Weaving Reality into a Fantasy World

2012-Feb-2 -> from the 29-days-of-fantasy department Tags:

Day 2 is dominated by a good friend of mine who might be short in stature, but is far from short on talent. Lorna Suzuki brings a splash of reality to our fantasy with this fantastic post, but first, let's have a little bit about her.

Lorna is a scriptwriter & fantasy novelist, martial arts instructor with almost 30 years experience in the warrior arts, 2 published YA fantasy novels (Dream Merchant Saga) and 9 published adult epic fantasy novels (Imago Chronicles). The first three in the Imago series have been optioned for a motion picture trilogy and slated for full production later this year.

On top of all this, she is also a mom, a wife, and takes time out of her busy day to be a friend to a great many other writers, artists and fans. Truly a wonderous person.

And so, without further ado, take it away Lorna...

I feel truly honoured to be invited to write a blog post for this grand occasion, especially when I know how many writers Thomas had to choose from for his 29 Days of Fantasy event. So thank you for this invitation, my friend!

After some thought, I decided to write about incorporating reality into the fantasy world after an interesting situation about what is believable, even within a world of make-believe. This occurred while working with two editors assigned by my former agent to help polish up Imago Chronicles: Book One A Warrior's Tale before presenting it to publishers for their consideration. Even before this happened, there were already film producers vying for movie option rights to this book, but it was still important to make this novel as presentable as possible before my agent submitted it to the big publishing houses she had in mind.

If you are like many of the other authors out there, paying for a professional editor can prove to be a real financial challenge. I've always relied on members of my critique group as well as my educated, intelligent, well-read friends and family members willing to take on this onerous task and could be relied on to give honest feedback. When my agent appointed these two smart, educated young ladies working in her literary agency to review my novel, I jumped at the chance.

Now, just be warned: this post is not about finding typos or editing the works, or even world building so a fantasy realm would seem more realistic. It's about weaving real world experiences into a fantasy world so the characters' personality and personal experiences are grounded in reality so the readers would feel there is something authentic about them, maybe even feel a connection to them.

In real life, no two of us are alike. We are all driven to do or behave in such a way based on our own personal experiences. This is what makes us individuals. I wanted my characters to feel like real people, even though they are in a fantasy world. They have individual quirks, beliefs and experiences that motivate them to act and react as they do.

Though my former agent loved A Warrior's Tale, it was for good reason. She related to the protagonist's struggles in terms of dealing with racism, sexism, and chauvinism due to her own experiences as a person of colour and being the only female in an all-male martial arts club. Where my agent felt the story just needed a bit of polish to make it its best, her editing staff felt differently.

In having the two professional editors review A Warrior's Tale, the most interesting feedback came from what they perceived as being far-fetched. They questioned the petite female protagonist's ability to continue fighting after she had her jaw dislocated. They also found it unrealistic that a warrior can take a hit in battle and keep fighting, but an unexpected kick in the shin by a child would be more painful, etc. Also, they're biggest problem was they didn't think it was believable a father could be so brutal in his treatment of his own child.

So... do I give in and rewrite the book to make it more believable in their eyes? Or do I stand my ground and explain my position because my reality is very different from theirs?

After serious consideration, I decided to stand by the old writer's credo: Write what you know.

Yep, I had to plunk myself down in front of my laptop and explain to these two smart, talented, educated young editors why I wrote what I did. Starting with: "I take it, you don't study martial arts do you? Have you ever had your jaw dislocated in a fight?"

Of course, their response was negative on both counts.

I went on to explain I've study martial arts for over 25 years, the first few in an all-men's full-contact karate club where I was the only girl and endured a good four months of being severely beaten in a bid to drive me out. I've also had my jaw dislocated twice, and not once did I get knocked unconscious. In fact, the last time, like the female protagonist, I was kicked so hard in the jaw I was airborne! When I hit the ground, I just worked my jaw back into place, dusted myself off and resumed with the fight against a much larger opponent.

"Oh... I thought something like that would knock you unconscious," was their collective response.

In reality, you'll be amazed at what adrenalin and the survival instinct can do when they kick in! When you're getting pummeled and you think you're either going to get seriously injured or killed, typically, you'll do one of two things. If there's no escape, you'll either panic and 'turtle' trying to cover your head and midriff in a bid to minimize the beating or your mind and body will override the pain so you can fight back. The adrenalin numbs the pain, but yes, if you're not in fight mode or you're not expecting an attack, you can quite literally feel way more pain.

