Live-Blogging From Nashua: Leda Schubert on Fantasy

Afternoon workshop. Fantasy and World Building. Leda Schubert

I'm sitting in the back trying to keep my blogging low-key, next to writing buddies Wendy Nystrom and Mordena Babich (who knows the correct pronunciation of Rick Riordan), both in my critique group, both authors of excellent stories in the fantasy genre. Leda gets started (I did ask her permission to live-blog, and she graciously gave it, so relax and read on. Here's a disclaimer, though: these are rough notes, they don't include Leda's precise words, and the quotes are incomplete.)

What is the wrong reason to write fantasy? Because it's what's selling. The right reason? It is the best way to tell the story only you can tell. We're born with the need for story.

Leda goes over the classic book, Harold and the Purple Crayon. Study this book! It shows all that's right about fantasy, she says. The heart-stopping moment of fantasy is when you wonder if it's going to be okay. If you scare yourself as you're writing, you're doing your job. Sometimes as you write you don't know where you're going.

Motivations? We want to believe that something exists outside of what we see.

Where to begin? Read, read, read. Take notes. Hard analysis. Develop a list of things to look for. What kind of world has this author created? What are the elements? Are there moments when you're jarred out of the fictive world of fantasy?

After you've read the books, turn to folklore and mythology. Try retellings and re-imaginings. We all have stories we're "doomed to write."

Know story structure. Discover the myth of the hero all around the world.

Fantasy is not escapist literature. It is a journey in instead of out. "Myth may not be real," says Susan Cooper, but it is true. "Fantastic conditions must speak to our real one," said Lloyd Alexander.

Leda recommends The Tough Guide To Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. "It's a hoot," says Leda, making us laugh with a couple of quotes she reads aloud.

She explains Jane Yolen's three types of fantasy: earthbound, evens in our world with possible magical events (Borrowers), faerie (a secondary world like Earthsea), tourist fantasies where an earth traveler passes into another world or time (Narnia).

Leda also pulls from Jane Langton's The Weak Place in the Cloth. In fantasy literature, the cloth is either stretched, punctured, invisible and permeable, or unpunctured, but we're on the other side. The cloth can divide now from then, life from death (ghost stories), or finite present from infinite future (science fiction).

Leda's getting to the fundamentals now, explaining in detail how to create a fantasy world, and ends by saying that the work in this rich genre is still too much in the hands of white men. That's changing, but slowly. We need new voices, especially non-Western ones. We are part of this change.


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dianemdavis said…
thanks. I had to cancel going to this at the last minute, so reading about it makes me feel as if I was there. Certainly, I've gone to enough of these conferences to fit right into the atmosphere of things as you've set them up.
I really enjoyed Leda's presentation on fantasy, especially her closing comments, which, as you mentioned, were to highlight the fact that fantasy as a field was mostly defined by British men from Oxford.

I was really shocked to hear it put in this context, especially because, as a fantasy fiction writer myself, I never thought of my fantasy world as something so strongly influence by dead, white, British men.

My personal world felt a little upside down after that, but in a fantastic way--I suddenly realized my authorial voice was being a little misrepresented. She really opened up a discussion on not only fantasy, but its origins and purpose.

Also, thank you again for your amazing presentation--and for signing my copy of your book!

AC Gaughen
Mitali Perkins said…
Thanks for stopping by the Fire Escape, AC and Diane. I, too, was inspired by Leda to take a closer look at my desire to write fantasy and ask some hard questions.
Cloudscome said…
Great post! Thanks for giving us your notes. Inspiring and thoughtful talk.