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The Fantastical in the Fantasy

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Here I am, with a new idea and almost 2,000 words into a new story and I come to the realization that it’s not really a fantasy story. I’ve always considered fantasy stories as not just stories that happen in other realities or settings, but that also require a fantastical element. It’s not just that there are characters that use magic, or that there are hints or mysticism in the story, but that the fantastical element are crucial to the plot.

Mike Mignola’s take on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from the Dark Horse comic.

Because sword noir stories are founded on the same ideas as hardboiled fiction, many of the plots which I imagine aren’t really fantasy because the fantastical element aren’t crucial to the plot. Sometimes, I can get around this: “A Pound of Dead Flesh” has a magical MacGuffin that also forces the characters to make certain choices, but in the end, it could have been the Maltese Falcon without changing the story too much. It would have lost one element that led to hard choices for the characters, but I could have worked around that. However, the fantastical element of “Farewell, Something Lovely” is absolutely crucial to the way the story plays out. Again, it wouldn’t be impossible to tell the story without it, but it would change a lot of characters’ motivations and arcs.

For this new story, there is no fantastical element as I imagined it. I think this is going to be much more “A Pound of Dead Flesh,” in that I can shape a piece of the story into something fantastical, but it is not going to be intrinsic to the story. I take comfort in considering that there are many Conan stories and even a couple of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales that have the same level of fantasy in them.

What’s a MacGuffin, you ask . . . Wikipedia’s got you covered.