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on portals

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Noodler & doodler
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This thread is reviving an interest I have in writing a so-called portal story in which the theme of the story is tied with the existence of a portal. A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all-time favorites and one of the reasons why I enjoy sci-fi.

However, I also appreciate the more subtle approach to the portal theme--where the lines of time and space, reality and magic are blurred through much of the tale only to sharpen as the story builds to the climax. Tuck Everlasting is an excellent example. I love Natalie Babbitt's pacing and simple, unaffected language in portraying a complex situation. Such a superb writer. I surmise that craftsmanship determines the success of a portal story--any kind of portal story.

~Edna
#31 - April 03, 2007, 10:10 PM
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I found it interesting what Craig wrote about portals. But I think there is a corollary --- the nuanced, complex character in our world, who falls through a portal and becomes not the everyman, but the everyhero -- flawless and superpowered, in a distant land.

I think they're just hard to do well.

Theodore
#32 - April 04, 2007, 02:10 AM

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I think WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier is actually a really interesting "portal story," because the mechanism for the portal is so simple, and because the divide between the two worlds is actually quite subtle and doesn't entirely hold, even outside the portal.  Something about this set up felt really unique to me- and strangely realistic, given the content.
#33 - April 10, 2007, 07:36 AM

I know this is an older thread, but I've only just seen it now. Very interesting. My MG historical fiction novel that is out there making the rounds right now, had a "close call" with a well known publishing firm here in Canada. It was REALLY close, but in the end...no cigar.  The editor that I was dealing with, however, told me after the first read, that as it was a time travel story, I needed a portal. (My MC's mode of time travel had been a bit vague...she literally "ran" into the other world).  She told me that a portal was pretty much a "rule" of time travel, and mentioned Narnia, Harry P., etc.  Please would I rewrite including "a portal".  After reading the posts in this thread, I thought I should share my experience.
#34 - February 20, 2009, 06:40 AM
HANNAH & THE SPINDLE WHORL  (Ronsdale, 2010)
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So basically, I think it's harder to write an original portal story than it is to write, for example, an original fantasy story grounded in the real world,

Please help me here. I'm lost. Okay, my unpublished fantasy story IS grounded in the real world, but the fantasy aspect is that there are people who work (off the grid) with enchanted or magical objects and the central children in my story become acquainted with this "world" (both the good guys who try to restore the magical objects and the bad guys who steal/exploit them). The kids enter this "world" (these secret, off-the-grid places) sort of like Harry Potter enters his secret, magical world by accessing Diagon Alley and Platform 9 3/4 in London. Just like Harry, my kids don't enter these places purely by accidentally stumbling over them; the kids are taken there for a specific reason at a specific time.

Unless you're writing magical realism, I'm not sure how you write a fantasy story basically grounded in the real world WITHOUT using some kind of portal or entry to get to the other fantasy "world".

Carol Anne, thanks for bringing up this thread. I hadn't read it either. I wish you best of luck with your rewrite!  

#35 - February 20, 2009, 09:59 AM
« Last Edit: February 20, 2009, 10:01 AM by hazelnut »

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Carol Anne--ahaha, that's awesome!  Long live the portal.   :broccoli
#36 - March 04, 2009, 07:06 PM

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I SO needed to read this thread. I read every single comment. It was very reassuring. I have a protagonist that goes to another world, and someone from that world takes her place here. Nothing but chaos for everyone involved. I feel charged now, rather than disappointed by all the negativity from the blabbing of the internet.
#37 - June 30, 2009, 08:09 PM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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I SO needed to read this thread. I read every single comment. It was very reassuring. I have a protagonist that goes to another world, and someone from that world takes her place here. Nothing but chaos for everyone involved. I feel charged now, rather than disappointed by all the negativity from the blabbing of the internet.

aimeestates, have you heard of or seen Lost In Austen? It's a British miniseries-type thing where a modern girl switches places with Elizabeth Bennett through a portal in her bathroom––and it causes tons of chaos too. Plus, it's just fun!

Here's the first part of episode 1 (with french subtitles, for...fun):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho9DYsg4kDo&feature=fvw

Just another fun portal story!
#38 - July 01, 2009, 11:23 AM
I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.

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I have to admit, I'm not at all a fan of portals in novels.  I forgive older novels, when the idea was original.  But after reading umpteen novels where there are portals involved, it generally is a sign to put the book down.  Usually, if I ignore that urge, I regret it in the end.

The main purpose of a portal in fantasy is to get a person from the real world into a fantasy world.  Or, alternatively, someone from a fantasy world into the real world.  The set-up alone is cliche. 

Some have mentioned other "kinds" of portals...but I don't think those "portals" are the kinds of portals that are frowned upon.  It is generally the portal between one world and another that is at issue.

Here is the plot of pretty much every portal book: 

1. Person  has some issue at home or in school or something within the real world.
2. Person finds portals and "crosses over" into the real world.
3. Person has a fantastical adventure, wishing for anything to find their way back home.
4. Eventually, after some climactic moment, person finds portal back home.
5. Person is now a different person, which in turn makes them unable to stand up to or put up with whatever it was that made them unhappy in part 1.

