Guest blog: You know what bugs the &^%$ outta me?

Sword & Shield 1

Green Embers and I tend to spend a lot of time chatting about things in literature that bug us. Who better to offer his opinion on the fantasy genre than him, as he reads so much of it? Please welcome him back to my blog so he can have a go at explaining what bothers him about this genre. Hey, remember, I’m just the messenger.

Green Embers’ Fantasy Rants

A world without feeling!

First, I have a rant for calling it the “fantasy” genre. Why does this annoy me? Well take a look at the other typical genres. You have romance, suspense, thriller, mystery, action and drama which all denote some type of emotional state. Then you have fantasy, science fiction and a few others which really denote a fantastical or futuristic setting.

Where’s the Mountain Dew?

If you start out to write a fantasy novel, then in a sense you’ve kind of doomed yourself to failure because in your head, you have stereotyped what you’re going to write. It will probably start out something like this, a poor young boy wishes to become greater than he is and starts out on quest and meets other adventurers in a pub and then goes to fight orcs and the undead. Your standard Dungeons and Dragons adventure, essentially. What I feel fantasy authors should be thinking is: I am going to create a thriller set in fantastical setting, or I am going to create a suspense set in a fantastical setting. We need to get more to the core emotional states and less of my powerful +12 sword will beat that evil monster.

Save the princess, save the world!

This leads me to my next rant; the macro versus the micro. I feel that too often in fantasy novels there is too much focus on save the cheerleader save the world mentality. It’s always something grandiose which can be fun but after a while does start to feel a little old. Going back to incorporating other genres, why not make a small murder mystery in a village that seems insignificant but could lead to a conspiracy of some sort set to over throw the local ruler (more duke than king). It would be interesting to see a CSI crew of magic users. Nothing about saving the world or Universe and nothing about good versus evil (it could be that said ruler is a prick and the land might be better if he were deposed and the hero actually lets the “villain” succeed). We need more critical thinking in our fantasies.

Evil evil everywhere, but no thumbs a pricked!

Tangentially related is good versus evil. This has been a classic staple in fantasy but honestly gets old after a while. Heroes seem too good with maybe some random character flaw to help them seem less like cardboard cutouts. Villains are comic book evil and often are evil… just for evils sake; what is lacking is a relatable motivation. In some sense the logic of villains really don’t make sense… you want to corrupt the land which will kill off life and… why again? You get to rule over a barren land of bones? That sounds… nice… yeah…. You have fun with that, Mr Evil Villain.

If someone asks if you’re a god, you say –YES!-

Speaking of villains, comes the next problem that I see in fantasy. Do not ever make your villain a god or have power equivalent to a god. You will have problems the closer you get to your ending to resolving the overall conflict in a satisfactory way. The most likely solution is a deus ex machina. You will either need to have your hero turn into a god, be granted temporary power of a god or get the assistance of an existing god. It will feel cheap to the reader and be very predictable.

I would like to make a side note in the middle of this to say, these obviously are not rules but my opinions and I think any of these things can be done if handled correctly but too often, it is easy to slip into stereotypes and preconceived notions of originality. Speaking of slipping though, let’s talk about something else.

The slippery slope to success or Child of Prophecy, “The One” and other such things

Often times when reading fantasy novels, I never really feel there is a threat. The hero always somehow manages to luck out of dangerous situations and always happens to fall into exactly where he needs to be to learn the next thing he needs to learn to be successful. The hero always meets the right groups of people and invariably there will be a traitor among them. These stories can actually be quite a bit of fun to read, a good example would be The Belgariad Series by David Eddings. Quite a fun series but never once did I feel that the main character Garian was ever really in trouble (unless it was by Polgara for him misbehaving). Often there is some sort of prophecy used to describe the hero’s path. Of course it will be obscure and nonsensical but will also outline your entire story which could take out possible suspense.

This is so Epically EPICING AWESOME!

Why oh why, must every fantasy book be a series? Why do we not have more one and done fantasy novels? Say what’s need to be said and end it! Often times most fantasy authors that I can tell, don’t really have a strict outline for their series, they just know that it is going to be a series and will give an approximation of say 3 books when they start (why hello there Mr Robert Jordan). Then as they progress they start introducing more side characters, more plot complications and eventually end up with a mess and then spend the rest of the books trying to sort it out and by the time it ends (if they don’t die first) it will be anti-climactic. (I am not opposed to more novels in the same world with the same characters but a different plot; that is okay but plot continuations really start to suck, especially when waiting 3 to 7 years between books).

Abracadabra! Problem gone!

I was speaking with a good friend recently and he brought up a point that bothered him about the Wheel of Time series. Robert Jordan was often introducing new characters who are the most powerful that anyone had seen in ages! This isn’t necessarily a huge problem, but what bothered him was that it was so static, that someone through practice couldn’t be good as someone with talent but didn’t practice. Essentially it should be treated like a skill. I agree with him; we need more Rocky and less James Bond. We want to see our character’s progress and overcome challenges to succeed.
One of the biggest critical complaints against Fantasy is magic. Have a problem, poof just use magic to solve the problem. Magic should have very clear rules and should be as much of problem as it is a help to our heroes. Often times with the way many fantasy authors explain their magic rules, there still are questions in the story where people might ask, “Why didn’t the heroes just do this or that with magic?” My recommendation is have the nearest 12 year old read your story and have him or her constantly question everything (really any teenager would be good; they do think they know everything).

