Song of the Week: Entertainment by Phoenix

I believe this song came out last year, as part of Phoenix’s album Bankrupt! 

This August, my friends and I are going to FYF, a music festival in Los Angeles. I’m really excited to see Phoenix there, as well as The Strokes, Haim, and a bunch of other great artists. I’ll be sure to post pictures from it here. :)

Balancing Fantasy and Realism

Because I have written greater amounts of fantasy lately, one thing that I’ve come to realize is the issue with balancing fantasy with realism.

When writing fantasy, or any genre that requires a suspension of disbelief, the narrative often comes in danger of sounding “corny”. I’ve read and watched both excellent examples of fantasy/sci-fi (see my reviews of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and The Night Circus in the Reading category of the blog) as well as some painful books and films. Often what came to be the main issue of the worst examples was how corny and unbelievable they were.

It seems kind of silly to say at first; you’d think having a character such as a fairy or sorcerer in any book would be unbelievable. But one thing that distinguishes an excellent fantasy novel from others is how well the writer pulls you in as you’re reading, even though you know the story could never be possible in real life.

I’ve always thought that reading your work aloud is a great tool in general, but particularly in a case like this. If it sounds absolutely ridiculous, you’d be more likely to detect it than if you were just reading it in your head.

One example of not-so-great fantasy was last year’s movie adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones. The film didn’t miss any of the novel’s plot points and the characters were well-casted, but the problem was how it was executed. Because the lines were corny and melodramatic, my friends and I completely checked out as an audience. Therefore, without the necessary suspension of disbelief, we were not pulled into the story.

The same thing happened to me when I saw Twilight. I’ve heard plenty of awful things about the books, but because I’ve never read them I can’t pass any judgement on them. However, my younger sister finally convinced me one day to sit down and watch the first movie with her. I got through about thirty minutes before I gave up; it had just become too silly for me. It wasn’t the story itself (there have been plenty of stories of vampires throughout history). It was how the story was told. The acting killed it, and I just got bored watching.

There’s a big difference between that and something like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. They both feature worlds and characters that wouldn’t exist in real life, but besides being rich and fantastic stories, they are told in a way that leaves you hanging on each word. They bring the reader in, and brilliantly accomplish suspension of disbelief.

There are many possible elements to a great fantasy story, but I believe suspension of disbelief is one of the major ones. Finding that balance between the realistic and the fantastical is what will keep your reader in your world without stopping to think, “Well, this could never actually happen in the first place.”

Jonathan Strange is perfect and I will love this book forever!

I just got back from a gorgeous vacation in Mexico, and aside from a great deal of adventure and swimming in caves (which comes highly recommended, unless you’re afraid of bats or the dark), I read a door-stopper of a book.

1,006 pages of awesome.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is a beautiful novel set in an alternate (and quite magical) history of early 19th century Britain. In the world Clarke has created, powerful magicians that ruled over England in the Middle Ages have all but disappeared by the time of the Napoleonic Wars. So when two practicing magicians (Strange and Norrell) step forth to help bring England to victory, they become celebrities all over the world. Of course things start to get crazy because Strange has a habit of mixing himself with Black Magic, coming to strong disagreements with Norrell over their views on their craft.

Now before I start recommending this book to everyone, there is one thing a reader should know: if you’re looking for a fast-paced, Harry Potter-style fantasy, this isn’t it. Jonathan Strange is modelled after the same style as 19th century classics, so it definitely takes its time bringing you into its world before it really takes off. For me, this wasn’t an issue because the world of Jonathan Strange is so fascinating; for those looking for a fast, plot-driven novel, this might be too slow.

Since I’ve been writing a lot more fantasy lately, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of world-building. This is something that Clarke has mastered. All of her characters are incredibly unique, and some, such as the Duke of Wellington and King George, are famous historical figures. She does an excellent job of blending facts with fairytales and creates a thorough history of magical scholarship to accompany the plot.

Also, I loved the contrast between the somewhat catty social atmosphere of 19th century London and the mysterious, wild, and often extremely dark world of magic, particularly in the Northern parts of England.

I would say more, but I wouldn’t want to given anything away. If you’re looking for a new fantasy world to live in for a while and you don’t mind the book’s length, then Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is definitely worth a try.

Song of the Week: Lazaretto by Jack White

lazaretto (noun): an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases, especially leprosy or plague.

The word itself was common from about 1650-1850, and is now hardly used.

I’ll be writing an actual review of the album Lazaretto soon, but here’s the title song for you to check out.

I absolutely love the guitar solo. The video itself is kind of strange, but you can’t expect any different from the wonderful Jack White (former lead singer of The White Stripes).