Patrick Rothfuss said something that pretty much sums up an issue I’ve been wrestling with for the last few months:
“If you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead. Nothing’s off limits. But the endless possibility of the genre is a trap. It’s easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you’re supposed to be doing: telling a good story. Don’t get me wrong, magic is cool. But a nervous mother singing to her child at night while something moves quietly through the dark outside her house? That’s a story. Handled properly, it’s more dramatic than any apocalypse or goblin army could ever be.” ― Patrick Rothfuss
Interesting, isn’t it? We get so focused on the creation of our own world–one that we have total control over–that we often forget to include the important things that make our story worth reading.
I know that I’ve tried to go too “big” with my stories. Instead of focusing the story around the character, the focus is on the plot, the action, the intrigue, the twists and turns, and everything going on in the world. There is so little focused placed on what’s going on inside the character’s head, how he’s feeling, or what he is actually experiencing.
In my opinion, the greatest fantasy stories are NOT the ones with the most epic story lines. A great story line is a big part of making a great novel, but it’s not what really matters. I think that a good fantasy story is made because of a great character.
I wrote a post not too long ago titled “The Story Doesn’t Really Matter“, and what Rothfuss said above definitely serves to illustrate that point for me. After all, his books are quite famous and sell well, but I couldn’t read them simply because I couldn’t connect with the characters.
As you write your story, forget about the action scenes, the plot twists, and the nifty things that you think will make for a great novel. Instead, bring some reality to your fantasy, and tell the story of the character/s that is the focus of your writing.
Get into their heads, and see the world through their eyes. Feel their opinions, prejudices, hates, and loves, and let those things color the world around them. You’ll need to build the world, but add the unique flavors of your characters to that world. Don’t get so wrapped up in world-building that you fail to bring a touch of reality into it.
A great fantasy world is one that has plenty of reality, which your readers can identify with. It’s not the made-up world that they’ll care about, but it’s what happens to the characters in your book.