The Stepchild of Literature by Alma A. Hromic

This article has been provided by Lynda Lotman and

The problem with fantasy is that those who do it well make it look easy. That means that everyone thinks they can write one.

But writing a good fantasy doesn’t mean recycling everyone else’s orcs and elves. It does not mean sending a ragtag band of misfits on manufactured quests to save the world.

In some ways, fantasy is more real than real – more black, more white, and far, far more gray. Fantasy is the archetype of literature – we all grew up with fantasy, to a greater or lesser degree, with fairy tales in our childhood, the myths and legends of our ancestors. In every piece of fiction there is a conflict – this is what a good story relies on – but instead of good and evil battling it out fantasy has Good and Evil – with capital letters – and the outcome of those battles is often enough to move the world from its foundations.

In Tolkien’s wake, many would-be fantasy writers picked up the crumbs of his world and tried to build on it. There was a proliferation of “Tolkien inheritors ” out in the market, to the detriment of the genre. But fantasy can be brilliantly original, and need owe nothing to anyone who went before. It may be true that a limited number of actual plotlines exist in the world of literature, but in fantasy more than anything else it depends on what you do with those plotlines. You can re-write Romeo and Juliet to suit, as long as you make it new; Tanith Lee did it beautifully. You can take the Ring of the Niebelungs and transform it into the Lord of the Rings. You have a huge field to choose from; your only sin here can be blind copying of someone else’s ideas.

It is the job of a good editor to prevent that from happening – and when writing in genre you are particularly in need of an editor who is widely read and knowledgeable within that genre, and who knows what’s been done, what can be done, and more importantly what can’t be done. When done right, Fantasy is a luminescent form of writing, a dream given flesh; there is no feeling more wonderful than creating an entire world and watching a reader fall under its spell. It will always remain your world. A good fantasy editor will help you firm up your world’s boundaries, mow down the wild grass of wordiness into soft inviting lawns, and help choose the right furniture of your virtual castle. The editor will help you get to know your characters and learn to trust them – for every good tale, as many excellent writers will tell you, is largely written by the characters who live it.

Instead of being dismissed as literature’s stepchild, fantasy is probably the highest pinnacle of the writer’s art. It’s always been far easier to write a story already set into the known parameters of the world you already live in than to build a world from the ground up. If writing is a profession, writing fantasy is a calling, a vocation.

A fantasy writer’s mind is full of words and rich images, presented as a choir trying to sing a dozen chorales at once. A good fantasy editor will help any writer hear more clearly the vo ices singing of bright new worlds yet to be born.

Alma A. Hromic
Author, Changer of Days, Harper Collins

Copyright © 2002 by Alma A. Hromic, Lynda Lotman, all rights reserved. This article has been provided by Lynda Lotman at and is printed with her permission.

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