Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To alternate or not to alternate?

I’ve just started working on a brand new urban fantasy idea. It’s a great time – there’s all sorts of possibilities and you can be as outlandish as you like, because at the moment there’s no restrictions.

Slowly and surely, as the ideas come together and start to link, the restrictions that make conflict interesting in any new world start to form.

One of those possible restrictions in urban fantasy is the question – do humans know or not?

It’s an important question because it sets up a lot of rules. In my gadda world, I didn’t want humans to know so then I had to work out how do the gadda exist in this world regardless, why don’t humans know, what would happen if they did.

If humans do know, then you need to decide if you’ve got an explanation for this or not. For example, the invention of TrueBlood in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Gothic series, which lead to the vampires outing themselves and living openly.

If you don’t want to have an explanation, then you’re getting into presenting an alternate reality. It looks like our real world. There are humans, and they are living normal human lives. Only, there’s also – well, whatever non-humans you want to have. Like the Harry Potter world, for example.

I’m not entirely sure how to go with my new world. In the past, I’ve always preferred an explanation (not that I didn’t love the Harry Potter books, but that idea of some humans knowing the wizards were real always sat a bit weirdly in my psyche). But it seems that what I’m developing will work better as an alternative reality.

Maybe I should step all the way over, and not set it on Earth as well but create an entirely new world. Only – the few scenes that I’ve got playing over in my head are set in Sydney, and I’m loving them.

There’s a saying in writing – “sometimes you have to kill your babies”. This love I’m feeling for an urban fantasy set in Sydney may be one of the babies I have to kill, in order to make this new world work.

What do you prefer? Humans to know or not know? And if they do know, do you want an explanation or do you just float away in the alternate Earth?


Roxanne Skelly said...

I struggled with this a bit in my WiP. I still am. I've chosen to set my story in a world that doesn't know. And harder still, my protagonist doesn't know until she's introduced to it against her will.

That's been done before, of course. My struggle...keeping my protagonist real.

How do I introduce the supernatural to my protagonist without throwing her in a psychiatric institute (that would be a complete different story)?

It's certainly an interesting problem.

Were I to choose a world where the rules of magic and magical creatures are known, well, my protagonist wouldn't need to come to terms with the strangeness of it all.

Perhaps I'll do that in a future project, but darnit, I gotta finish revising my current one first.

AA Bell said...

Great topic, Nicole!... Personal tastes aside, I think if humans are generally ignorant, it adds a layer of tension, especially if the consequences are lethal.

However during the course of the story, this only works IMHO if there's a payoff for the set-up... e.g. at least two humans who do get to know; e.g. the one who dies and the one who survives and has their life changed. e.g. JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, where humans are slowly and reluctantly brought into the fold as each of the brothers fall in love or forges other aliances.

On the other hand, if humans Do know, then I'm usually hungry for tension on other levels.

:)) Anita

Sullivan McPig said...

I'll read either if the story is interesting enough. And for the sake of the story I'm also willing to take things at face value as long as it seems to make sense.

Amy V said...

That same question reared its ugly head when I began my WIP but then because I decided there needed to be a connection, I created a situation where some Humans know because it's always been that way but if the general population found out it could become a dangerous situation. We see how Humans react to something they don't understand in our every day world so based on that premise - what they don't know won't hurt them but if they find out all hell could break loose. Tension, tension, tension. Allow your baby to grow a little, it might surprise you. : )

Sharon Stogner said...

what AA Bell said . I think I prefer a closed world so you can have that conflict when the two world collide. That being said...the Rachel Morgan series is one of my favs along with the Sookie series.
I need a reason for why the world is closed or open. It makes it more real for me.

Amanda said...

I don't see why you have to follow any "rules" at all. That is the beauty of a fantasy world. In an Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, -whatever you want to call it- world you can do anything. That is one of the main reasons I love to read these books. Readers will jump right in regardless if it is a good story. As a reader I only start to question the world, character flaws, etc if the story is not keeping my attention or lacking in some way. As long as you have amazing characters and a genuinely interesting story the world or location really isn't all that important. Obviously the world or location adds credibility and interest but I think most readers are more concerned with the who and what rather than the where. :)

Jocelynn Drake said...

I love both as long as the world is well developed and detailed. I'm currently working on my first open world following the closed Dark Days series. After all the hiding, it's nice to have a character who doesn't think it's strange to have a trio of drunken satyrs stumble into his shop or to flirt with his elf co-worker while your troll best friend shakes his head. Variety can be fun in its own way.

Helen Lowe said...

Great topic, Nicole! What about having some of the humans in the know, such as in Harry Potter, but also Buffy, but trying to keep it from the rest for some reason---to keep us safe, happy?
Or what about an Alternate Sydney, like China Mieville's Un Lun Dun?

Unknown said...

As a reader, It doesn't really impact on my enjoyment if it is a "alternate" reality or this world with humans being unaware. I personally don't read space books so I know if I read the back blurb and it said another planet..I would quietly put it back on the shelf and go on to the next UF ..that being said I loved that Lara Adrian made her Vampires Alien in origin....I'm fickle:)...but this is just one readers opinion

Sharon Stogner said...

".I would quietly put it back on the shelf and go on to the next U"

heehee, I can see you now, putting it back and giving it a little pat before moving on

Nicole Murphy said...

Thanks everyone - lots of interesting thoughts to consider.

I love discussions of elements of writing and story creation.

Unknown said...

@sharon...I do love my I would probably give it a pat..and hoping someone else would buy it:).

Kristi Lobdell-Golden said...

I can't wait to read Gregori's story! I love him! But who couldn't love a vamp who is hooked on disco and is a "Sharp Dressed Man"???

Vicki Stewart said...

Gregori has been an amazing background character, thus far & I'm excited to start on his book today Good luck, Kerrelyn & I know this book will be an absolute success!