Wednesday, June 24, 2009

MG Fantasy, My Pea Plant

I’ve mentioned before that my current project is a MG fantasy book. If you didn’t catch it before, MG means middle grade fantasy. Now, it’s possible to have epic fantasy in MG, but my book isn’t exactly epic fantasy. I would say its high fantasy but not epic. Epic insinuates some sort of journey, some sort of ridiculously long fabulous good against evil battle. That is not my MG book.

I love my MG fantasy book. I think it’s fantastic and has great potential. I believe my MG fantasy book is publishable and would be great. However, in many ways I view writing MG fantasy as an experiment like how I imagine Mendel viewed his pea plants****.

For those of you who don’t know Gregor Mendel is viewed as the “father of modern genetics”. Mendel was studying genetics by studying the variation in plants. He used pea plants because they have such a short life cycle. They quickly grew, reached maturity, and reproduced so that he could start the cycle all over again. He could then see how genetics was affected in over generations in a fairly short amount of time. If he had used dogs, who take at least a year to mature, it would have taken him ages. If he had used humans with their nearly two decade maturity rate, it would have been impossible (and immoral). With his pea plants and their quick life cycle, he could deduce things about genetics that applied to everyone, whether a pea plant or a person.

Though I love my MG fantasy book, it’s sort of my pea plant. MG fantasy usually maxes at around 50,000 words, whereas adult fantasy can be as monstrous as 300,000 words. Granted there is more time to add detail in a 300,000 word book, but it’s hard to practice writing a good plot or to experiment in something so large. I can write 50,000 words in about two months (depending on school). If you say the rate is the same for a 300,000 word book then it would take me at least one year to write such a monstrosity. That doesn’t leave much room for experimentation, and it certainly doesn’t give me the ability to practice by writing a lot of them.

I have written such a monstrosity. I have written a book that is around 400K words. Because of this it’s unpublishable for a first time writer, but man it was great practice. A great two year practice. Not much of a pea plant. No multiple generations happening there.

My MG fantasy book on the other hand, already has one complete sequel. This sequel is in its first revision, the original is in its second revision, and a third book is being written. Because the generation is so short I get practice developing plots, opening a novel, tying up plot threads, and closing a novel. I get to practice developing characters completely but in a short amount of time. If you can develop characters and a plot completely in 50K words imagine how much better I could do it in 100K. Granted, it’s much easier to let the plot drag and get tedious in a longer book, but I still think with all things considered the shorter, 50K book is better practice.

Does this mean my MG fantasy is just a practice book, not worthy to be published, that should be shelved in favor of some other book? By no means. My MG fantasy book is a good idea, something that should be written, because I don’t believe there is anything like it out there. However, writing the MG fantasy has served as practice for when I tackle my first love again one day: epic fantasy.

In epic fantasy you can’t make mistakes. You can’t have inconsistencies. You have to be able to weave a tale that can last not only 200K words, but also several books. Epic fantasy is where the greats of the trade write. I want to be up there someday. I’m not ready yet. I’m not mature enough. It’s hard for me to write epic fantasy that involves so many things that I’ve never come close to experiencing, like true love and complete evil. In MG fantasy I explore themes I know all too well: betrayal, family relationships, manipulation, and education.

Maybe MG and YA fantasy is my destiny (probably MG forever if I never get a handle on this true love thing, since that’s what most YA seems to focus on). Perhaps, like Mendel, I will forever be working with my pea plant, discovering new and fantastic things that change the world. But maybe one day, the world will give me license to work with dogs, and maybe then I can tackle adult epic fantasy.

****This statement totally only applies to me. I am in no way knocking MG or YA fantasy. I have fallen in love with some fantastic epic fantasies in all sections of the book store. I adore Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series. I greatly enjoy all of Tamora Pierce’s books. I frequently haunt the MG and YA sections of the book store looking for great finds, like The Keys to the Kingdom. I love MG and YA books and greatly respect the people who write them for a living.

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