the fantasy honey trap

I’ve been grooving on the re-write I’ve been working on for the past few days.

It’s been a lot of fun, despite the hard work. It’s a straight-up horror tale, and it’s been interesting to write for a number of reasons: it’s set in the 17th century, it has a strange narrator, and it emulates an older style of storytelling. Oh, and it doesn’t contain a word of dialogue.

The last pass consumed a lot of time because I’ve been strict in my use of language. A chunk of our vocabulary is relatively new. When I was unsure of a word I checked its date of origin, and if it didn’t match my timescale I had to discover an alternative. While this was frustrating at times, it was also a source of joy.

I fucking love English.

It’s so robust, nuanced, and dense with words of varying shades of meanings. This piece reminded me of the incredible range and diversity of words available to a writer in English.

Yet, there is an insidious temptation when writing a story that harkens back to a previous style of writing: tweeness.

Or “ye olde yarn spinning” as I think of it (with a straw clenched betwixt my teeth).

I had been ruminating upon this problem before I began this latest draft, because I had just read over a fantasy story I began (and abandoned) almost a year ago.

Fantasy writing contains a trap that snags the unwary. Almost without noticing your language devolves into a collection of fuzzy metaphors and clichéd situations. There is something about the genre that weakens your reason and makes you write junk that you wouldn’t consider putting on the page in another genre.

Fantasy, more than most genres, seems to be governed by a strong set of tropes that are inculcated in us. Or, perhaps this is a problem unique to me.

My difficultly is to stay within the genre, and write evocative prose that doesn’t stumble down the weed-choked purple paths of nostalgic writing. I like my writing precise. It makes me queasy to see one of my stories mired with cosy details and lame dialogue.

In this horror story I was able to write in a facsimile style of the period, without succumbing to the lure of sappy prose. Well, I think I accomplished this trick. I’ll send the story out and see what the editors make of it.

The story led me to discover a word that I did my damnedest to use, but couldn’t shoehorn in: quacksalver, which is a quack doctor or charlatan. One day…

English rocks.


  • Jeanne

    Of other interest, I wasn’t familiar with the phrase “honey trap” until last night, when it featured in an episode of “Life on Mars” on Swedish television. Funny when things turn up twice so close to each other. I’ve heard the rational, boring explanation for that phenomenon, but I don’t buy it.

  • Ysabeau

    English does rock! I’m sure other languages rock too, but since I don’t know any of them (bloody American education)–I’ll have to take that on faith. And I so agree with your comments regarding the pitfalls of writing fantasy–see Diana Wynne Jones’ “The Tough Guide to Fantasyland” for a book length gripe on the subject. I think all fantasy writers have a problem with those nostalgic tropes–some of them just aren’t aware they do! When you are writing fantasy it’s so easy to fall into genro description–it’s a battle I constantly fight with my own writing. I like to describe from life, and alas that twenty foot long squids and blue butlers are not commonly found in nature…And lastly–your horror story sounds fabulous, and I look forward to seeing it one of these days…!

    • Maura

      Thanks for the encouraging words Ysabeau. Hopefully the story will find a home some day.The “fantasy trap” bothers me. It’s insidious. You think your prose is so much better than that, and lo and behold your writing becomes squishier than a marshmallow in hot chocolate. I’m going to have furrow my brow at the screen the entire time I write another fantasy story, and think: “It’s not fantasy, it’s not fantasy,” to fend off the awful tropes of doom.We’ll see… They say knowing you have a problem is half the battle.

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