Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cyclones, Wardrobes, and Passageways - Oh My!

I write stories that are labeled Portal Fantasy.

My Middle Grade MS, and my Young Adult MS/WIP are both Portal Fantasy. I'm about to break the pattern with my NaNoWriMo Project, but we'll talk about that tomorrow.

For now, I'll begin by clarifying:

Some of you may be wondering, "What is Portal Fantasy?"

Remember how Dorothy got to the land of Oz the very first time?
A cyclone picked up her house and took her there. Portal
In book three, Ozma of Oz, a hurricane took Dorothy and her hen, Billina, to Oz. Portal

Remember how the Pevensie children first made their way into Narnia?
They crawled into the coolest wardrobe ever. Portal.

Remember when Harry Potter got his wand, or how about when he made it onto the Hogwarts Express?
Hagrid tapped the bricks which opened the door into The Leaky Cauldron, and Harry vanished into the barrier between train platforms 9 and 10 to wind up on Platform 9 3/4. You guessed it...Portals.

Portal Fantasy - despite these examples of timeless and magnificent stories - is disdained by many. The majority of readers (be they agents, editors, or Barnes & Noble shoppers) want to be immediately introduced to the fantasy world in which the story takes place.
I am not said reader.
In fact, I prefer Portal Fantasy over almost any other genre/category of story. But that makes me Very Picky whenever I pick up a Portal Fantasy.

There are common wisdoms in the writing community:
1. Write what you know.
2. Write a story that only you can tell.
3. Write for yourself/Write what you love.

I've previously covered the "Write what you know" and how it has affected my storytelling.
I know magic. I know fantasy. Therefore, that's what you'll be getting a lot of from me.

I'm skipping number 2, because it merits a blog entry all its own.

Now, as for "Write for yourself/Write what you love". This is often translated into "Write a story you would want to read."

I didn't know that Portal Fantasy was an official label until I began researching the query process, etc...

Like many of you I read to escape. Real life has bills, socially unacceptable people, and other obligations that just drain all the fun out of the world around us (if you let them). It's so much more exciting to dream about what I would create in a quasi-Utopian Fairyland like Oz, or being a wandmaker for future Hogwarts students.
Portal Fantasy is special kind of escape.
How many of us waited for our owl (which must have just fallen behind on its route) to deliver our letter to Hogwarts?
How many of us have longed for an "out of our hands" way to flee the drudgery of common existence? You might consider it a sort of Fantasy-Scapegoat.
Harry Potter would have been a different story had we met Harry at the Grandparent-Potter's house nervous about his first day of school, and already familiar with the Wizarding World. Not that it would have been less amazing or interesting, but we would have been further removed from the magic.
By experiencing a fantastic transition alongside the protagonists we, the audience, not only empathize with their journey, but a part of our imaginations makes that magical transformation with the character. To use HP as an example (for the millionth time) - we sorted ourselves when Harry was sorted; some of us may have hoped for Gryffindor (I hoped for Ravenclaw, alas, I am resoundingly Slytherin), in any case, we became Hogwarts students by proxy.

I can't be a Stark of Winterfell, or (thankfully) a Lannister of Casterly Rock.
But perhaps a tornado will whisk me (and my loved ones) away to Oz; maybe my owl will arrive next year (very apologetic for her years of tardiness)...
For me Portal Fantasy allows for the "this could happen to me" aspect of the story - no matter how outlandish it may be.

Writing a portal is no easy task. It's one of those things where everything has already been done. Your characters can't be caught in a violent storm, fall under the bed, walk into a spacious closet...

In the earliest rough draft of my first MS, Bianca & Scarlett were kidnapped into Faerie - too scary/violent for what I wanted it to be.
By the finished 3rd draft I borrowed from The Road to Oz. In the fifth Oz book Dorothy finds herself wandering the countryside until she comes to a crossroads, and the path leads her back to Oz.
Bianca and Scarlett meandered down an alleyway and found themselves in Faerie.
One of my best friends (who, unfortunately, loved almost everything about that terrible draft) did comment on this:

"You know why we had bells between classes in High School right? We can all tell time, but psychologically the bell causes our mindset to change. It ends one thing and starts another. The transition into Faerie needs a bell. I was reading, then suddenly they were there. It didn't work for me. It needs a bell."

I drove myself insane trying to find the perfect bell. I ended up borrowing and altering certain mythologies for my bell, and now "the Bell" is now a crucial piece of world-building that alters how/when the story takes place.

So there it is: My declaration of love for Portal Fantasy and its implied inclusivity (new word!), and how it changed my writing life.

Why do you write the stories you write? Why do you read the stories you read? How do they shape the way you live your life, dream about tomorrow, or write your own work?

Until we meet again...

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