. Yeah!!! I am kind of a vampire guy and breaking the Stoker rules for no reason (and adding sparkles for God's sake) is the fastest way to lose my interest. I recently read Weaver's Web which, while not a vampire book, has some fanged folk in it, and while it broke a rule or two (won't spoil it for those of you who have yet to enjoy it) the exceptions are reasoned and the general character of the traditional undead remains. Good book.