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Magic v Plot - Does Magic Render Plot Irrelevant?
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:00 pm    Post subject: Magic v Plot - Does Magic Render Plot Irrelevant? Reply with quote

[This thread is for luci! Laughing]

We got about halfway through a discussion at the E'fest about the tension between Magic and Plot in fantasy. I have been developing a theory that Magic is feminine and Plot is masculine, and that excessive magic essentially renders Plot irrelevant (emasculates it, you might say! *ouch*). While I am not a fan of excessive Magic in fantasy stories, my theory is meant to be more descriptive than a negative judgement.

Hopefully luci will weigh in with her usual vim and we'll get to finish our scintillating discussion, but everyone is welcome to join in and make it even more dazzling! Big Grin

u.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2014 11:18 pm    Post subject: Re: Magic v Plot - Does Magic Render Plot Irrelevant? Reply with quote

ussusimiel wrote:
[This thread is for luci! Laughing]

We got about halfway through a discussion at the E'fest about the tension between Magic and Plot in fantasy. I have been developing a theory that Magic is feminine and Plot is masculine, and that excessive magic essentially renders Plot irrelevant (emasculates it, you might say! *ouch*). While I am not a fan of excessive Magic in fantasy stories, my theory is meant to be more descriptive than a negative judgement.

Hopefully luci will weigh in with her usual vim and we'll get to finish our scintillating discussion, but everyone is welcome to join in and make it even more dazzling! Big Grin

u.


I need a lot more basis than that? I don't see any reason why the one would be masculine, the other feminine at all?
Would that mean that Science is feminine, and Plot is masculine, and too much Science emasculates SF, and makes Plot irrelevant?
[[don't try and wiggle out of it by saying science is real...or by saying most scientists are men...]]
But those are just "huh?"s? Meaning: is there a special, specific, conflict/integration of story elements involving magic/plot that is different than that conflict with plot in OTHER genres?
[[other than the additional author-burden of creating a magical system/basis that holds itself together]].

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 1:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

...so Magic is from Venus and Plot is from Mars....

...no, wait...that would be sci-fi...

Confused
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 1:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

LOL Good Post LOL
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 1:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What were the examples? Certainly there is a fair amount of 'fluff' fantasy out there, but I think most good authors can use magic to add depth to their plots.

I did actually think of an example just now, but I'm curious as to what works were featured in the original discussion.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

All elements within the story should serve or support the plot. If it instead undermines it, that's a fault on the part of the writer. There's nothing fundamentally undermining about the concept of magic in a story - it's all about the execution.

That masculine/feminine bit doesn't sound right to me. Seems like a bit of a gender essentialist approach, which I'll always disagree with.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

(Remember this is a theory-in-progress and I am still working it out as we go along.)

My main point is more Magic v Plot rather than the gendered nature of each. (I am more than willing to admit that my dislike of a certain type of storytelling is due to my shortcomings rather than any sort of measure of quality.)

I'll give a couple of examples of both types:

Stories within which I think magic overshadows plot
:

    - Sabriel by Garth Nix has magic in it from the word go -where ringing a certain kind of bell can solve lots of problems

    - Harry Potter - where a Latinate phrase can solve lots of problems

    - the LC's use of magic to transport people through space and time etc.


Stories where I think plot overshadows magic:

    - LOTR - where the Ring is something that must be resisted

    - The 1st and 2nd Chrons - where wild magic has to be constrained

    - Song of Ice and Fire - where there's a low level of magic in the first book. (I admit that I still don't really like the books, but the TV series is great! Laughing )

I suppose my main aim is to get some sort of understanding (for my own satisfaction) why certain books instantly rub me up the wrong way, and also why series often lose my interest as plot and characterisation become more and more submerged in magical events and action.

u.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Personally, I think magic should be treated as any other skill or weapon. It's something that people can do. In that sense, as long as the author is fair with their definition of magic then it should never overshadow plot.

I think plot drives the definition of magic, not the other way around, if the story is good. Good story trumps cool magic.

I'm not saying this very well Big Grin
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Magic creates new possibilities. Unusual and heretofore unexplored plots can be created. Like, how do you rescue the firesinger from the magic realm inside the crystal ball when you've been transformed into a cat and can't cast a spell on your realmstone?

But I think the problem is that Magic makes for easy answers. The "Why doesn't he just zap his whole problem away?" question.

This is why good stories about magic have limits on magic. Magic gets you into the mess but can't get you out.

There's also the "how the heck could I have seen that coming?" question. The reader doesn't know how the breadth and depth of magical possibilities - the author can pull anything out of his hat.

So good stories about magic have to give readers a chance to see the resolution coming. Not that you really want them to figure it out. But you want them to think, "I could have figured it out".
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Perhaps it is the often used form of Deus Ex Machina that you dislike.

Well formed stories use the tools well. I have seen a set of books where only middling writing is there, but the use, the ideas/process, and creative process of solving the riddles and finding a reality are so well plotted that the discovery, usage and rules of what it can/can't do has left me enraptured in two trios set in the same world. A third trilogy on the mother of a character left me cold and didn't care for it.

