#GrrrlCon: Kirsty Logan: “A story is what it is.”

grrrlconKirsty Logan, author of The Gracekeepers, joined Grrrl Con to discuss magical realism, and offer some advice looking at “basically everything that’s not 100% realism”.

A few quick take aways:

  • Ground your fantasy in reality
  • Use clichés as a basis for stories
  • A story is as long as it needs to be, don’t force it into a novel

“An idea is like the White Rabbit – follow it and see where it goes.”
Tip number one: ground your fantasy in reality. You want to bring the reader into a world and believe it’s a real thing. You don’t want to have someone say “What’s that?” The more fantastical it is, the more you have to ground it to give readers something to cling to. But how do you ground it?

Two: use specific sensory detail. If you opened your garden shed and found a dragon, think what does it smell like? Burnt wood? What would the scales feel like? Make it real. You don’t need to do a shopping list of details, but pick the most relevant and vivid.

Three: Be emotionally real. “Everything is made up, so the emotion behind it needs to be real,” says Kirsty. This is on a sliding scale with tip number two. Make it feel real enough to connect with.

Four: Follow your imagination. “An idea is like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland,” she explains. “Follow it and see where it goes.” Any issue you’re having, the answer is there in your head. Relax and daydream, stare into space – that’s where all your ideas are.

“A story is what it is.”
Next, Kirsty introduces the story game. Pick six words at random from a dictionary and come up with story ideas with at least three of those words in them. It helps you not take ideas too seriously, and once in a while you’ll get a story worth pursuing.

Next is the turn of phrase / idiom / cliché game. You take sayings or clichés and come up with ideas for stories from them. For the session, these ideas were thrown into a glittery cloud for everyone to use. Sayings like “drown your sorrows” turned into little goblins that you drowned to release your troubles, where “he borrows trouble” turned into an apothecary of troubles in small bottles and jars.

The point was to show how quickly ideas can form, and how good these ideas could be. Within fantasy, there’s loads of choices you can make – has the world always been that way for everyone, or has a character just discovered something about themselves that isn’t true for everyone else? Has it existed through history, or just starting today?

Turning to questions, it’s asked how you turn a short story into a novel: some ideas can only sustain a short story. “A story is what it is,” she explains, “and that’s okay.” Don’t force it into a different shape – if you think it’s strong enough to fill out a full story, bring in more elements – not necessarily fantasy. What happens with food, money, family?

On the topic of research and being factually correct point-by-point, Kirsty notes, very fittingly for the realms of fantasy, “I don’t want to read an instruction manual, I want to read a story.”

More posts from Grrrl Con.

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