4th Street Fantasy is held in St. Louis Park, just to the west of Minneapolis.
Check out my Overview post for my first impression and the basics of this convention.
Panel #1 – Fantasy About Everyday People
This was an excellent conversation on the use of the everyday people of fantasy stories. Panelists discussed the Western obsession with monarchs, true bloodlines, and the chosen one.
Panelists noted that having an ordinary person as a protagonist can change things up a bit in an interesting way. Instead of falling into the trap of constantly needing to raise the stakes until they become absurdly high and you just have to end the whole mess, your character could have very meaningful but more localized goals. Saving a community, a friendship, a family member who is in trouble, can all be satisfying. In fact, YA tends to go with these options more often than the goal of saving the entire world.
The mindset that magic and fantasy has to include or rely on a monarchy was noted to be toxic and limiting. Audiences need variety, and regular people (who most of us are) need to see how they can fit into the dynamic of making the world better.
Character development is critical in this type of story, and a rich world can help keep the audience engaged until the plot is sufficient to keep them hooked.
Good questions that writers should be considering at the outset or planning phase:
- Why not choose the common person for their point of view character this time?
- What happens to character development and the story arc when the protagonist is a regular person?
- Can a common person go out and have an adventure or save the world and still be common when they come back, or will they morph into the hero?
- Can this be written in a way that’s satisfying to read?
- Is it easier to maintain a character’s ordinaryness in a short story?
I’m personally a huge fan of ordinary people reacting in an extraordinary way in response to a significant event or circumstance. And unlike some of the panelists, I fully believe that the everyday person who goes out and has an adventure can still be an everyday person. Samwise Gamgee went out and saved the world. When he returned to Hobbiton, he stayed on as Frodo’s gardener and caretaker. Being heroic didn’t take away his intrinsic nature.
Dinner at Roti’s Mediterranean
We had dinner at a place nearby that could accommodate a wide range of diets and food intolerances. It was a lot like Naf Naf. If you’ve never heard of either, it’s basically a Chipotle style restaurant with limited items, but assembled in front of you. In this case as a rice bowl or stuffed pita. The falafel was good.
Panel #2 – The Use or Presence of Gods in Fantasy
On this panel it was noted that many gods in fantasy settings aren’t treated with reverence. It was suggested that this may be because so many writers are atheist.
Panelists discussed situations where they felt the gods were more than aesthetic window dressing. Gods can be vast, powerful, and strange (sometimes alien and incomprehensible), who only select characters can interact with. Useful gods are those who explain aspects of the world the characters can’t understand, the ones who provide social order. Interesting gods may be reserved and disquieting.
When fictional gods are more connected to and involved in the world, the author has to work to explain why they don’t get involved and fix problems. It was noted that gods often help fulfill the second stage/act of Campbell’s monomyth.
Questions for writers to consider when including religion in their fantasy:
- Is there value or usefulness in allegory or dressing up real religions in fiction?
- How do you avoid this becoming appropriation?
- Why do we include gods in fantasy worlds? What purpose do goods serve in fantasy?