Knowing The Genre in 5 Steps

Knowing The Genre in 5 Steps

By Jessie Desmond

Oct. 21, 2016

       As a Labyrinth fanfiction writer since the late-90s, I have spent a lot of time getting to know the genre of Labyrinth. On technical terms, it’s a fantasy with elements of high fantasy and mythic fiction, despite being squashed into a children’s film. The manner in which Jim Henson created the film, Brian Froud designed the film, and the actors portrayed the characters all makes it an intense and surprisingly deep movie - which is why there is fanfiction out there.

       The following 5 steps are geared towards helping you form a stronger personal understanding of how to manipulate the genre so your stories come out stronger, deeper, and more exciting.

Limit The Magic
       Usually people ask me if I’m crazy when I tell them to limit the magic, but it creates a stronger character dynamic if you limit the characters by setting boundaries. Let’s look at some possibilities with three popular characters from Labyrinth:
       Jareth. Jareth is such a great character, but it’s important to remember that he isn’t a god. He is not omnipotent. He has to have boundaries or else he is too fantastical and becomes bland due to his limitless abilities. With a magical character like Jareth, it’s best to create a list of things he can do. We know that he can transform into an owl and he has magic crystal balls. He has the ability to speak via disembodied voice. He has the power of illusions. The list, of course, goes on. You can limit his power by setting up physical boundaries; perhaps his power is limited to the Labyrinth or something along those lines. You can limit his power to his pendant; which he is always wearing. Since Jareth is magical, perhaps he is still studying magic (a common elements for magical beings) and has yet to, essentially, “level up”.
       Hoggle. Hoggle seems like a non-magic character, but he is quite familiar with the Labyrinth and how to get around. In fact, he seems to be one of the only characters who could safely navigate the Labyrinth without additional help. As a creature in a magic land, he might have some sort of low-level abilities common to his kind. Hoggle is naturally a limited character, but don’t limit him too much. He isn’t an idiot, he’s just lower on the social totem pole.
       The Fieries. The Fieries, from the Fire Gang, live in the Forbidden Forest (as it’s called in written formats like the book and script). From what we can gather, they have an established limit to their abilities. They can use their abilities and be goofy, scary, misleading, fun, and can even act as wandering minstrels.

Everyone Has Issues
       To have better character development, you will want to give each character some sort of personal issue. Everyone, every single person, has some sort of issue or two that they are trying to currently overcome; characters having personal issues makes them more relatable. With that in mind, the more major the role of the character, the more issues they should have (within reason). Let’s take a look at Sarah from the film and list her issues:
  • Punctuality 
  • Respect for Authoritative Figures 
  • General Liking of Her Brother 
  • Taking Things For Granted 
  • Accepting Things at Face Value 
  • Placing Others in Pre-constructed Roles, Regardless of Actuality 
  • Listening to Others 
  • Sexuality 
       There are a handful of other such issues, but these are the major ones. Sarah becomes a dynamic character because people can relate to her. She has these standard teenage issues to overcome, but has to deal with each one in a strange magical world. The high amount of character issues transforms her into a complex character.
       If Sarah didn’t have any of these hang ups, she would come off as being rather flat or one-sided. This is a common problem in fanfiction. Don’t be afraid to allow your characters to have multiple issues! It morphs them into a more tangible creation.
       Does your character have to resolve each issue? No. Look at Sarah. She continually had selective hearing throughout the film and never questioned what anyone was saying, accepting it at face value. These being her unresolved issues (unresolved issues are character flaws), we all still laugh when the worm turns to the camera and says “If she had kept going that way, she would have gone straight to that castle”. Think about the film for a moment and ask yourself: what DID Sarah accomplish? She was punctual about saving her brother, she resolved to be on neutral/good terms with Toby, she attempts to not take things for granted, and she has a little of a sexual awakening. It leaves us asking “What else?” and as a result, we write fanfiction.

