Sunday, January 6, 2008
Fickle Fae and How to Write Them
In honor of Melissa Marr, who very graciously agreed to our interview, YAYA is putting on a Paranormal Fiction Festival (or something like that) involving many posts about writing and reading paranormal fiction.
Today I'm going to talk about writing about fairies.
But first I feel like I should introduce myself. My name is Sophie and I'm a sixteen year-old writer and our resident fantasy buff. I usually write about talking animals and explosions. One of my current works in progress, titled Little Cities, has fairies in it. I love fantasy and science fiction, but fantasy will always be closest to my heart. I live in the Washington DC area, quite near Hannah, actually, and I am mostly sane.
Back to the fairies (some of which, I'm sure, sound more sane than me).
Traditionally, fairies hate iron, have wings, and offer you food you should never, never eat. They live in Fairyland, or in toadstools, or in an alternate dimension. They can be human-sized or pixie-sized or both, and they're either very beautiful or very ugly. They also have sex. Lots of sex, often with everybody all at once. And they switch valuable things - like children - with things that aren't so valuable. Although, I wonder why they're running around switching children with changelings when they're having so much sex. I mean, conception has to happen sometime.
All in all, fairies are fun to write about. They have endless possibilities. There are, however, things you absolutely must keep in mind while writing about them - and these are true for all speculative fiction species, even humans.
How did they get here?
Now this may seem simple, but it isn't. Since fairies are not human, we don't automatically assume that they belong in any world. If you're in downtown Manhattan and there are fairies, I want to know why. If you're in a fantasy setting like the magical kingdom of Boodwah, I still want to know why there are fairies. Developing a convincing backstory for each of your species is so important, I can't stress it enough. As long as your backstory is convincing, your fairies will be convincing, too. Did they flee their former country? Is this a religious pilgrimmage? Are they the indigenous peoples, having evolved from tadpoles millenia ago? Tell me. I want to know.
Traditional or not?
As I said before, fairies have a multitude of traditionally expected traits. What about your fairies? Are you going allude to folktales, or are you going to take the species in a new and exciting direction?
Either way, you have advantages and disadvantages. Traditional fairy lore is instantly familiar, so you won't have to do a whole lot of worldbuilding. On the other hand, you might be docked points for originality. In my own writing, and in what I read, I prefer a mixture of originality and traditional lore.
One of the best fairy stories I've ever read is Herbie Brennan's Faerie Wars series. While Brennan addresses some traditional characteristics, like pixie-size, he presents them in a unique world. The effect is fun. Here I am reading the book, very contented with life, and suddenly I'm pointing dramatically at the sky and yelling, "Ah-ha! That explains such-and-such a piece of fairy lore!"
You want that kind of reaction from your audience. An enthusiastic one, I mean.
How do other people feel about them?
We all know about werewolves vs. vampires and elves vs. dwarfs, but what about fairies vs. zombies? Or fairies vs. humans? Fairies vs. unicorns?
Trust me, they're not going to get along with everybody.
Alternate dimension or corporeal country?
This seems like it should go under the "traditional" header, but I think it warrants a section on its own. Almost every fairy novel I read has the fairies coming from an alternate dimension. This is peachy, but like portals to a new world, it gets boring after a while. So when I started revising Little Cities, I changed Fairyland from an alternate dimension to a northern country bordering the ocean. It was refreshing and fun.
I mentioned portals, and I'd like to address that here, too. If these fairies are in another dimension, how is Presumably-Human Protagonist going to reach them? Are they going to step through a portal? If so, are you prepared to hear your reader shriek in pain from the fetal position? If your protagonist is a fairy in an alternate dimension, you may ignore this question and claim bragging rights.
How much sex are they going to have?
...okay, I think I'm getting a little carried away, here. It's time to digress.
Fairies are one of my favorite fantasy creatures ever. Whether they cast magic or form voting blocs, I will always hold them dear to my heart. They're fun, and they're a relatively new phenomenon in fiction. They've been gaining ground and seem to be the next big thing. Will they become the new vampires? Maybe. Hopefully. I like fairies better, anyway. Fairies are cuddlier.