1. Saffron
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    Saffron Member

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    'Black & White' vs. 'Grey' Fantasy

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Saffron, Jul 12, 2010.

    Must successful fantasy always tell a story of 'good' conquering 'evil'? I'm tired of picking up new books only to be faced with the same old dark lord vs. shining hero(es).

    In the fantasy series I'm working on, there are two opposing religions, both of which have their good points and bad points. Likewise, the characters that support the old religion and those that support the new religion are not obviously good or bad - there are sympathetic and dodgy characters in both camps. I want the readers to decide which side to root for (if any - maybe they'll prefer to remain detached). But does this have any hope of selling?

    Clearly 'black and white' fantasy sells and can be very popular - just look at Tolkien, Terry Brooks, etc. Do you think 'grey' fantasy can ever be as well-liked? Shamefully I haven't read much GRR Martin (something I'll be rectifying very soon, especially with the HBO adaptation in the pipeline) but I've heard he utilizes this technique to a degree. China MiƩville's books are also very 'grey', I think.

    The thing that worries me is that, ultimately, one side must win and one side must lose. And if the author has given the readers a choice as to who to root for (by excluding dark lords and shining heroes), half (or at least some) of the readership will be unhappy with the ending, because their side didn't win. Problem? Any other thoughts? Sorry for the ramble.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    By all means, blur the lines.

    A lot of fantasy isn't black and white. Often it is black and grey, where deeply evil plana are thwarted by the morally ambiguous (examples, the Conan stories, Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the Drizzt do'Urden stories).

    There is certainly room for more fantasy stories in which there is no clear Great Evil that must be conquered. That is the rut which has largely turned me against most of the fantasy genre.

    EDIT: And you can't get much more morally ambiguous than Stephen R. Donaldson's "hero" in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. His first act in The Land was a violent rape.
     
  3. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    ultimately, one side must win and one side must lose

    Why cant they both win, or both lose? Maybe each side can belive they are the winners at the expsense of the other side.
    If a book splits good and evil into seperate camps I have zero interest in reading it.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There is a lot of grey-area fantasy out there. In fact, I read an article recently talking about the fact that the genre has moved in this direction as opposed to the traditional black-and-white fantasy. For example Cook, Erikson, Abercrombie, Parker, Martin, and many others, as well as shared world stories like in the Warhammer universe.

    So yes, I think "grey" fantasy can do quite well.

    As for readers being unhappy if their side doesn't win....I don't know. I know people who were pretty angry at George R. R. Martin at various times in the series, based on how events unfold or who lives or dies, yet it remains popular.
     
  5. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    Tolkien wasn't only about good and evil, there were plenty of gray characters (besides Gandalf). Take for example Tom Bombadil, who was even considered to keep the ring, but decided against because he would lose track of it. This even suggests that the evil power the ring had would do nothing against Tom.

    Then you've got the treason of Isengard, the king in Minas Tirith, and even little Gollum is so skitzo he's switching from good to evil and back again all the time.

    Gandalf goes from gray to white, but people still call him "The Storm Crow" when he brings the bad news, and Tolkien goes further to suggest that everything he's done has not been solely in the name of good, but maybe just the good of the many. Politically motivated otherwise.

    When you mentioned the two religions in your book, new and old, of course I go back to my labored readings of the bible and it's other books, but I also think of the Dune series, where the Freman try to return to their old ways, but look like silly yuppies since their still suits are no longer functional, they don't live like the old Freman, and they've nearly forgotten Muad'dib. I think it would be interesting if the new religion is compared to the old like this.
     
  6. Nalix
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    Nalix Member

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    I think the main difference between black & white fantasy and the more grayed fantasy is a subtle one. Readers will feel a difference in style and form different expectations for the story. I would say that the more traditional B&W is generally reserved for high fantasy and the gray-scale for the more realistic low fantasy. Both can have great stories, but ultimately create two very different kinds of expectations from readers.

    The first creates the expectation that good will ultimately triumph and generally tries to be as idealistic as possible.

    The second values realism (or at least internal consistency) over ideals.
     
  7. Writing.Geek.
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    Writing.Geek. Member

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    I think that sounds fine.

    In each fantasy book I read I always have to pick sides. Even in romance novels you usually have to pick sides. Who do you want to win? Who do you want to lose? I would write this the way you want it to be, and not think of the readers, because even if they don't get their own way, they'll still like the book, if they truly liked the book for the book. :)
     
  8. PurpleCao
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    I like blurring the lines. I had major troubles of conscience designing my world, it's races, their beliefs. I designed things that were meant to perhaps seem odd or offensive, and myself got offended at those ideas. There shouldn't be any good or bad in a fantasy story because there isn't any good or bad in real life. It's subjective.
    For example, in this current world of ours, there are still people in some countries that believe earthquakes are caused by women being inappropriately dressed.
    In our society, we have a system of belief that this is caused by shifting tectonic plates. Does this make either of us wrong? no. Does it make either of us stupid, misinformed, wrong, bad or virtuous? no. It's a different belief.
    I try to address things like this when I write.
    For example I address that an Elf and an Elve are two different things although closely related in terms of ancestry. One has a religion that respects nature, elements, the planet as an entity. They dress in finery and adorn themselves with precious materials however. The other does not. They have that same religious zeal for respecting the planet, but dress only in 'waste' - fronds from trees, things that have naturally been discarded. In times of war, they forge weapons and at it's end, return those to the earth by breaking them down and burying them. The two are in disagreement and hardly see themselves as the same people, though their blood AND belief comes from a single previous family.
    The only thing that could be taken as 'villainous' in my story are Humans. And that's to make a point about self-percieved superiority.
     
  9. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Grey fantasy was always a favorite of mine. It gives way for new interpretations of the characters' motives and such. But, black and white is okay, when done correctly. As for the "One Side Must Win" thing, that's not completely true. Both sides can lose partially and win partially, like a bittersweet victory. In grey fantasy the one side that loses is usually well, a darker grey than the other side.

    But if both are equal, we have a Team Edward/Team Jacob kind of situation, because neither side is worse or more "evil". During those, I still suggest my previous ending where th losing side still gains something and the winning side loses something.
     
  10. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Every good fantasy story should be a little gray. Villains are often heroes in their own minds, and you should strive to get across what their motivations are. The reader doesn't have to come to like the villain, but if he can sympathize with the villain or at least understand the villain's motives (if I believed X and Y about the world, I could see doing Z and thinking it justified) then you've made your story that much more credible. Wanting to take over the world just because it's there has been worn down to cliche; fantasy writers need to reach for better motivations for their "evil" overlords. Gray is the new black.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think saying there is NO good or bad in real life is stretching it quite a bit.

    As for a fantasy, you can go either way. A fantasy that takes place in an imagined universe operates under its own set of rules. So long as they're internally consistent, you're fine. And those rules could be such that absolute good and evil do exist. Conversely, you could have a shades-of-gray universe. Or anything in between.
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    Grey can work. If you're worried about one side losing...consider that many sports fans enjoy a good match/game, and if the side they're rooting for loses, they may be a bit disappointed, but as long as they don't feel their side was cheated, they come away from the experience with an overall positive feeling.

    It all depends on the execution.

    Good luck moving forward.

    Terry
     

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