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Saturday, January 22, 2011

PR Special Edition (21): Eilis O'Neal Guest Post!

Poisoned Rationality Special Edition

Welcome to another Poisoned Rationality Special Edition!  Today we have Eilis O'Neal, author of The False Princess with a guest post about creating a fantasy world!  Make sure to also check out my review of The False Princess as well!

Synopsis:  Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia's led a privileged life at court.  But everything changes when it's revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection.  Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she's ever known.

Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks.  But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins - long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control - she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.

Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history, forever.

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One of the things I love about fantasy is that, if you can imagine it, it can be. You want people that have wings and can fly? Great. Magic that lets certain people read the thoughts of other people? Super. A border between Faerie and the regular world that lets magic flow between it? Fantastic. The world you create is your oyster, and the possibilities are limitless.

That's the other thing I love about fantasy: it has to have rules. You can create a world that's as varied and strange as you want, but as soon as you do, you have to also set the boundaries of that world. While the possibilities of what you can create may be limitless, a fantasy world that feels real to the reader is one that has limits within its own framework.

Take, for instance, the idea that certain people can read minds. In a world without limits, that cool bit of fantasy could actually spell doom for your story. Without limits, a mind reader could just ask everyone in town if they'd killed so-and-so, could easily figure out whether the boy she liked was interested in her or not, or could simply stare at the villain and know how to shut off the evil doomsday device. It would be too easy, which would mean that the novel would probably be about twenty pages long and not very captivating.

But with limits, the idea of mind reading can be really interesting, something that can help or hinder your protagonist. As for the limits? Maybe mind reading only works if you really know the person well, or don't know them well at all. Maybe mind readers need to keep eye contact, or physically touch someone to read them. Maybe it takes an immense amount of power to be able to do it properly, or maybe people with strong wills can resist being read. You pick the limits that will serve your story best, that will create challenges and rewards for your characters.

In The False Princess, I focus more on the personal limits of magic than the broader ones (though those exist, too.) For instance, I decided to restrict the teaching of magic in Thorvaldor, so that only those who are noble or very wealthy have easy access to magical learning. So when Sinda, my main character, finds out she has magic, she can't just trot out the door and start learning. Along with throwing up a roadblock for her, it emphasizes her change in circumstance, the difference between how her life was as a princess and how it is as a commoner. Also, I made the act of actually doing magic difficult for Sinda. It's not that she doesn't have enough magic, it's that she has too much. In an effort to keep from accidentally destroying things with her power, she clamps down too hard on it, so that she's sometimes caught in situations where she needs to use her power and finds she can't. One of Sinda's main issues is believing in herself, so it takes some growth in that area to be able to use her magic well.

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Thank you so much Eilis! It was in college that I began to really think about what it must take to create a fantasy world.  I used to be one of those people who thought 'Oh hey since she can control others--why doesn't she make him do that? Why this elaborate plan?'  Now when I think like that I go 'Because without the elaborate plan she wouldn't learn her lesson and still be arrogant'.

To find out more about The False Princess or Eilis's other short fiction, please check out her website!

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