Strange, but not too Strange

In his book ‘How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy‘ SF writer Orson Scott Card states:

One of the primary appeals of all fiction is that it takes the reader into unfamiliar places …

If a tale we’re reading or watching on the screen becomes too familiar, it becomes boring. Yet if it is too unfamiliar, we reject the story as unbelievable or incomprehensible. We demand some strangeness, but not too much.’


Orson Scott Card’s book was one of several I used for guidance when embarking on writing my own fantasy fiction. The above statement therefore became one of many points of reference for me when I engaged with the task of world building.

Whilst my novel ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘ was to be set in a make-believe land plucked out of my imagination, I had decided very early on that the physical landscape would be familiar to my readers.

I considered that an air of familiarity would be comforting to my target age group. It would also serve to increase the level of shock once an otherworldly element burst into the story’s setting.

Just as my young protagonists were to face bewilderment and horror, so too would my readers. It was my intention that the appearance of the totally unexpected into an idyllic and familiar landscape would create a sense of dislocation that would allow those readers to engage more fully with the main characters. This sense of ‘brotherhood’ would then give my readers a stake in the outcome.

The adventure encompasses a range of landscapes, from barren hillsides and dense woodland through swamp, fen and open plain to rustic village and dense and squalid town. In these and more I called on my own familiarity with each setting to create scenes that would be instantly recognisable.

Here are just a few examples:

Here, [Levi] was surrounded by rippling acres of lush, lime-green grassland, the vigorous colour characteristic of spring. All along the slopes, patches of gilded yellow gorse bushes glowed in the setting sun.

The hill sloped more gently on this, the eastern side, falling away into a wooded valley. He scanned eastward, beyond where his lengthening shadow stretched to the edge of the ridge.

Shredded clouds, marbled with shades of pink, extended to the distant horizon. There they met a blue haze. Levi could not tell from this distance whether the haze was mist, cloud or even another mountain range.

Deepdale led them down the slender causeway, flanked by curtains of waving, feather-tipped reeds. The ground, no longer firm, had become a rotting carpet of slick, leathery leaves that sucked at their shoes as they passed. The air was heavy with the sickly-sweet odour of decay, reminding Levi of rotten fruit.

By creating commonplace and instantly identifiable backdrops I hoped to give credibility to the incredible.


Chapter two of ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘ is now available on this site. To access it use the menu or click here.

A downloadable pdf file may be found on the ‘Door to Caellfyon‘ page.


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