(vi) REAL FEELINGS IN FANTASY
The fantasy writer is more likely to be dealing with spiders as big as cows or armies of super-intelligent spiders, rather than common-and-garden spiders. Often the imagination leaps out first into some far-flung possibility. But you still need to tie that possibility back to a real feeling—for yourself, for the reader.
A much-quoted line by the American poet, Marianne Moore, talks about poetry presenting ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them.’ Okay, then, fantasy fiction presents unreal situations with real feelings in them.
The easiest way to tie unreal situations back to real feelings is to seek out some similar experience, usually on a far, far smaller scale. In my SF thriller, Hidden From View, there are virtual reality, sensi-feel games that give the actual sensations of, for example, falling and crashing to the ground at 500 kph—all the way through to a virtual reality death. Easy! All I had to do was remember past funfair rides, one in particular that scared the bejasus out of me. Getting strapped in … nervous anticipation … the whirr of machinery … I-wanna-get-off! All the same, but more so.
In Worldshaker, the action takes place on board a juggernaut, a rolling mountain of metal, four kilometres long and one kilometre high. In an early scene, Col gets to go up on top of the Bridge, out in the open for the very first time, and surveys the vast landscape they’re travelling over.
Openness on every side! … It was like sailing in the sky … His vision swam with the vast scale of it all. … There were the grey metal decks of Worldshaker, far, far below—but even more, the landscape spreading out all around, unfolding into the distance! A panorama of forests, hills and seas! … He traced a winding boundary between the blue of the sea and the colours of the land … etc etc.
Although I’ve never had Col’s juggernaut experience, it was easy to remember panoramic views and the emotions they stir up in me. Fact is, I’m a bit of an agoraphobe—I find wide open spaces disturbing and exciting. I’m also a cartophile—I dote on maps and atlases. So I know I have the feeling to put into a scene like this.
Talking of maps …
Panoramic views have popped up in my novels ever since Martin Smythe, in The Vicar of Morbing Vyle, escaped up through a chimney and surveyed a whole wide snow-covered world from the vicarage roof. I do claustrophobic scenes—working from moments of claustrophobia that surely everyone experiences—but agoraphobic scenes are a speciality!
The great thing about fantasy is the way you can amplify real feelings. I don’t believe you can imagine a feeling you’ve never had, but you can imagine a feeling to a new degree of intensity.
(Maybe that’s what all fiction is about? Genre fiction anyway …)
Here's another map that goes with Liberator, the sequel to Worldshaker (UK release date, June 2011)