I recently read a great article about the current trend of gray fantasy, “Is Blackand White Fantasy Dead” by Codey Amprim, published in Mythic Scribes. The information seemed timely since I’m plotting a new standalone magical realism book. My current series, which I’ll complete this fall, is high fantasy with plenty of black and white characters. Shifting to the more literary fantasy subgenre of magical realism gives me more undefined space to explore, and I’m eager to work with that bigger canvas. But there are also more decisions to make that I previously didn’t need to consider. In my new plot, there is no character to assume the black role of the villain, only a negative energy that never takes a physical form. I’m wrestling with the characters, most developing as shades of gray.
My previous works have all had foundations of more clear-cut black and white characters to define the story arcs. The struggle between good and evil gave readers something familiar to cling to when faced with the oddity of new worlds, magic, and frightening creatures. Readers knew that good would ultimately triumph, and the journeys became their reward.
However, including more and more gray characters into the equation lends mystery to the plot, making it less predictable. Gray characters seem more complex, more real and relatable. They can be more explosive and wild, keeping readers turning pages to figure out the characters’ motives. But without black and white characters, readers may have trouble deciding who to root for among a gray cast. They are left looking for one they can understand on a personal level. Unless there are clear plot objectives, gray characters can take the story in meandering zig-zags like a grand soap opera. Readers expect the satisfaction of resolution for their investment of time.
What blend of fantasy characters do you prefer? Mostly black and white? All three types: black, white, and gray? Plenty of mysterious gray characters?