Author Topic: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel  (Read 6916 times)

Greg Davidson

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Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« on: August 11, 2019, 10:30:37 PM »
I've been spending my writing time on a novel rather than commenting on politics. 200,000 words (too long I know, maybe it's two novels chopped in the middle). And I have simultaneously been doing research on novel-writing (I know, maybe not the right sequence). One suggestion they had was that if you were writing a genre novel, know the expectations of readers so you could fulfill them. And if you were not writing a genre novel, you still needed to understand genre expectations to know where you would need to guide readers off of the path that they might expect.

Assume my novel is in the fantasy genre, using the background of the biblical book of Genesis from Noah through Jacob fleeing Canaan (an alternate assumption is that it was in the biblical fiction genre, but I am assuming more Ornery people are fantasy readers). I wrote up this blurb in 20 minutes, but if you saw something like this on the back of a 560 page paperback book, what would be your expectations about the novel? Are there any ways this could go that you would find particularly satisfying? Is there anything that if it were excluded you would feel cheated?

Quote
What would you do if almost everyone on earth had been killed, and your father said it was because you were evil? Humanity has a second chance, but after the rainbow blessing, God’s voice goes silent. While Shem’s family dies and his father Noah falls into drunkenness, he lives for centuries, seeking atonement by protecting future generations from the evil that caused the Flood.  As the population explodes and people invent technologies, writing, cities, cults, and war, Shem’s efforts never seem enough. Then, after three hundred and sixty-eight years, word comes from the East that God has spoken again – to a man named Abram.     

Fenring

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2019, 11:41:45 PM »
Hi Greg! Good to hear about the novel seemingly going well.

It's super-tough for me to be sure about my answers to the questions since I've never come across biblical fiction before that doubled as fantasy. I suppose without even referencing the synopsis my first question would be what about places it in the fantasy genre. I would probably have 'two columns' going as I began it, one of which is that the biblical miracles are called fantasy as a way of undermining the validity that such things could ever have happened; and the other of which is that it's just using that setting as a backdrop to tell an original fantasy story. I guess my hope would be for the latter.

But based on the actual description here's my best effort:

I would expect: the writer to have an original take on the classic stories, and being fantasy I would especially expect it to include an accounting of what those people's lives were like who lived in a world where they could take extraordinary things for granted as coming from a higher power. Maybe that's the D&D guy in my talking. I would probably also expect an explanation of why Shem is being blamed for the flood (which to whit I've never heard of before - is this apocryphal or your own creation?).

Things that could satisfy me in the story as presented:
-Getting a glimpse into the psyche of people living through those sorts of events, especially after a near-armageddon.
-The narrative of the shift towards shorter-lived generations and how that affected culture; and also the thoughts of the older generation on that phenomenon.
-I would want to know how Shem and everyone else can say for sure that God went silent until Abram. Like, how did they come to this determination? I don't mean to be pedantic on this point, but the blurb makes it sound like they're on the lookout or something for God's voice, so I wonder what they system is for keeping tabs on it.
-Would be pretty cool to get 'crossover' scenes, like old Noah talking to Abraham or something.
-Would be nice if there was room for a in-depth character story in there, maybe Shem's (is he the protagonist?).

I would feel cheated if:
-No explanation was given for why it's presumed that this was Shem's fault.
-The reasons given for the flood remain vague, and therefore leave us in doubt about why the aftermath had to happen that way; more specifically, that it remain unaddressed.
-Noah doesn't have anything interesting to say for himself.
-No account was given of other 'gods' that apparently spoke to people, such as baal, and how Shem (and others) thought to discern the voice of the true god from the other ones. Although I suppose this point presupposes a monolatry theology in the story (which I guess I would feel cheated if it was absent).
-I would hope there would be an explanation of why God waited until Abram's time to come back.

Hope that helps!

Seriati

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2019, 12:41:48 PM »
Assume my novel is in the fantasy genre, using the background of the biblical book of Genesis from Noah through Jacob fleeing Canaan (an alternate assumption is that it was in the biblical fiction genre, but I am assuming more Ornery people are fantasy readers). I wrote up this blurb in 20 minutes, but if you saw something like this on the back of a 560 page paperback book, what would be your expectations about the novel?

Big fantasy reader and I'd take a hard pass.  If you are using the bible as a backdrop then I'd assume one of two things:  One, you're a Christian author and a major component of the book will be effectively mission outreach.  I tend not to enjoy being preached at and even less when the story suffers to get the correct message.

Or, two, you're an Atheist and the point of the book is to demean the religion its based on.