For me, it is the execution of the plot (and the tool: magical talents) that allow me to love the books, even though the author has trouble writing for male characters (the trio following the women is brilliantly done!).

For what it is worth.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 3:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Right, Doc. I was thinking along the lines of deus ex machina, too. Some authors use magic as an easy solution.

I can better accept it in the Harry Potter books, as the main characters are supposed to be learning magic -- and Harry doesn't know diddly about how it works, for the most part. I can't personally fault Rowling for setting up her world the way she did, but I can see how others might object.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 4:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

aliantha wrote:
Right, Doc. I was thinking along the lines of deus ex machina, too. Some authors use magic as an easy solution.


That's true. But when they do so, isn't that not because magic is the problem, but that the plot/story has a problem?


There are a multitude of reasons and good uses for magic. [many of them involve big ideas...the nature or reality, or morality, or philosophy, or people [whether human or not].

When it annoys me is an artifact of bad writing, bad imagination, not magic. When it's all about running around finding the coolest spell, the most powerful talisman, whatever...just like SF, when it's all about, basically, listing the nifty tech-toys the char's find to mess with each other.
Or, in a mystery thing, when the detective has some un-hinted at knowledge or capacity or intuition.
The Magic has to make sense, matter to the story, and we have to have hints/suggestions and understanding of it. Doesn't matter if it's rare/special/difficult or as common as dirt. [I think making rare/special is often just a sign of limits to the author's desire or ability to make a really, really, different kind of world.]

The hardest part of dealing with Magic is [and maybe this is part of what u.'s problem is? Maybe someones already said this?] is that it can't be simple "magical." It has to be integral.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 4:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vraith wrote:
aliantha wrote:
Right, Doc. I was thinking along the lines of deus ex machina, too. Some authors use magic as an easy solution.


That's true. But when they do so, isn't that not because magic is the problem, but that the plot/story has a problem?

YES. And I meant to say that.

Or, as you say, the magic is the gee-whiz reason for the story to exist at all -- just like sci-fi stories that hang a half-baked plot on a bunch of tech, and expect the tech to carry the thing.

Vraith wrote:
The hardest part of dealing with Magic is [and maybe this is part of what u.'s problem is? Maybe someones already said this?] is that it can't be simple "magical." It has to be integral.

This, as well. Cool
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

DoctorGamgee wrote:
Perhaps it is the often used form of Deus Ex Machina that you dislike.

Well formed stories use the tools well. I have seen a set of books where only middling writing is there, but the use, the ideas/process, and creative process of solving the riddles and finding a reality are so well plotted that the discovery, usage and rules of what it can/can't do has left me enraptured in two trios set in the same world. A third trilogy on the mother of a character left me cold and didn't care for it.

For me, it is the execution of the plot (and the tool: magical talents) that allow me to love the books, even though the author has trouble writing for male characters (the trio following the women is brilliantly done!).

Thanks, Doc, that sums up a part of my thinking very well, a well-executed plot using magic as a significant part of that execution. BTW, what are the books you're talking about, you're doing a good job at selling them! Laughing

Vraith wrote:
The hardest part of dealing with Magic is [and maybe this is part of what u.'s problem is? Maybe someones already said this?] is that it can't be simple "magical." It has to be integral.

This probably catches much of my interest in the issue. This premise captures the assumption that plot is primary:
Quote:
Magic has to be integral to the plot.

It's here that my sociological training (via feminist studies) kicks in; is my assumption that plot must be primary valid, or is it something that I should question? (Again it arises because some of these books are phenomenally popular.)*

My experience with the fantasy that I dislike is that the plot is rendered secondary to the magic, and the primacy of the magic means that it is unnecessary for it to integrate with the plot. An analagous genre to this is vampire fiction (did I say that I dislike those intensely too! Twisted Evil ).**

I find fantasy where Magic is primary suffers from much the same monotony and weakness of the vampire thing.

u.

* As I was writing this post I realised that some of my problem may be mostly with fiction aimed at teen and young adults: Sabriel, Harry Potter and Vampire fiction are all fall intot his category.

** I cannot abide vampire novels because the fact of a person being a vampire trumps all else. In the case of vampire novels plot doesn't matter to me because they are not about human beings. And if vampirism represents repressed sexuality, repressed animality, repressed what*#@*ingever I am unutterably bored the microsecond I work that out. A few are okay e.g Bram Stoker, Stephen King and early Anne Rice. But a genre?! (I'm beginning to feel like a grumpy old man, maybe it is a gender thing after all Big Grin )

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ussusimiel wrote:
DoctorGamgee wrote:
Perhaps it is the often used form of Deus Ex Machina that you dislike.

Well formed stories use the tools well. I have seen a set of books where only middling writing is there, but the use, the ideas/process, and creative process of solving the riddles and finding a reality are so well plotted that the discovery, usage and rules of what it can/can't do has left me enraptured in two trios set in the same world. A third trilogy on the mother of a character left me cold and didn't care for it.

For me, it is the execution of the plot (and the tool: magical talents) that allow me to love the books, even though the author has trouble writing for male characters (the trio following the women is brilliantly done!).

