Well, I thought that I’d take a very quick look at the fantasy genre again. This is mostly because the novel that I just finished reading (“Kill The Dead” by Tanith Lee) reminded me of another, somewhat overlooked, element of fantasy fiction that gives these stories a lot more emotional depth, humanity and atmosphere.
In short, nothing is mass-produced in traditional-style fantasy stories. This sounds like a really small thing, but it has a huge impact on the atmosphere and tone of fantasy stories.
In essence, everything in the story – from the buildings, to the items, to the musical instruments etc… is a unique thing that has been made by hand by people of varying skill levels. This means that every location seems slightly unique and every object in the story has a greater significance because it has it’s own backstory. After all, it was made by a person rather than churned out by a factory.
This “every object has it’s own backstory” thing can be used in all sorts of creative ways. For example, in Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead”, a bizarre musical instrument (cobbled together from three other instruments) is not only used to explore quite a lot of one character’s backstory, but the instrument’s backstory also means that you actually care about what happens to it. Now try to imagine the same thing for a mass-produced smartphone in a thriller story or something like that. It just isn’t the same.
In addition to this, it also means that many objects in fantasy stories are at least slightly unique. This, again, can be useful for worldbuilding and characterisation. After all, if the objects in your fantasy story are as unique as the people that made them, then they are probably going to tell the reader more about the places where they are created.
Likewise, these handmade objects in fantasy fiction will often be well-used or slightly imperfect in some way or another, which helps to add to the vaguely tragic and thoroughly human atmosphere of the story. It really creates the sense of people living in a harsh medieval-style world where everything matters more and things have to either last longer or be made/repaired by people who might not be experts at a particular trade.
Plus, because objects in fantasy fiction are made to last, this can also give these items a lot of backstory – especially if they have been handed down through the generations or stolen/won in battle from other characters.
In other words, fantasy fiction is one of the few genres where inanimate objects rountinely have characterisation. This adds a lot more atmosphere and depth to a story than you might expect.
Sorry for the ultra-short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