A Life Of Fiction XCV

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

 

Consistency In Genre Fiction: I write a fair amount of what is called genre fiction. I’m not sure exactly how many horror or gas-lamp fantasy novels I have written, but I would be surprised if they numbered fewer than forty. Perhaps I should count them at some stage, as I have always been a compiler in lists.

Anyway, in genre fiction, whether horror or fantasy or science fiction, I think that there should be internal consistency in the tales. Yes, perhaps, in one novel you might have something which is fantastical, such as the existence of magic. But that magic should have laws to which it is subject, in the same way that there are laws governing the way that chemicals interact with each other, or the way that planetary bodies orbit the son. as a writer you should decide on the limitations of your magic (or other fantastical device), and then stick within the boundaries of the rules which you have created. You have to be consistent for people to have any faith in your prose. You can’t just make things up as you go along, and alter the rules just to help you use a plot device.

In my gas-lamp fantasy novels, starring Briggs and Prenderghast, I decided on some things which Magick could or couldn’t do, while I was working on the first novel, He Sees His World In Red. Some of the limitations were for reasons of plot, as if Magick was too powerful it would make things too easy for the heroes. Thus I decided that Magick was very tiring, so that the wizard, Prenderghast, would not overshadow the other main hero, John Briggs. I didn’t want Prenderghast to simply be able to mutter a spell and get them out of whatever trouble they were in. Where would be the tension in that?

I decided, also, that Magick could not heal, apart from in the rarest of circumstances: a wizard, just once in his life, could sacrifice part of his life-force to attempt to save the life of another person. If you allowed wizards to heal people, like clerics on the Dungeons and Dragons game, then I don’t think that you would have ended up with a Victorian-style society.

There were other limitations which I put on wizards in my books: no ability to predict the future with accuracy for the vast majority of them (that fell to seers, and freaks like Dzinshung Tse (and, even then, they only tended to see the most likely future); no true invisibility (although some wizards might know spells to convince people that they didn’t see the wizard); and so on. These are rules which I stuck with through the novels. I think that my novels benefited from this consistency as, when introducing some wizardly villain, I knew what things they would never be able to do. You have to have boundaries. Having the internal consistency greatly helped me, as well, when I came to write the gas-Lamp Fantasy Role-Playing Game.

The above are ways to make gas-lamp fantasy consistency. But consistency should apply to other genres, as well. Science fiction should follow the rules of science. Of some sci fi protagonist discovers some miraculous device, like a time machine, then toy should consider precisely how time travel works, and write down some rules for it. You don’t have to reveal those rules to the reader. But you should know what they are, and stick to them.

The same goes for horror. Be consistent. If you have vampires in one part of the world then any vampires in another part should have similar powers, unless there is a very good reason for that not being the case. Yes, I know that in legends you have some very different ideas about what such creatures are. But those are just legends. And the final arbiter of consistency is the writer.

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