Without further ado, then, here is my guest:
Everyone always talks about the magic in a fantasy novel, how it’s essential, how the book will fall apart without it, etc. And all of that’s true. But sometimes having magic just isn’t enough. Sometimes, no matter how cool the magic sounds, the magic itself isn’t enough. I’m not talking about the fact that you also have to have a decent plot and good characters and all that. Yes, that’s also essential, and your book will fail without those elements as well, what I’m really talking about is that sometimes the magic you’ve created just FAILS. It sounds cool, it might even be cool, sparking the imagination, but it just won’t sustain a novel-length work . . . or sometimes even a short story, no matter how much the plot and characters rock. And of course a fantasy novel that doesn’t depend on the magic isn’t really a fantasy novel at all.
My experienced this in my current series, starting with WELL OF SORROWS and continuing now with the release of LEAVES OF FLAME. In the new book, I introduced a new magical element to the story: a set of Seasonal Trees—massive trees, one for each season, that my main character, Colin, has gifted to each of the three races of my land in order to keep them protected from the dark creatures known of as the sukrael and the Wraiths they have created to aid them. As long as the Trees are kept alive and well, the sukrael and the Wraiths are unable to travel in the lands occupied by the three races. In my head, the Seasonal Trees are freaking cool. Huge, planted in or around major cities, towering over them all, their boughs protecting the cities and the citizens from more than just the weather. The Autumn Trees has leaves of fire, the Winter Tree silver like the moon, the Summer Tree a rich healthy deep green. The vision of these trees fired my imagination and I couldn’t wait to write about them.
But in terms of magic that drives a story, the Trees failed. They might be cool, they might get my blood flowing and my heart pounding thinking about them, and they might be powerful—holding off the forces of evil—but they couldn’t form the basis of a novel. The problem was that they were static: once they were planted and their power came into play, that was it. Obviously the sukrael and the Wraiths want them destroyed so they can wreak havoc, so you have conflict—and the novel LEAVES OF FLAME deals with that conflict—but the Seasonal Trees alone weren’t enough to give the novel any kind of drive. They didn’t generate inherent tension, and they certainly didn’t provide any type of personal character conflict. So the Trees, by themselves, failed to provide impetus for the novel itself.
Thankfully, I wasn’t relying on that as my main magical component in LEAVES OF FLAME. *grin* No, my main magical element in this series is the system of Wells that the characters discover as they explore this new continent and the water within those wells called the Lifeblood. The main plot and conflict in the books derives from the Lifeblood and the powers it gives those who drink it. But the Trees provide a good example of the issue that sometimes just having something magical in a novel isn’t enough to sustain a fantasy.
It isn’t enough for the magic to be cool or awe-inspiring or even powerful. It has to be malleable enough to inspire conflict—both plot-oriented and character-oriented—for an entire novel.
Joshua Palmatier (aka Benjamin Tate) is a fantasy writer with DAW Books, with two series on the shelf, a few short stories, and is co-editor with Patricia Bray of two anthologies. Check out the “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy—The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne—under the Joshua Palmatier name. And look for the “Well” series—Well of Sorrows and the just released Leaves of Flame—by Benjamin Tate. Short stories are included in the anthologies Close Encounters of the Urban Kind (edited by Jennifer Brozek), Beauty Has Her Way (Jennifer Brozek), and River (Alma Alexander). And the two anthologies he’s co-edited are After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and the upcoming The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012). Find out more about both names at www.joshuapalmatier.com and ww.benjamintate.com, as well as on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).