#39 - July 02, 2009, 05:11 AM

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This is not meant to be a hostile rebuttal, but if it was that cliche, I wouldn't have gotten requests for pages. I think kids like it. Adults may be tired, I totally agree, but I think children love the escape, struggles they can relate to, and resolution. I think it gives them hope. The world has gotten too confusing and too adult, too much reality blaring in their faces on the tv and the newsstands. Maybe the struggle takes place in an imaginary land where they love to be, but they can apply it to real life in the end.
#40 - July 02, 2009, 02:35 PM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

Blog - http://yarghing.com

I think it depends on the type of reader and writer. A good story is a good story.
If the portal is intriguing, and the  :star2  magic  :star2 feels real, there will be readers who will gladly step through the portal with you.
#41 - July 02, 2009, 04:24 PM

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I have to agree with aimeestates. Portals should not be cast as cliche, but as an immortal fragment of fantasy lore. Like so many others: magic, unicorns, dragons, vampires, etc., it is a quintisential "tool" that adds to a novel's idiosyncratic construct, rather than to its detrement. Afterall, as much as portals are overused, they are almost always distinctive.

I wonder, how else is one supposed to crossover? Even if you try to redesign or rename this element, the function is still the same (therefore, why hate a tool that is tried, true and effective?) This makes me question the bias agents and editors feel toward portals, because the public certainly likes them. Maybe it's because, as Ryan states, they follow a mundane method? Or perhaps it's the fact that instead of being inventive, a writer simply decides to use a portal and all their problems will be solved? Regardless, I think we can agree that it is not the portal itself they despise, but the execution.  


Edited: Why didn't anyone PM me and tell me my spelling was so terrible?! :)

  
#42 - July 02, 2009, 04:27 PM
« Last Edit: July 02, 2009, 05:37 PM by Tyson D. Mc Donald »
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I wonder, how else is one supposed to crossover? Even if you try to redisign or rename this element, the fucntion is still the same (therefore, why hate a tool that is tried, true and effective?)

Brilliant!
#43 - July 02, 2009, 04:32 PM
HANNAH & THE SPINDLE WHORL  (Ronsdale, 2010)
HANNAH & THE SALISH SEA (Ronsdale, 2013)
http://carolanneshaw.com

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I do agree that it would be wonderful to represent two different worlds in one text without a portal, but even moving from a reality town to a fantasy town in the same world represents a portal of sorts. When the conscious audience gets past Dragons and Faeries, and gets to the place that fiery "kittons" and flying magic squirells are the accepted fantasy norm, w'lle have less limitations on what's viable.

WRITE! ( I know, I know, danger)
#44 - July 02, 2009, 04:42 PM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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As an add on, aren't we stuck with epics if we don't have portals?
#45 - July 02, 2009, 04:45 PM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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I do agree with the people who have said it's probably a matter of too many badly-done portals that turn a person off. Maybe it's like the YA fantasy equivalent of rhyme in picture books.

And, of course, adults who have been reading it for decades are going to come to portals with a much more jaded eye than a kid who has never read a portal book before. It IS hot and new when you're only 10 (or 30... :whistle)

The execution is so important. You could argue that boy meets girl is a clicheed plot line. And in some books, it is. But certainly not all. I think in the right hands, portals, rhyme, True Love, etc. can all be fresh and exciting.
#46 - July 02, 2009, 04:46 PM

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That's just it! It's ALL cliches, in the end. So few things are "truly" original. I was trying to answer the questions to make sure I wasn't being foolish.

1. Person  has some issue at home or in school or something within the real world.

Most people do.

2. Person finds portals and "crosses over" into the real world.

Well, that's how they get here.

3. Person has a fantastical adventure, wishing for anything to find their way back home.

Of course it's bizarre, and eventually, yes, home is where the heart is.

4. Eventually, after some climactic moment, person finds portal back home.

Well, what would it be without some serious conflicts?

5. Person is now a different person, which in turn makes them unable to stand up to or put up with whatever it was that made them unhappy in part 1.

Going to another world is going to change you and your views about where you come from, good or bad. Kind of like going to Amsterdam.

~You're dead on with the formula, but I like it. *wink*
#47 - July 02, 2009, 05:02 PM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

Blog - http://yarghing.com

Madjack

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I also believe that this same formula could pretty much apply to any story :)  not just ones with portals. 
#48 - July 02, 2009, 05:08 PM

RyanBruner

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~You're dead on with the formula, but I like it. *wink*

The formula is fine.  But if I "recognize" the formula as I read, it is predictable and, hence, boring.  Use the same formula, but do it in a way that I don't recognize it as being formulaic, and you're fine. 

Incidentally, I'm not against any and all portals in stories.  Point is, too many are simply "formulaic" in nature, rather than done well.  I get particularly annoyed by portals that have just been "sitting there" for ages, but no one has known about it and suddenly someone just "stumbles upon" a portal, seemingly by accident.

However, I read a book that dealt with a portal between worlds that was done quite well.  In it, the main character suspected the existence of such a portal based on some "weird stuff" that had been happening, and then did some research, and uncovered the secret to how the portal worked and THEN went ahead and gave it a try.  It was interesting that way, because as the reader, I was there to see the discovery unfold, and how the main character tackled it. 

What isn't interesting is to see a bunch of characters wandering around and then BAM, they're suddenly in this magical world without warning.

Oh...another portal story that works well is The Neverending Story.  In that story, you don't realize that there even IS a portal for a while, then you start to see how Bastian's own imagination is, in a sense, the portal...or the book in combo with it.  It is a discovery process.
#49 - July 10, 2009, 05:10 AM

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*SQUEAK*

I loved Neverending Story when I was a kid. I've probably watch that movie 50 times over the course of my life.

 :cheerleader
#50 - July 10, 2009, 05:23 AM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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prairiegirl

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The Devil's Arithmetic could be described as a portal story and it won numerous awards.
#51 - April 02, 2010, 09:56 AM

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