Neither of those circumstances is greatly appealing to me.  It's hard to imagine, what gloss could be on the back cover that would intrigue me enough to convince me that I'm neither going to be preached at or insulted when an author has deliberately chosen a religiously signficant background for a story.   To put it in movie terms, remember Russell Crow's "Noah"?  It got a lot of people riled (maybe without much justification).

Is your audience Christians?  If so, the license you're taking is going have the story deemed heretical.  Is your audience Atheists?  It might do better, but expect a lot of hostility from offended Christians?  Is the audience fans of historical fiction?  Then the Christian's will still be mad and the non-religious will be scared off by the subject matter.

You may have difficulty finding a publisher.  Christian publishers will want a story that's consistent with doctrine, non-Christian publishers may or may not want to deal with protests.

That said, I think good historical fiction is generally interesting and maybe you can find a way to make it clear that you're not writing a religious book, if that's the case.

D.W.

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2019, 12:50:16 PM »
Sounds like you may be too far along but as far as this genre goes I tend to only be interested in retellings of biblical stories when the setting has been radically altered.  (maybe that's a sub-genre?)

Afraid I don't have constructive advice on this project, for many of the reasons Seriati outlined.  Not my cup o' tea.  Best of luck though!

rightleft22

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2019, 01:46:57 PM »
Quote
What would you do if almost everyone on earth had been killed, and your father said it was because you were evil? Humanity has a second chance, but after the rainbow blessing, God’s voice goes silent. While Shem’s family dies and his father Noah falls into drunkenness, he lives for centuries, seeking atonement by protecting future generations from the evil that caused the Flood.  As the population explodes and people invent technologies, writing, cities, cults, and war, Shem’s efforts never seem enough. Then, after three hundred and sixty-eight years, word comes from the East that God has spoken again – to a man named Abram.     

From that description I would expect the Author's was using the genre to explore the question of "what is the good" and how it relate's to a idea of God as the hero confronts the reliability of his Fathers reality and his own experiences.  I would assume that his search for Abram is a search for his 'Father' reality, with the the hero task of separating the idea of God with the idea of Father in order to find himself. 

Or if God proves to be a alien being that exists outside of creation... I would expect a confrontation with that being and the realization that such a being should not be worship, only feared...

If the genre was pitched as fantasy/philosophical/physiological I'd be interested

Fenring

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2019, 03:35:36 PM »
I agree with Seriati that it should probably be made more clear even on the back cover exactly what the POV of the book is. Is it a book meant to appeal to Jewish people, atheists, Christians, or fantasy fans? Or if it's got overlap, at the very least it should be clarified who the book is not meant for. Like, if it's taking a dig at Jewish theology then maybe it should be made clear that it's not supposed to be a concordant interpretation with the OT. It would be super-annoying to pick up the book because one enjoys bible stories only to find out eventually that it's a book trying to refute the bible; or likewise as Seriati said if its chief aim is to promote thought about the bible as religious text then that's not going to appeal to fantasy fans and they should probably get that disclosure upfront.

Mynnion

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2019, 03:58:35 PM »
WOW- I wish I had the discipline to write but alas..I must rely on others.  As stated above it is really difficult to know how to respond.  My Biblical studies are from a Christian rather than a Jewish perspective and I have never felt comfortable with an omnipotent God that creates something he knows he will have to destroy.  I'm sure if Mr. Ricky Berman still frequented this forum he would have a lot to say.  Some of it might actually be helpful.  If you are interested I do have contact information for him.

scifibum

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2019, 04:00:51 PM »
As an atheist I would tend to think it's one of two things:

1) It is bible fan fiction and I'm meant to understand that I will be getting details the bible left out but the bible is the controlling authority
or
2) It is heresy from a believer's point of view in how it will portray "God"

I think either one is going to severely limit your audience, and #2 could even generate backlash.

For myself, I don't want to read #1. I don't think the mythology of the bible is a particularly good setting for epic fiction, because it's not particularly coherent in the first place.

I wouldn't mind #2 as long it really goes there. I would feel a bit cheated if God remains similar to the God in the bible. I would want to understand God as a character, and some of the rules about what God can and can't do. OR, if POV rules that out, I would want the characters to be questioning and dismantling some of the mystery of what God is or wants or can do.


OSC's book on writing fantasy and science fiction contains some good guidance on how to implement magic, I think. Basically: there have to be rules, and you have to follow them even though you get to invent them, and those rules should seem coherent. One rule that should almost always exist is that magic is costly in some way.

But to be honest, if you're re-imagining the flood and subsequent events, I would rather read a version that doesn't use the same setting, names, and timeline.