When my 2-year-old nephew slammed a Hot Wheels car across my nose, almost breaking it, I felt way more pain than when I had broken bones in my hands or feet in a fight situation. Mind you, I did feel the damage after the adrenalin wore off after the fight, but when the blow is completely unexpected, then you can pretty much expect it to hurt way more just because your mind and body wasn't expecting it!

When I explained this to the editors, they seemed to understand how much mental preparation and adrenalin can affect a warrior, hence the character feeling the pain when the female protagonist accosts him with a sharp kick to the shin.

And then the subject came up about how could the father, a revered high elf, be so physically abusive to his daughter? They just couldn't buy into it.

I tried to explain it happens in the real world, more often than anyone cares to admit. Parents have even murdered their children. But they baulked at my reasoning, stating that Dahlon is respected by his peers and does all the right things for the good of his people, how can I have readers believe he can be a child abuser?

It was only because a fan had emailed me, telling me how she had been abused as a child and how my character made her feel more like a survivor now rather than a victim did I decide to justify my position.

When they questioned whether it was believable for such a violent father/daughter relationship to exist, they had forced my hand. I had no choice but to confess my own experience at being physically and emotionally abused as I grew up.

I could almost feel them emotionally recoil in their emailed apology when I told them I knew firsthand what it was like to be picked up and thrown across a room. I know the feeling and sounds of ribs cracking when getting stomped on, or that painful jolt when a back-fist dislocates the lower jaw. Yes, all this by a father whom family friends and relatives deemed as a poor widower struggling to do his best to bring up his daughters. Like the female protagonist's father, he also had a very different public veneer he presented to the outside world, the one most never suspected of being capable of such atrocities.

To put it bluntly, this quieted the editors' concerns, but I know they now wished they didn't question how I knew such a thing was possible.

So what's the bottom line?

There comes a point in time when you are more of an expert on a specific topic than your agent, editor or publisher. In a writing workshop I attended that was taught by bestselling author Diana Gabaldon of The Outlander series, she shared in a situation where her editor questioned the use of landmines in one of her novels. Ms. Gabaldon had done extensive research about this weapon; enough to know a primitive form of such a device existed during the era her characters dwelled in. She said she put her foot down and explained her stance, because in this situation, she was more of an expert on this topic than her editor was.

So yes, there may come a time when your editors or readers won't believe you based on their own past experiences (or lack of) or limited knowledge. In this case, stick to your guns, for those who do know and understand from their own personal experiences, they will appreciate you and your writing all the more because you've acknowledged their reality, too.

Lorna always amazes me with her writing, and this post is no exception. Thank you, Lorna, for writing this, for opening yourself up to my readers, and for sticking to your guns when the chips were down. I know I appreciate it.

If you would like to learn more about Lorna and her books, here are a few places you can start:

Thanks for dropping by, and come back tomorrow when fantasy author James Tallet takes a look at Architecture, Fantasy Style.

Thanks for reading!

I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. Contact Me, I'd love to hear from you.

Don't forget to join in on the conversation in the comments section below.


By Dannie Hill on Thu 2 Feb 2012 02:32:12 am [ Reply ] Great Choice of guest, Tom and best of luck with your book.

Lorna. I'v read your books and I've also been in combat and martial arts. That's one of the things I love about your writing. It's real and I can feel the punches and blade play. But more than that you weave a perfect Fantasy.

It takes guts to stick to your guns when facing editors. But you did it the right way! It's really true that an editor is a writers best friend. And they usually listen when you explain why.

A wonderful post that I'll read again!

By Connie on Thu 2 Feb 2012 08:16:21 pm [ Reply ] I always enjoy Lorna's insight! She is an exceptional author. Excellent blog post!

By Thomas A. Knight on Fri 3 Feb 2012 12:18:02 am [ Reply ] Agreed, on all accounts. I love Lorna's writing, and feel fortunate that she agreed to do this post, despite her busy schedule.

By Tim Moon on Sat 4 Feb 2012 03:35:31 am [ Reply ] My Mom had to deal with abusive parents though nothing like what you've mentioned Lorna. I pity the fool that tries that nonsense now. I'm glad you wrote this piece because it's a good reminder that adding personal elements, even if they're shrouded in fantasy, can make for a powerful story. I LOVED A Warrior's Tale!

By Bruce Sallan on Tue 7 Feb 2012 01:12:56 am [ Reply ] Wow Lorna! What a great tale you weave. I had NO IDEA you were such a tough BABE meant in total respect! How interesting to deal with the feedback of smart editors who knew nothing about the subject. And, finally, IDK why I made your writers list on Twitter, but Thank You VERY Much for thinking that highly of me...

It's about time I read something of yours!

Did you sell the book rights for a movie? I hope you made a demand that YOU write the 1st draft of a screenplay?

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