Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Romance versus Fantasy

Harping back to the Bujold GoH speech at Denvention , she made some really interesting comments about romance readers versus fantasy readers, and how she could tell from their remarks re stories they had read (the same stories), which side of the fence they were coming from.

Below: some of her insightful comments, in no particular order - do read the whole speech! Remember, she uses SF to mean both fantasy and science fiction:

The SF crowd seemed tone-deaf to the emotional developments so important to the Romance crowd, and the Romance readers in turn seemed to be blind to the world-building concerns of the SF readers. ...

For any plot to stay central, nothing else in the book can be allowed to be more important. So romance books carefully control the scope of any attending plot, so as not to overshadow its central concern, that of building a relationship between the key couple...

In fact, if romances are fantasies of love...I would now describe much SF as fantasies of political agency...

Romance and SF -- would seem to be arm-wrestling about the relative importance of the personal and the political.

She then goes on to say that literature is an escape from the chores of life, and "book heroes don't usually spend a lot of time doing chores. Not on the page, at least."

And she noted with some bemusement that her books "with upper-class casts of characters sell better than my books with middle-class protagonists."

So that set me thinking about two separate issues:
Firstly, do I think that the central backbone of fantasy (let's not include science fiction for a moment) is usually political agency? (I don't think anyone would argue that the relationship of the two key characters is the backbone of any romance).

And secondly, does the need for escapism for a fantasy reader also lead them into loving stories of the upper-class better than others - perhaps because there is less of an element of mundane things - like chores - in such tales?

So my question to you is this:
  • do you think the politics and political system of most fantasies is the all important backbone of the story which must take precedence?
  • do you prefer stories about rulers and/or the rich and influential, to stories of the more mundane folk? Do we only like the goatherder because he ends up being the long lost prince?

5 comments:

Satima Flavell said...

*Do you think the politics and political system of most fantasies is the all important backbone of the story which must take precedence?

In trilogies and series, yes. IMO, they work best with an overarching politicallly oriented plot. Within the individual books of a trilogy or series, however, I think the relationships among the characters are just as important as the overarching plot, if not more so. This is where the Fantasy-Romance crossover comes into its own.

*Do you prefer stories about rulers and/or the rich and influential, to stories of the more mundane folk? Do we only like the goatherder because he ends up being the long lost prince?

Yes, because there is more scope for fantasy. Working people of all historical eras have more in common with each other in regard to attitudes and mores, I think, than they have with the upper classes of their own eras. If I wanted kitchen sink drama, I would watch reruns of Coronation St:-)

And, of course, poor boy makes good, big time, is the biggest fantasy of all.

Jo said...

Or Cinderella stories Satima.

The political side is something I have never really thought about, its something which would concern an author more than a reader I think. However, if books concern battles between peoples, then politics must be there too, right?

I like romance but not just for its own sake - a good story which includes romance is great. But if romance doesn't happen, it is still a good story.

As for the characters, who wants to read about mundane people. I want wizards and elves, dragons and magic. Magic definitely, and people with magic naturally seem to drift to the upper echelons of society.

Nicole R Murphy said...

I find that my science fiction is pretty much always politically based - a commentary on what I'm currently perceiving as a problem and what needs to be done about it. And actually, now that I think about it, I have purposely put some political thought into my fantasy - the fantasy epic which I dropped was going to be about land rites and equal opportunity, at it's base.

Thinking about what I've read lately, again there has been a political bent to it. But I wonder if that's more about the time (look at the world we've lived in for the past few years) and the fact that generally, authors are well-read and intelligent people who are thinkers about the world around them rather than that's what SF does.

As for stories versus rich and poor, you know, you're pretty right. Even in cases where the main character isn't rich (such as your Havenstar, for example), there's still an element of power or knowledge that takes them beyond the everyday person. They might not be rich in money or position, but they're rich in consequence and importance and don't we all want to feel like that?

Thanks for writing about the speech. Since I'm working on a fantasy-romance series, I've found this intensely interesting.

gynie said...

*Do you think the politics and political system of most fantasies is the all important backbone of the story which must take precedence?

Politicals systems yes, i like to read about it in a fantasy/Sf book. Writing has always something to do with a social and political aim, or so do i think. Precedence, i'm not sure, but some important place yes. All the sf/fantasy fan around my friendship ring are very fond of political system in such books.

*Do you prefer stories about rulers and/or the rich and influential, to stories of the more mundane folk? Do we only like the goatherder because he ends up being the long lost prince?

no, i like stories that makes me learn new things.


*Do you like glenda Larke's books ?

YES !!!

Glenda Larke said...

That's a good point, Satima, about a possible difference between trilogies and a stand alone.
And we know all about the scullery maids, eh?

Jo - I think you have put your finger on another thing too - readers read for enjoyment and don't analyse the way authors do!!

I think you're right, Nicole. People who have the ability (wealth/power/whatever) to effect change make a better story for a fantasy.
We don't write small scale...

And Gynie wants sensawunda ... (do you know that word, Gynie? It's a combination of "sense of wonder" mentioned a lot in the SF/F world - i.e. an appreciation of the new)