Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fantasy and Animals

Many fantasy worlds are lonely places. There's no critters in sight. There might be ravenous wolves wishing to snack on a poor maiden, or howling creepily in the distance. Other than familiars and horses, that's about it. There's few mentions of ants, leeches, and mosquitoes, and the trouble a poor, wandering princess or naieve farm boy. Sometimes you get the latter two, but for some reason, the former (and most annoying - ants are soulless Lovecraftian entities that draw strange symbols on the ground in their writhing formations) don't get a lot of air time as the evil soul-sucking monsters they are.


I'm a voyeur. I love getting that sense of place. Whether it's feeling the vibe of that rusted out car that reeks of possum pee that the redneck kid sits inside to think in a YA novel, or the black tuber forests buzzing with flies that lay eggs in people's eye lids and corners of their mouths in a Science Fiction novel, or the poignant description of mangy dogs skulking about beside equally mangy kids in the urban squalor of a fantasy novel, most places are best described when there's that sense of life.

Yet so many novels feel empty. They might give air time to the teeming masses of faceless humans but they rarely give a sense of a place that is filled by other creatures. What of bird-poop-covered statues and ant-ridden (Oh God, the ants!) trash or ducks with their strings of ducklings? If animals do pop up, there's often a sense of the cliche. The world is filled with wolves and rabbits and prettily singing birds.

Liana Brooks is doing a bunch of wonderful world building articles and one of her latest focuses on Ecosystems. I'm going to give her article a really good read multiple times so that I can remember in my own novels that a sense of place is best achieved when the place isn't empty of life. Particularly in the wilderness.


  1. A vivid sense of place is so important and I agree many writers forget that when they're constructing their story. And that's unfortunate because it's such an important aspect of storytelling-placing your readers in the scene.

  2. Unfortunately, I've found that this is one area where Fantasy tends to be lacking compared to science fiction or historical fiction. Even crime fiction tends to be more evocative. I'm not sure why this is, for while I'm sure there are fantasy novels that provide a great sense of place, they're not as common as in other genres (or perhaps I'm just luckier with other genres).