Location is Key
       When you write a fanfiction, especially the Jareth/Sarah stories, we are already familiar with the characters. You need to focus on the surroundings. Has the labyrinth changed? Are the characters in a new part of the labyrinth? Perhaps you want to tell us about your vision of the Goblin City. By spending a little time on the surroundings, you will envelope your reader and bring them more into the story.
       Let’s describe the Forbidden Forest real quick. You might opt for a single sentence: 

       The Forbidden Forest was dark and foreboding. 
       Great. You just described most forests with adequate tree coverage. To improve your descriptions use your senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Let’s try this again:

       The Forbidden Forest stretched out like an encroaching dragon. The scaly, glittering trees with ankle-twisting roots jutted upwards menacingly. The bird sounds weren’t the happy-go-lucky songbirds of the park, but the doom-and-gloom sounds of owls, crows, and some bird with a wicked laugh. Sarah stepped over a high root and the warm, moist air hit her like a brick. Was this even still part of the Labyrinth? She felt as if all her hope of reaching Toby was slowly leaving her as she made her way between the heavy tree trunks.

       How is that? It’s a little more intense because it is more descriptive. If you take the time to add in at least one descriptive paragraph for each location your characters move to, your story will really start to take form because you are giving the reader a visual.

Those Other Guys

       A good Labyrinth fanfiction, with the exception of one-shots, will have a multitude of races interacting with each other. In the film, there are 16 truly visible races, plus however many are in the ballroom scene. Did you know that there are 3 golden people in the ballroom scene? They would definitely make race #17. There are also a handful of animals in the film such as crows and vultures. There’s even eye lichen, which is plant-based. I don’t even know how to categorize the helping hands or the false alarms.
       The point is, these little characters make Labyrinth more of an interesting place. Why are they there? Are they natural residents or did they come from a distant land? Where do they live (i.e. the ballroom dancers)?
       Fanfiction with interesting side characters gives a more realistic feel to the story. Look around the place where you live and think about the people and animals around you. People come from all over the place and have varied backgrounds. Inner city animals are very different than rural animals. There are similarities though. You’re always going to have merchants and some sort of military. There is almost always some indication of food; in the film, we saw it being consumed. The types of food in abundance in the area might indicate types of local establishments, such as: brewery or vineyard, orchards, farms, bakery, butcher, dairy farm or creamery, pubs, etc.
       Every once in awhile, throw in some information about the locals. It can help make the main character(s) feel more at home or alienated or anxious or happy. Find inspiration in your everyday life. If you need to, go to a local farmer's market, craft bazaar, downtown area, or restaurant to observe people interacting. You will develop layers to your fanfiction with these little tidbits of otherworldly insight!

Take a Little of This and That
       Don’t feel constrained by the box that is the film. You should welcome ideas to come from all sorts of works. Read the novel Labyrinth by ACH Smith (available as text online) and read the script variations. These resources are directly Labyrinth-related and they will provide you some insight on the characters. There are also the 3-part comic that Marvel produced and the 4-part manga Return To The Labyrinth, which has mixed reviews from fans. There are also a number of books that have been published about the film such as Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History, Jim Henson's Labyrinth Tales, The Goblins of Labyrinth, LABYRINTH The Photo Album, Jim Henson's Labyrinth Artist Tribute, Labyrinth: The Storybook, and The Psychology of Labyrinth: An Unofficial Exploration. I highly recommend visiting the fan site Think Labyrinth! in order to find links to most of these works.
       The goals with reading additional works is to find little nuggets of character insight, inspiration for settings, helpful descriptors and characterization, and just inspiration in general. You can pull from anything really, but the following should be considered since they are considered genre-relevant.
  • Books on mythological creatures. I highly suggest the books by Carol Rose. 
  • The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi 
  • The Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti 
  • The Goblin & The Grocer by Hans Anderson 
  • The Princess and The Goblin by George MacDonald 
  • The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens 
  • The Fairies by William Allingham 
  • Books of fairytales. Most popular authors are Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and Aesop. 
  • Books on polytheistic religions such as Norse mythology, Celtic mythology, Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, Hinduism, etc. 
  • Shakespearean works 
  • Ben Jonson works 
       By thinking outside the box when it comes to Labyrinth fanfiction, you will find a whole new world opening up to you. Get inspired by other works and begin creating a world Labyrinth exists in, rather than writing within the world of Labyrinth. It will create a stronger story and you will be a better writer by doing so.

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