Some of my favourite stories when growing up were Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz. I loved how normal, everyday people were able to enter magical lands. It gave me hope that one day I would fall down a rabbit hole too. It made magic attainable.

Anna Day by Philip Hunton

Anna Day by Philip Hunton

Imagine my excitement when I was asked to write my very own contemporary-fantasy crossover: The Fandom, a story about a group of everyday teenagers, catapulted into the fantasy world of their favourite book and movie franchise. But merging two genres proved more challenging than I’d first imagined, and was a steep learning curve for a debut author like myself. So here are my top tips for any budding Lewis Carrolls out there:

Start off in our world

Most contemporary-fantasy crossovers start in the real world, allowing the protagonist to be seen in their natural habitat and establishing them as highly relatable before the drama ensues. And the closer the reader feels to the protagonist, the more heightened their reading experience. I felt that twister lifting through my hair as if I were Dorothy because I’d met Aunt Em and lived on the farm in Kansas.

Don’t give the reader too much at once

When your characters enter the fantasy land, it will probably take a little while for them to realise where they are. Allow the reader to share this slow-burn dawning, or even better, give the reader all the information they need to work it out just ahead of the protagonist. Then they can experience their own ‘aha’ moment.

Help your characters out a bit

Most contemporary-fantasy crossovers introduce a guide at this point. Think Cheshire Cat or Glinda. This helps the protagonist and the reader make sense of new and confusing worlds. In my experience, the best guides are enigmatic, offering only snippets of answers and heightening the intrigue. Imagine if ‘The Oracle’ in The Matrix just told Neo what to do!

Give your characters a mission

Once your protagonist has arrived in the fantasy land, they need a mission, same as any protagonist. This could be to return home, or it could be to change the fantasy land in some way (again, think The Matrix). I always think the best goals are ones which place the protagonist in a no-win situation, intensifying the protagonist’s internal conflict. (I realize this makes me sound like a sadist!) In The Fandom, the protagonist, Violet, must complete the story as it was written in order to return home, which means she must hang on the gallows. Ouch.

Keep it consistent

Remember, your characters won’t suddenly switch personalities or belief systems just because they’ve entered a different land. A shy, timid type won’t become kick-ass overnight. Spend some time getting to know your characters before you put fingers to keyboard same as always, and this will help maintain consistency. That said, with all the potential obstacles, heightened emotions and learning points, your contemporary characters have the opportunity for an immense character arc. Just have them discover their inner knight gradually.

Don’t skimp on the world building

In some ways, it needs to be stronger than if it were a standalone fantasy novel, because your contemporary characters are going to notice every inconsistency. For a masterclass in world building, I recommend The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Focus on the similarities as well as the differences

Once your characters are in the fantasy land, they’ll meet and interact with new and exciting people/aliens/elves etc. … This offers a wealth of interesting relationships and learning points as existing belief systems on both sides can be challenged. That said, in spite of differences, there often remain fundamental similarities which bind all living creatures. I’m talking basic emotional and physical needs. Allowing these similarities to shine through can be powerful and life-affirming for the protagonist.

Try not to get lost in the fantasy world

Refer back to the protagonist’s contemporary roots often. Keep them swearing and humming pop songs and remembering their family and friends back home. Once your protagonist stops being contemporary, the special connection with the reader is broken.

Avoid the Number One Big Cliché

If your character does cross back into the real world at the end of your novel, please don’t make it a dream. My GCSE English teacher will personally kill you if you do this.

Have fun with it!

This is your opportunity to become Alice, Dorothy, Lucy or Neo. This is your chance to create magic.

Anna Day is the debut author of THE FANDOM (£7.99), publishing 18th January 2018 and already sold to 26 countries worldwide. Order your copy on Amazon.