Holly Black: Examining the Strange – The Basics of Writing Fantasy

Holly Black is the author of fantasy novels including The Spiderwick Chronicles, Valliant, Ironside, and a graphic novel called The Good Neighbors. She was a keynote speaker a the 2009 Summer SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles. The following notes are from her address:

You Must Read in Order to be a Part of the Conversation…

  • Holly grew up believing in Fantasy. She thought fantasies were true stories. She has read a lot of folklore, and encourages you (if you want to be a fantasy writer) to read as much fantasy as you can. Read both MG and YA books, read adult fantasy books, read folklore, and research! Holly believes that all books are in conversation with the books that came before them. So you must read in order to be a part of that conversation.

What Defines a Fantasy Novel?

  • Fantasy is often labeled as “escapist.” But Holly doesn’t think fantasy is escapist at all, not any more than any other book about a fictional character.
  • Fantasy allows for distance and metaphor. Many fantasy books are huge metaphors. With that, beware of the metaphors you are using, as those can affect the real world. For example, don’t use a girl who is in love with her horse, and she enjoys the way the horse nuzzles its nose against her neck, while that same girl does not like humans. That can be a bad metaphor.
  • The difference between fantasy and horror is the inclusion of Awe.
  • “All novels are fantasies; just some are more honest about it.” -?
  • One writer (author’s name forgotten) believes that realistic fiction books that do not include the supernatural and the divine have left out the most important stuff.

In Creating Your Fantasy World You Must…

  • In creating a fantasy world you must be specific. The reader has to believe that you (the author) have actually been to this place, that you have seen it, smelled it, tasted it, and experienced it. It must feel authentic. Fantasy resembles historical fiction because it is a place that you have never been before, and you must convince the reader that you have been there. You’ve got to research!
  • Every magical society will have its own rules. There are two types of logic: Day Logic – this is when the magic works the same each time. Night Logic – This is when the rules are seldom spelled out, instead the magic works intuitively.

Plotting a Fantasy Book Includes…

  • Fantasy stories must always have two stories. One is the fantastical story – “the plot” such as an evil dragon that is destroying the country side and the king must find a way to stop it. But the fantasy must also have a human story, one that affects the main character. For example the King’s wife is cheating on him with his brother. The human story usually starts earlier and ends later. The two stories need resonance, for example the king finds out that his wife is cheating on him, and now makes the decision to send her lover (his brother) to go battle the dragon – probably to die.

Holly Black is the bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children. Her novels include The Spiderwick Chronicles, White Cat, Valliant, Ironside, and the graphic novel The Good Neighbors. Her book the Spiderwick Chronicles was adapted into a film by Paramount Pictures in conjunction with Nickelodeon Films, and was released in 2008. Learn more about Holly and her books at: Holly Black’s Website.

Holly Black: Examining the Strange – The Basics of Fantasy Writing.

Sunday Morning Keynote Speaker

Holly Black is the author of fantasy novels including: “The Spiderwick Chronicles” “Valliant, “Ironside” and a graphic novel called “The Good Neighbors.”

Holly grew up believing in Fantasy. She thought fantasies were true stories. She has read a lot of folklore, and encourages you (if you want to be a fantasy writer) to read as much fantasy as you can. Read both MG and YA books, read adult fantasy books, read folklore, and research! Holly believes that all books are in conversation with the books that came before them. So you must read in order to be a part of that conversation.

Fantasy is often labeled as “escapist.” But Holly doesn’t think fantasy is escapist at all, not any more than any other book about a fictional character.

Fantasy allows for distance and metaphor. Many fantasy books are huge metaphors. With that, beware of the metaphors you are using, as those can affect the real world. For example, don’t use a girl who is in love with her horse, and she enjoys the way the horse nuzzles its nose against her neck, while that same girl does not like humans. That can be a bad metaphor.

The difference between fantasy and horror is the inclusion of Awe.

“All novels are fantasies; just some are more honest about it.” -?

One writer (author’s name forgotten) believes that realistic fiction books that do not include the supernatural and the divine have left out the most important stuff.

In creating a fantasy world you must be specific. The reader has to believe that you (the author) have actually been to this place, that you have seen it, smelled it, tasted it, and experienced it. It must feel authentic. Fantasy resembles historical fiction because it is a place that you have never been before, and you must convince the reader that you have been there. You’ve got to research!

Every magical society will have its own rules. There are two types of logic: Day Logic – this is when the magic works the same each time. Night Logic – This is when the rules are seldom spelled out, instead the magic works intuitively.

Fantasy stories must always have two stories. One is the fantastical story – “the plot” such as an evil dragon that is destroying the country side and the king must find a way to stop it. But the fantasy must also have a human story, one that affects the main character. For example the King’s wife is cheating on him with his brother. The human story usually starts earlier and ends later. The two stories need resonance, for example the king finds out that his wife is cheating on him, and now makes the decision to send her lover (his brother) to go battle the dragon – probably to die.

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