It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.-Mark Twain
I’ve seen this quote being shared by a lot of my friends lately, and every time I see it, it reminds me of a conversation I keep having with my husband. Both of us are particularly creative individuals, but our creativity goes in different directions. Whereas my primary goal with my writing is to be an accomplished author with many books, his goal is to write and illustrate comics.
Mark Twain’s view on truth versus fiction is something that comes up between us now and then. We go back and forth for a bit, until we finally settle on the idea that we just don’t understand the other’s viewpoint. See, we both like fantasy fiction, but we have very different ways of approaching it. Good comparisons can be found in main characters of stories we’ve both been writing, so those are the characters I’ll explain with.
His character has wings. Pretty standard fare in comics and fantasy, but this has ended up being a major stall in why he hasn’t begun drawing his comic. His problem lies in that his character is also a general, and armor and clothing don’t always mesh well with wings. No problem, he’s already established that her race can hide their wings at will. In my opinion, that should be enough to get started. But instead, the how and the why of it is all he can think about.
Because he refuses to go the Warren Worthington route and just have the wings conveniently vanish whenever the character dons a trench coat, cape, or other coverage, he’s instead spent the past few years trying to determine just how the species is able to hide their wings. Folding them up close because of extra joints in the wing structure? No, too bulky. And besides, the long primary feathers could end up being bent or broken. Do they retract into the body? No, that couldn’t work! There’s too much length in the wing bones, they just wouldn’t fit. And how do they move those wings, anyway? They already have arms, so they’d need a second set of pectoral muscles to control their wings. Then their wingspan would have to be increased, to account for the extra weight of the new muscles…
He puzzles over this, sometimes for quite a long time. And whenever he asks my opinion, he always gets the same response from me. How do they do it? Magic!
Now look at the issues my character has. The people around him never age, why is that? Magic! He’s a weird looking lizard creature. How is that supposed to be explained? Magic! Is it as simple as that? Well, when your story involves wizards or mages, sometimes, it is.
Magic has always been a fallback in fantasy fiction. It’s that extra something that makes the unbelievable into something believable, by adding that one extra element that isn’t defined by science. Magic doesn’t exist in our real world, except maybe as parlor tricks and phone psychics, who I’m pretty sure are just Googling your name when you call anyway. This means that without the rules of science to bind it, magic is the perfect something to add sense to something that otherwise couldn’t be explained.
It’s a fantastic element added into some of the most incredible stories. The Lord of the Rings has Gandalf, The Wheel of Time has the Aes Sedai, and most things ever written by authors like Mercedes Lackey, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R.A. Salvatore include a fallback onto the mystical, unexplainable force that is magic in fiction.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Even when creating your own worlds for fantasy fiction, you can’t abandon things like physics. Even if you tried, it would be so completely off the wall that it would be nigh impossible to explain it properly in your story. The human mind sort of operates on the idea that even in parallel worlds, there’s some things that will always exist. Light, for example. Elements like water, fire, earth. Liquids and solids. These things cannot be avoided, and are all written the same way. But magic is something the writer defines. How it can be tapped, who can use it, what its limits are, if any. For that reason, magic will likely always be a staple of the fantasy author’s work.
Will my husband ever figure out the science for his character having wings?
I don’t know, but at some point, I think he may just come out and say magic.