Someone asked me what a portal story is and I found I actually have some thoughts around this beyond just the simple definition:

A portal story is often fantasy. The MC comes through a portal from (generally) our world into another, fantastical world.  Down the rabbit hole, as it were.

ARDACIA AKRACIA, back when it was called Hinterland, was a classic portal story. Sean, as he was called then, was a modern day bounty hunter who chases the trail of his wife's murderer into Hinterland, an archaic, magical world.  In the current version, a thinly veiled portal story, he's a bastard cousin to the king of his home country, Monoea.  He's been accused of the crime and banished to an enemy country called Ardacia Akracia. He's still on the trail of his wife's killer, but it happens slightly differently.

People, by which I mean often beginning writers, and often pantzers, start out writing portal stories. It gives them a foil to learn about their new world as they draft, alongside someone who is very much the same as themselves. I call ARDACIA  AKRACIA, a thinly veiled portal story because while I changed Draken's home country to Monoea rather than Britain as it originally is, Monoea is purposefully much like the US in values, though not technology.

I changed the story for a couple of reasons.

1: portal stories rarely sell. Why? Cuz--and I'm going to sound like a heartless bitch here--they're rarely any good.

2: cuz I had a damned good idea for a sequel and it'd be more effective if Draken were a part of his world rather than a newcomer.

Back to point 1, I always give a little cringe when I hear about a portal story from a newer writer, not the least cuz it hearkens back to my own early days in which I wrote a Harry Potteresque portal story (but very much for adults). But mostly because I want them to grow as writers and I know they still have that growing to do.  It's important not to get caught up in the portal. Um, that was s'posed to be funny, if you missed it.

More accomplished, thoughtful writers write fantasies in which all peoples are different from their readers. Not that there's anything wrong with it if you're trying to make a statement about  your own world (which is part of what I intend to do with the ARDACIA AKRACIA sequel).  But I see more portal stories, even in my slush sometimes, from the inexperienced. Sometimes, and I know this was the case with me, the inexperienced writer just doesn't realize how much thought and detail goes into great fiction.

A lot of current, smart readers are looking for mongo differences in their spec fic. That is, of course, why we read it. So when writing a sweeping fantasy, consider making every character, especially your protag, as different from you and us as possible.


Natasha Fondren said...

If it's going to be sweeping, then I think it has to be set entirely in another universe. That's the only thing that bothered me about the Kushiel series. It was too similar to our world. And yeah, it's sorta, kinda, supposedly set in ancient Earth, but... yeah, that's the one bit that didn't work for me.

I do think the portal is great for younger readers, who really want to believe they can walk into their closet and come out in a magical world. :-)

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Yeah, but it's been done well and to death. Even Gaiman has used the device a few times with great success. But then, he's Gaiman.

I don't mean to say ALL portal stories are awful, btw, or that I hate them. I've just noticed it's a device newer writers use a lot and figured they do it for the same reasons I did.

N. R. Williams said...

Oh dear...I have a portal story that is truly sweeping and I did it because this world bores me and I love em. So, I hope I break the mold at least a little. My new series is set on this planet, but not in this time. Take a look, maybe you will like my vision. I have several post about it.

Todd Bradley said...

I have got to plead with you, just this one time, to change the name of your story. If you were to sell it with that name, it would be misspelled nearly ever time - by reviewers, by stock clerks, by librarians, by readers, etc. And so I'm afraid the name is going to just kill the chances of selling the story. Whenever I read it, my brain just says ARCADIA, and then thinks TYPO, and then thinks FIX THE NAME.

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I wanted it to be Arcadia, but I googled it and it's a real place in Greece. Ditto Acacia. But it's a good point and I'm taking it under advisement.

Problem is, just can't think of another A word to use as a country name.

N. R. Williams said...

How about, Arcachia...or something like it.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I used Akracia because its ancient Greek translation fits the story. Now to find an equally cool word for the other country.

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