Mynnion

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2019, 04:22:22 PM »
I personally would love a scifi/fantasy novel that worked with Dark matter and energy to explain magic and possibly magical creatures.  The ability to "see" and "manipulate" it would allow one to determine the associated rules (physics) and perform Magic.

Greg Davidson

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2019, 09:44:31 PM »
Thank you all for all of your comments.

I find really interesting (but valid) the level of concerns people have with the anticipated narrative perspective, and the potential for conflict. I didn't even think of that as an issue. I have used primarily Jewish sources, but Christian (and Muslim) scripture provide additional detail for the setting, and I have tried not to have anything offensive to any faith (although the plot has to deviate, as it is Ishmael and not Isaac who Abraham takes to Moriah to sacrifice in Islamic scripture). In the book, God exists, but generally at a distance (or later, in telling Abraham some specific things on a few specific instances), but there is no other religion except for practices that the characters invent.  I guess some may find offense by the absence of certain religious elements that they expect, and there's bound to be some people who don't like any retelling of biblical stories, but Anita Diamant with The Red Tent and OSC's Women of Genesis series seemed to dodge huge controversy. I don't think of my narrative as being more provocative, but you never know. The natural implications of repopulating a world from three brothers and their wives, particularly when the commandment of God is to be fruitful and multiply, may be shocking to some, but only in terms of "I don't want to hear about it," not in terms of what had to have happened.

And for the most part I am telling a more modern-perspective story. Unlike the conventional narrative that in the bible, life was pretty much unchanged and God was everywhere, the text suggests the exact opposite. In seven generations the world moves from three couples to seventy nations, with cities, technology, and society evolving rapidly -- but God is mostly a memory from centuries earlier. What would they have thought about, particularly someone like Shem is lives an unnatural life centuries long, seeing all the change.

Anyhow, thanks again for the comments

 



Greg Davidson

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2019, 11:48:00 AM »
I realized I already got a lot of free help from a bunch of you, but I did update my synopsis, so if anyone has any further comments, I would appreciate hearing them.

Quote
Shem was evil. All men were. That’s what his father Noah said. The survivors from the Ark may have a second chance, but after the rainbow blessing, God’s voice goes silent. Noah invents wine and falls into drunkenness, his mothers and brothers die, but Shem lives on as the new generations invent technologies, writing, cities, cults, and war. Through the centuries, Shem seeks atonement by searching for protections from the evils that might forestall annihilation, but his contemplation is interrupted by immediate needs of real people, a man captured by slavers, later a pregnant woman whose child is to be sacrificed. Shem is forced to act.

The voice of God is finally heard centuries later, sending Abram to Canaan. Shem serves Abram in disguise, hoping to learn God’s intent. But God’s words are never clear enough, and Shem must rescue Abram and his family from threats and mistakes. When obedience is not enough, Shem must make choices. But is it rebellion to challenge the will of Noah, Abraham, and even God? Or is that the lesson?

A respectful biblical fantasy in the tradition of The Red Tent, telling the story of Shem whose life spans six centuries from before the Flood until Jacob flees Canaan. A thoughtful speculation on how men and women might have struggled for meaning in a time before modern religion emerged. And a story of Shem’s relationships, with his father and mother, his Great Grandson Eber, with Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Rebekkah, and Jacob, as they might have experienced the remarkable events indicated by the cryptic Genesis text.

Grant

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2019, 11:54:12 AM »
As a minor connoisseur of the fantasy novels, I believe I can throw in some expectations that old school fantasy readers like myself expect and enjoy. 

1.  World Building- World building is the core of all great fantasy.  Create as wide an environment with as much details that the characters speak about as possible.  This increases immersion and fantasy lovers love immersion.  Have maps.  Have names.  The tough part is that you're taking a historical route which means you can't just make it up. 

2.  Travel-  The journey is an old staple but not exactly necessary.  But it means you can use all that world building.  Insert lots of supporting characters. 

3.  Combat- Honestly, for a certain set, the more is the better.  That might not fit into your plot, but fights are major points of action. 

4.  Details- Every great fantasy writer has their fetish.  Pick something and detail the heck out of it.  It attracts readers. 

5.  Moralizing-  Depends on who you are, but old grognards don't like it too thick.  I believe it was Mortimer Adler who said that great works of fiction are great despite any moral or political message, not because of it.  Some in the younger generation disagree with this assertion. 

The great examples in the fantasy genre include Tolkien and Martin.  Their example should light the way.  They both took pains to build detailed worlds that made for rich stories.  They both dealt with good and evil.  They both did not overtly moralize.  They included great pathos. 