Thanks, Doc, that sums up a part of my thinking very well, a well-executed plot using magic as a significant part of that execution. BTW, what are the books you're talking about, you're doing a good job at selling them! Laughing

Vraith wrote:
The hardest part of dealing with Magic is [and maybe this is part of what u.'s problem is? Maybe someones already said this?] is that it can't be simple "magical." It has to be integral.

This probably catches much of my interest in the issue. This premise captures the assumption that plot is primary:
Quote:
Magic has to be integral to the plot.

It's here that my sociological training (via feminist studies) kicks in; is my assumption that plot must be primary valid, or is it something that I should question? (Again it arises because some of these books are phenomenally popular.)*

My experience with the fantasy that I dislike is that the plot is rendered secondary to the magic, and the primacy of the magic means that it is unnecessary for it to integrate with the plot. An analagous genre to this is vampire fiction (did I say that I dislike those intensely too! Twisted Evil ).**

I find fantasy where Magic is primary suffers from much the same monotony and weakness of the vampire thing.

u.

* As I was writing this post I realised that some of my problem may be mostly with fiction aimed at teen and young adults: Sabriel, Harry Potter and Vampire fiction are all fall intot his category.

** I cannot abide vampire novels because the fact of a person being a vampire trumps all else. In the case of vampire novels plot doesn't matter to me because they are not about human beings. And if vampirism represents repressed sexuality, repressed animality, repressed what*#@*ingever I am unutterably bored the microsecond I work that out. A few are okay e.g Bram Stoker, Stephen King and early Anne Rice. But a genre?! (I'm beginning to feel like a grumpy old man, maybe it is a gender thing after all Big Grin )
I'm not sure if this is the reason you don't like vampire lit, but the reason I get angry at a lot of the newer books in that style is that they aren't actually about a "vampire story" at all. It's all about a character who is a super-badass but the twist is that this one is vampiric. And his buddy has monthly hair growth issues. and another is fae. Guh. So tired of those.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 8:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wildling, I think "twee" is the word you're looking for to describe those books. Laughing
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 8:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

u.--the books I was referencing were written by Sheri S. Tepper. The first series was a trilogy called "The True Game" (King's Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, and Wizard's Eleven). The last trilogy (and best in the set) was made up of Jinian Footseer, Dervish Daughter, and Jinian Star Eye. The middle set (The Song, Flight, and Search of Mavin Manyshaped--respectively) deals with the mother, and somehow, have never really caught my interest. But the first and the last trilogy can be read without the middle one (it is a separate story and self-contained, much like The Silmarillion is to Lord of the Rings, only less so...).

The story is creative, and the concept of the world in which it falls is utterly intriguing and thought provoking. Her writing improved from the first book to the last, and the overall ending is one I like. But it ain't Chaucer....

Doc
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 9:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Doc. I'll check those out. I've seen Wizard's Eleven on the shelves but I don't know if I've ever seen the others.


aliantha wrote:
Wildling, I think "twee" is the word you're looking for to describe those books. Laughing

Or should that be 'hipster'? Laughing

u.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 9:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ussusimiel wrote:
Thanks, Doc. I'll check those out. I've seen Wizard's Eleven on the shelves but I don't know if I've ever seen the others.


aliantha wrote:
Wildling, I think "twee" is the word you're looking for to describe those books. Laughing

Or should that be 'hipster'? Laughing

u.


I had to look on Amazon for the resale of it. They are tricky to find.

Hope you enjoy them.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 11:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ussusimiel wrote:

It's here that my sociological training (via feminist studies) kicks in; is my assumption that plot must be primary valid, or is it something that I should question? (Again it arises because some of these books are phenomenally popular.)*


It is something you should question.
Plot requires only that it not be so broken that the whole thing falls down.
You don't hate those things you *'d because of bad plot.
You hate them because IN ADDITION to every other failure [which would probably make you hate them] the plot is crap.

GREAT plot, of course, requires more than just not being that broken.
The main thing being great TIMING. [[all the other ones are not purely plottish]]
[[I didn't say great originality/creativity because whoever it was who came up with/said the famous "only 5 stories" or 7 or 10, or whatever it was...s/he was kinda/sorta right in regards to the element of plot alone...and not one element further or other.]]

Just for fun, and related to some stuff:
Plot does NOT have a penis...any more than logic is/has a lingam.
Some "schools" still adhere to these ideas...even some feminist schools [for opposite reasons/purposes, of course].
But most have gone beyond that simplistic split.**
I don't know a LOT about Luci...but from a couple essential posts I've seen from, she's beyond that.

Pre-S. I don't know that you hate that stuff for reasons I said. But I'd bet anything it ain't really/primarily plot.


** here I go stealing from u. and sorta footnoting: that references an argument, somewhat valid at various times, among feminists...[whether male or female] NOT about whether women COULD be "logical" even in the strictest "masculine" terms/mode...but whether a feminist EXPRESSING themselves in that style was good/effective showing them the field wasn't exclusive to them, they could easily be beaten by the women they'd been caging in "irrationality"...women could do it too. Or bad/ineffective by indirectly acknowledging that their [masculine-traditional for the most part] terms/methods were the correct territory/view/battleground.

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