Tuesday, July 27, 2010

inhuman limitations

My WIP is a fantasy. One of the things about the MS that has plagued me is making sure the rules of the magic are clear. Wait, no. I'm being too kind to myself. I didn't even really phrase the issue that way until a couple weeks ago. My original thought was more like this: Something doesn't feel right. Hmmm...

Now, though, I've got the issued pinned. I need to make sure that the reader knows what sort of magic the MC can do and how their abilities compare to others (magical, non-magical, both) in the world, whether that world be epic fantasy or urban fantasy, sci-fi, what have you. And that needs to be accomplished early on.

Case-in-point: Harry Potter. (Did I yet mention that I love JK Rowling?) Harry starts out as a weird but normal kid, and he gradually transforms into a wizard. The reader is there for that transformation. We know at all times what Harry can and can't do. We attend Hogwarts classes and even learn the spells. Alohomora! Expelliarmus! Expecto Patronum!

I'm only on page 96 of The Hunger Games, but Suzanne Collins is doing the same thing. We know that Katniss is a darn good hunter, and then we discover what other skills she and Peeta pick up in training.

In fact, all good fantasy/sci-fi...scratch that! In fact, all good books do this. We have to know what the MC can do or else we wouldn't know what to expect or how to feel in a given scene. We could be enthralled in a super scary fight scene and think the MC is going to be maimed but then he blasts his opponent to smithereens with a magical boom-blaster. That would seriously tick off any reader. He had a boom-blaster?

All books must set limitations. Are there telephones in this time period? Does the MC have a car? Can the MC afford airfare? A poor man cannot escape the mafia on plane.

While my WIP does not include boom-blasters, there is some magic. I don't do a terrible job of revealing what my MC can do, but I know I could do with some clarification. Why?

To develop character and setting. Providing limitations does both. Harry Potter is way cooler than you or I, but is he smarter than Hermione? Is he more powerful than Draco? Those answers tell us more about who Harry Potter is in relation to his own kind.

I do compare my magically powerful MC to others of her kind, but I'm lacking a list (so-to-speak) of her abilities. She kind of discovers/hones her abilities along the way. That's fine, to an extent, so long as everything is clear. What did she teach herself? What did she already know? The reader should never have to guess. And there should never be moments where boom-blasters appear that the reader didn't know about.

I just saw the first cockroach in my house. I've seen several on the streets of Honolulu, but this one was in my house! It was an inch long. Ewww...
Am I going to let cockroaches encroach on my enjoyment of tropical life? Am I going to let my fears outweigh my passion for fresh pineapple and mango? Am I going to scream? No. No, I am not.

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