Historical fantasy is a bit different.  I would follow the examples of Collen McCoullough and Bernard Cornwell, though they are not perfect. 


Seriati

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2019, 12:32:28 PM »
Quote
Noah invents wine and falls into drunkenness, his mothers and brothers die, but Shem lives on as the new generations invent technologies, writing, cities, cults, and war.

Should you give a hint at the apparent mystery of Shem living on past his normal life?  Is he confused about it, seeing as a punishment?  Is it an internal confusion or belief in his own unworthiness or something more explicit?  Does Noah die as well?

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Through the centuries, Shem seeks atonement by searching for protections from the evils that might forestall annihilation...

Atonement for what?  His internal self hatred, something else?

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The voice of God is finally heard centuries later, sending Abram to Canaan. Shem serves Abram in disguise, hoping to learn God’s intent. But God’s words are never clear enough, and Shem must rescue Abram and his family from threats and mistakes. When obedience is not enough, Shem must make choices. But is it rebellion to challenge the will of Noah, Abraham, and even God? Or is that the lesson?

Is this kind of like the conflict in the movie Constantine?  Where the character can't understand the difference between "good acts" and "good intentions."?

I think the last paragraph goes a long way to reducing any risk of religious based anger or attacks.

Greg Davidson

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2019, 01:45:52 PM »
The long life thing is a challenge for a synopsis. In the ten generations between Noah and Abraham, the length of the long lives of the firstborn sons keeps declining, From 850 years for Noah, to 603 years for Shem, all the way down to less than two hundred for Abraham's father. In contrast, even before the Flood, God declares that the human lifespan shall be limited to 120 years (that's almost the only specifics that Genesis has on those individuals in the Line of Noah). So there is a mystery, and let's just say that may be tied up into the evil before the Flood...

I am struggling a bit in how to summarize Shem's response to these circumstances in just a sentence. If you had lived for almost a century in a society that honored you, and then came to understand it was based in evil, what would you do with the guilt? Your arrogance might be gone, you wouldn't trust your judgement, and so instead you'd look to follow the guidance of someone who knew better. But what if there was no one? The day they were off the Ark, God comes and blesses Noah and his four sons, but even when Shem tries to treat God's words as a guide to life, there's not much there in that blessing to shape a religion. As Shem's more cynical brother puts it forty years later, "Breed, feed (but not if it bleeds), here's a rainbow." Shem looks to Noah for guidance, but as per Genesis Noah becomes addicted to alcohol. And yet after 40 years of women having twins every year, almost all female, there are thousands of people in the world and most of them are children. So what do you do? 

 

Fenring

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Re: Request: Opinions and expectations for a fantasy genre novel
« Reply #14 on: August 23, 2019, 02:12:38 PM »
Greg,

Just as a matter of pure language, I have to say that I don't understand almost anything in this particular section:

Quote
Through the centuries, Shem seeks atonement by searching for protections from the evils that might forestall annihilation, but his contemplation is interrupted by immediate needs of real people, a man captured by slavers, later a pregnant woman whose child is to be sacrificed. Shem is forced to act.

My main issue in the updated synopsis is that I don't understand what the word "evil" means. It's a really big deal, because it's basically the thesis of the piece. My first reaction was "original sin?" but that can't be what you mean, can it? I don't understand from the synopsis even what the nature of the crisis is. What is this annihilation you speak of, or the evil in all men, or the guilt? Guilt over what?

I'm starting to get the sense that a main theme here is the difficulty in following vague moral clues without it being organized into a 'system' of thought, which ended up finding its structure in religion (but which I suppose could, in theory, be contained in some other structure). So is the question to do with what are humans supposed to do with themselves while God is silent and they have no direct edicts to follow? If so, I don't know how this pertains to the all-pervading evil or to anyone's guilt. My understanding of the Noah story is that this was a good family and that the world's big problems had been wiped away. So if you're going to re-introduce (or retcon) that idea into being that Noah's family are all guilty anyhow, or at any rate think they are, this needs some kind of explanation. Like for example:

The flood was supposed to have washed away man's wrongdoing. Except it didn't. Noah may have forced himself to believe that everything was now alright, but his quick turn to drink after the flood showed that the cleansing waters were only a way to forget what cannot be erased - a drunken fantasy. But Shem knows better. The flood bought time, but now the cleansing must begin in earnest. If only he knew how to do it. [insert plug for a new kabbalah book endorsed by Madonna]

This is just an example of how I at least would expect the basic premise to be spelled out. What world is this, what are its rules, what is going on, and which new premise are you introducing that's going to be the basis of your unique version of this story.