Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Theory of Magic

     You may have gathered that I am something of a fantasist. I like to think so. Funny thing is, I've run up against a problem in the genre for a long time, and have had a lot of trouble dealing with it. Basically, it's a mental debate over whether or not this thing called magic is right or wrong, in accordance with my worldview. It has troubled me for a long time, since on the one hand, I've held that magic is wrong, and on the other, some forms of it are enjoyable and interesting. So what do I do? Write about it here, of course.

     It all started way back when I was a young lad exploring the weird, wonderful worlds of wonder which fantasy had opened up to me. At some point in that long expedition, it entered the conviction of myself and my family that there was a particular piece of fantastical literature which was wrong, bad, even evil, if you will. So we avoided it, like it was the plague. And that came to extend not only to the one work, but anything which used the term magic.

     As often happens, as we grew older and began to venture further out into the world than had been done previously, we came into contact with those who disagreed. Most just expressed their opinions and then left it alone. But there were a couple of individuals who outright defied our beliefs. Loudly. It was seriously irritating how insistent they were that they were right in what was for many people a controversial issue. My thanks goes to them, however, but only because their argumentation made me think. I wondered why exactly it was that I was rejecting this one thing, and yet wholeheartedly embraced a number of other works that were uncomfortably similar.

     I searched for the answer a long time. I think I've finally gotten it boiled down to a basic principle. I like to call it my Universal Magic Theory, just 'cause I can. The basic point of UMT is that the more realistic a form of magic is, the worse it is. The less realistic, the better.

     Take for example, spell casting, a common device in many fantastical works. Generally, I would put this on the bad/wrong scale, since there are real life practices that attempt to do this. People actually do try to put spells, or curses, or hexes, or whatever on people. It's an evil practice in real life, and it's an evil practice in fiction too. On the other hand, things like, say, Cinderella's fairy godmother or Glinda from The Wizard of Oz are completely fine, since no one actually believes that any such person exists, or that anything they do is feasible.

     In the end, conscience is king. If it pricks me, that's because something is wrong. If I feel in my gut that something really isn't bad, without a whole intellectual analysis, then it's OK. I would advise in this matter that you let your conscience guide you, and when that doesn't work, ask someone else. Most of what I just said comes from what my dad has told me at various different times. So long as you truly seek to know what is good and right, you will not be unanswered.

     Magic is like many other things in literature, fantastical or not. If used correctly, it's harmless, and even good. But if used improperly, it can be harmful and wrong. The trick is knowing when that happens. Ultimately, it's up to you. I hope my theory can be of some use, whatever you find.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Uh, What Rule Was I On Again? (Rewriting)

     Hello, again. I have returned, finally, from that sojourn into another medium last month. It was pretty useful, I think; and in any case I enjoyed it.

     This brings me to another thought on writing, namely, the process that comes afterward.

     When I was young and starting out in this trade, there were few things that seemed to me more ridiculous than rewriting. Editing made sense, since I was likely to make a few grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors. But to sit down, as my dad proposed, with a new, blank document and write up the whole thing all over again? It seemed ludicrous. I already went through all the work to write a story. In my mind, the next thing to do was publish.

     Fortunately, I didn't get my way. The story drafts I'd begun remained in the closet, while I worked with other things. I didn't forsake those drafts; I was just sitting on them until I could finally publish.

     Then, the time came when I thought I would do it. I pulled one of them drafts out of the closet, brushed it off and looked it over. And then it became apparent. It was bad. Awful, even. Things began to make sense then. My old draft was stinky, practically unsalvageable. To redeem it, I would have to pull off a complete overhaul of the plot, characters, everything. A rewrite. So, with much fear and trepidation, I began. And it turned out much better.

     Rewriting is an incredible thing. I've found that through it, wimpy, half-baked pieces of work can be transformed into stronger, more thoroughly cooked piece of art. Metaphorically speaking. Granted, for me that doesn't happen after I sit on a draft for a while and wait for newer, wilder, more exciting ideas to come.

     Every writer's system for writing is different, of course. But rewriting is one of the most indispensable tools in the toolbox. With it, you can rework old plotlines, invent new, more interesting characters, create grander, more incredible worlds, and make your story the absolute best it can be. (Thanks, Dad!)