David Farland says that all stories need the following beats in varying amounts: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama. Depending on the genre, you might have more suspense or more romance, more humor or more horror.
One that I enjoy and don’t find very often is the sense of wonder.
Dave Farland gives the reason for this.
When you’re a child—between the ages of 0 and 11—you’re in what I will call the “discovery” phase of life, a time when much of the world seems strange and new to you. In some ways, the world seems boundless, because every time that you turn around you learn about some new wonder or some new region of the world that you have never heard about. And so children in that age are predisposed to what I, and a few others, call “wonder literature.”
In wonder literature, the main emotional draw (outside of the essential story itself) is typically that it arouses a sense of wonder. Hence, stories set in fantastic settings are extremely interesting to children. But when you encounter something new—say a new animal—there is more than one possible outcome to the encounter.
1) The encounter can in some way be more satisfying than you had imagined. (In which case a sense of wonder is aroused.)
2) The encounter can twist away from your expectations in a way that is neither wondrous nor terrible. (In which case a laugh is usually evoked.)
3) The encounter can be more painful or traumatizing than you had imagined possible. (In which case terror or horror are aroused.)
Because of this young readers, by virtue of age alone, are biologically predisposed to be drawn to works of wonder (fantasy or science fiction), humor, and horror. Those are the largest draws for them.
Maybe it’s because I have kids in this age range who are really into wonder literature, but I like it, too. I want some wonder mixed into my mystery or romance or fantasy. Something new and unexpected that makes me sit up and go, “What is this? Tell me more!”
One of my favorite things in urban fantasy is when a myth, creature, or historical period is given a new twist. A Minotaur who has become a Buddhist? The conquistadors used black magic to subjugate the Native Americans? The number of people who disappear every year are the same percentage as herd animals eaten by predators? Hitler was a werewolf? TELL ME MORE.
I love this genre because it’s fantasy, mystery, wonder, and drama all in one package. Its also a very glutted genre, full of copycats. Like a copy machine trying to copy a copy of a copy, about all that’s left is the darkest of the lines. Urban fantasy has gotten darker and grittier, the detectives ever more hard boiled, the monsters ever more nonsensically sexy. Lighter strokes, like wonder and humor, have fallen by the wayside. The humor has become darker and meaner.
Yesterday I was clicking through a promotion page of urban fantasy books on sale. They went like this:
A woman/man has fire magic/is half-demon/is a vampire/is a dragon/is some other magical creature. They have just moved to a new city/lost a job/broken up with a partner. Then an assassin finds them/they find a mysterious magical item/they are hired to find something/kill someone. But that mission will damn the main character/empower the villain/doom the world.
Dozens of books. Same plots. Same characters. Maybe the summaries were bad at conveying what made their books unique? But there’s no hint at wonder, or fun, or the other experiences I want from this genre.
When I wrote the Malevolent books, my goal was to invert the expectations of vampire romance novels. I lampshaded the heck out of the tropes, sort of like elbowing a friend and going, “She’ll never figure out he’s a vampire! Eh? Eh?”
As I’m rewriting this new Spacetime book, I’m kind of doing the same thing. Sure, James and Indal are running around Phoenix and hitting clubs. They’re also exploring a mysterious island in a pocket dimension that exists on the other side of a door in James’s apartment. The island keeps spawning new terrain–mountains, forests, monoliths, and so on. There’s a huge silver disc-clock-thing that changes when the island does. The bad guys are very interested in it, but the heroes have no idea what any of it does. The island and its secrets will drive the whole series.
This concept intrigues me. It fires up my sense of wonder. I want to know what will appear on the island next, what new wonders or dangers the heroes will encounter. Sure, there’s the usual urban fantasy trappings–werewolves, demon satyrs, vampire elves, protagonists who kid around and make jokes. The whole package all together is like candy to my brain.
I’m going to send the first chapter to my newsletter subscribers on Friday. If you’d like a sneak peek, sign up! I’m trying to ramp up my newsletter, turn it into a fun thing to read. I’ll include pretty art and progress reports on how writing is going, as well as exclusive sneak peeks.
You guys can also help me pick a title, since I have no idea what to call this book. The working title is Island of Elements, but that’s more of a series title than an individual book.
How about you? What flavors do you prefer in your books: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama?