My Fantasy Tool Kit (4): Imagination

One of the hardest things about writing fantasy is to turn your imagination loose.

You folks out there who’d like to try to write this stuff, be warned: the easiest thing in the world is to fall into writing fantasy that is not imaginative, that’s been done to death by everybody else, that’s dull and predictable, etc. True, there is no new thing under the sun. But it’s funny that the greatest enemy of fantasy should be the cliche.

Speaking only for myself, I find sometimes that it takes an act of will to let my imagination have free rein. But if you’re not going to do that, why write fantasy? The world already has all the stale, derivative, imitative, boring fantasy it’ll ever need. You have to be bold. You have to take a chance. A timid imagination has no place in fantasy.

Some examples:

In The Lord of the Rings/ The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien awes me with his depiction of the forest of Lothlorien as a place outside the normal flow of time. How did he ever think of that? And having thought of it, how did he ever come to write it so effectively?

In The Magician’s Nephew, one of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis had his magical transportation rings work by taking you to a special place in another dimension that was a kind of gateway to all the other places in the universe; and although it was also a place in its own right, it was like none of the others. I find it hard to describe, but you don’t need my description: Lewis’s is better!

Edgar Rice Burroughs, in The Chessmen of Mars, imagined a backward civilization cut off from the mainstream of Martian culture and science–a place where the art of taxidermy is put to unexpected purposes. So detailed, so vivid is his depiction of the city and people of Manator, you may find yourself dreaming about it.

I can’t tell you how to develop a wild imagination. If you don’t have an imagination, well and good–you can always write for television. But I suspect you’ve either got it or you don’t. The thing is, you might not know you have it. The only way to find out is to start using it and see what happens.

Final hint: Your imagination is never going to stretch its wings if you insist on writing about street-smart nuns and crusty but benign old wizards.

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