Worrying about Serials and History in Fantasy

This is one of those posts that are proving to be a pain to write. I am torn between two purposes in regards to the subject matter’s direction. On the one hand, I wanted to write two essay posts. One would explore the influence of soap operas on long running epic fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire (though I wonder at the influence of comic books, too). The other essay would argue, after MedievalPOC’s tumblr post on A Song of Ice and Fire, that while history is an important influence on most fantasy, that the fantasies themselves are more reflective of the world today than the past. (Hey, the postcolonial analysis of ASoIaF sounds really promising.) But the problem with writing both posts is that I need to do far more research. I will need to watch a lot of soaps, read a lot of history, and read a lot of fantasy. And well, I’m not actually a professional literary critic. I want to spend my time writing my own stories. 

So, instead of blathering on about soap operas and critically looking at the role of history in select fantasy novels, I will explore how these ideas could entail into my own work as influences. 

I will admit that I have an obsession with primetime soap operas. Hell, I have half a mind to write a closet primetime soap. Or possibly adapt one of my too numerous to count projects into such a format. 

And there, in a nutshell, is my problem. 

I want to create worlds of depth that are typified by the soap opera/ serial genre. I want to dive in and explore as much of these characters as I can. I want to wring as much storytelling gold from those worlds as I can. 

But I have way too many projects I want to write. And I’m leary of being confined to just a few works. And there is always the problem of prose only serial fiction. 

Though novel series seems to be the preferred fantasy storytelling form, many series are hampered by many readers waiting for the series to be completed before buying the individual books in the series.How many prospective series have been cancelled midway through due to low sales when there is a huge waiting market at the end?

And traditional book publishing is relatively slower compared to television and comic books. 

I want to write some serials. So how do I solve this problem?

Well, what is the definition of a series? And what other publishing avenues are there? Does it actually have to be a series of novels?

The Lord of the Rings is a single long novel broken up into three volumes. Does that count as a series? Could I write a single long novel that could, should a traditional publisher choose, be split into a duology or trilogy? That is one solution.

Another solution could be some form of hybrid publishing. I could write a true serial, publish installments online and look into having volumes traditionally published. Sort of like how Monkey Brain Comics is approaching their publishing model. (At least the last time I checked).

But do the works really need to be solely prose novels? Why not experiment? Why not have The Goetic High be a Lord of the Rings length super novel, Two Cities be a closet television series, Hobbes County be a “novel” in short stories, whatever the hell Tyler Spang eventually stars in as a comic book series, etc? (Please don’t steal my title names. Or Tyler Spang. And if I do write a comic book series, please remind me not to attempt the art, too.)

To be honest, if I were to write a series the size of A Song of Ice and Fire or The Wheel of Time, I would probably prefer them to be in a form other than strictly prose novels. Personally, I find such large series to become, at some point or another, bloated for the sake of being bloated. 

I’ve blathered on about serials and I haven’t even touched on history, yet. Time to rectify that. 

If a critic has not yet written a book on history and fantasy, then someone should. The relationship of history as influence and setting to fantasy is a rich and complex one that would bear, and benefit from, a professional and scholarly critical eye.

Anyway, I’ve always been torn when it comes to history’s role in fantasy literature. On one hand, fantasy is generally set in a “historical” setting. On the other hand, most fantasy is not written to portray an “accurate” historical reality. Hell, the historical narrative tells us as much about ourselves as it does about “the past.” 

So, while I recognize the fact that fantasy uses history as a metaphor for the present, it is so hard to not be hung up on the minutiae of the research. Or on being affected by those fans who demand “historical accuracy,” whatever the hell that means. 

In the end, the only answer I can come up with is to try, as hard as possible, to maintain an internal consistency. But leave a little wriggle room to make sure the world of the text doesn’t come off as too artificial. 

So, what have I learned? Don’t be bound to forms. Be willing to write in whatever form feels right. Right to you and to the individual project. And, finally, never let the research, whatever the research is, hijack the narrative. I’m not rewriting the Hundred Years War, after all. 



Posted on January 30, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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