Dragon’s are awesome!

No rant here. I am partial to dragons and always like to see stories with them. Enough said (I have flaws too, okay!?).

Symbolism
Study it, use it, it makes everything better.

A fantasy world can be fantastical!

This one is more of a preference thing but too often I see very pedestrian things. You have created a whole other world but there are 7 days in a week, 365 days in year? Why? Think a little outside the box. Think that maybe your world has an odd rotation around its star (or stars!) which could cause drastic changes on the seasons, weather and environment. It could be something like in A Song of Ice and Fire where the seasons can last years. A lot of fantasy have multiple moons, so nothing too weird about that, but think what impact that could have on the tides of your world. Your day need not be 24 hours; it could be 32, or 12. (I would recommend keeping an hour an hour though.) This is all pretty insignificant stuff actually and not all that fantastical but the point is to get you to think differently, you are creating a whole new world so let it be a whole new world!

Let your world be a character in your story. The environment in which we live can often dictate our behavior and should be the same for our characters. If they live on a desert world, what type of society would that be? Would it be more Tatooine or more Arrakis? The environment can also have emotions, its own challenges and communication. The world in which we live often maintains some sort of balance and it should be the same within the world you create. Think about your world. Think about how your religions would develop. Study different religions through history.

So far I still haven’t actually got to the fantasy aspect of this. I am getting there. The idea is to take core concepts from our world and use them in your world but you can take those concepts and make them fantastical. Have floating mountains. Have a world of earth and sea. Have a world with seasons of years. Have 12 moons! Have flying fish! It’s fantasy! Take things and make them your own! (Gosh, one would think that I liked the movie Avatar… it was okay).

The Height of the Matter

One somewhat annoying thing  to see in fantasy books is systems of measurement. Are things measured in feet and miles or meters and kilometers? One thing to think about is that your audience could be International and might not use the same system of measurement as you. Now you can always create your own naming scheme or use something that no one really knows anyway, like league or you use generic expressions like 12 days by horse, 100 by walking etc. Try and think how your characters would relay distance to be true to them, maybe they don’t ride or walk, so to them it would just be: “I’ve heard if you follow that there road, after a long long way you’ll reach your destination. Might take some time, better bring extra food.”

(Although I would think that if people in a fantasy world were using a measurement system it would be the metric because it just makes too much sense not to use it [which explains why the United States is still on the Imperial]). *Oh Green–<3
This also leads me to something that just seems funny in about any book you read. Let’s say our main character just meets a pretty girl. He goes on to describe her, she is about 5’4″… wait… what? Who really talks like that? I can’t measure the height of people worth crap, now if your character is cop and has been trained to do that… it makes sense… but then we get into the system of measurement again… not everyone might know what 5’4″ even means. It really is best to avoid that. Usually, as people, we judge other people’s height by if they are taller than us or shorter than us (so in Charles’ case, everyone is taller) or compare to something of similar stature, the Halfling was the size of a taller child but still barely came past my knee.

Remember that not everyone uses the same system of measurement and this could even be true in your own world. You could have different countries that use their own naming schema. It is your world, you can be as creative as you want!

Danger, Will Robinson!

Because you are creating a whole new world this also leads to a problem; how to get information to the reader in a natural and entertaining way that isn’t an info dump. The easiest way is to bring in an outside character, usually the main character, who is completely foreign to the world. A good example of this is Harry Potter. Harry himself grew up outside the wizarding world and anytime someone explains something to him it feels natural and the reader learns as well. (I am sure there is a literary term for this but I never bothered to look it up). This is good but often time we don’t have that luxury. Our characters will have grown up in that world and common knowledge would be prevalent.
A clever way that I saw this work out was in Patrick Rothfuss, in the Name of the Wind. The main character ends up in a University (of sorts) surrounded by many different students who come from various lands. This works very well because if you were to travel to a foreign country that you’d never been to, you would often be confused about customs and culture and a lot would need to be explained to you. A University setting is great because you have students coming from a vast variety of cultures and they are going to explain things to each other of what things are like from where they live.

Take that concept of different cultures coming together and use it to your advantage. If your main character grew up in a tiny village as a farmer (why hello there cliché) he would be very ignorant of the world around him as he went off on his adventure and would be constantly asking questions. Often the simplest of magics could be quite shocking to him, even if he was carrying a magic sword.

That’s all this head of hot air has.

Okay these are my observations as a long time fantasy reader. Please feel free to scream and shout and tell me how wrong I am. Thank you! 🙂

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33 thoughts on “Guest blog: You know what bugs the &^%$ outta me?

    • Hahaha, I think you’ll be fine. *Ugh* I hate editing. Well the re-writes. Thanks for the comment 🙂

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      Wanderer commented: “And now I REALLY need to go edit my latest fantasy manuscript. *finds giant red marker*”

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      • I usually just abandon them and start something new. But I think this one has possibility—it needs a heavy hand with the editing though. Definitely not the fun part!

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  1. I read a lot of fantasy – not so much high fantasy, but your points are very valid and kept me laughing. The part about having a 12 y/o read your story is right on target – my 13 y/o will bring up things that never occurred to me. He’s also a huge dragon fan, so maybe the two of you should talk.

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  2. there is much that irks me about the Fantasy Genre in general and I am a fan of the Genre, I from time to time toy with the idea of writing my own Fantasy where I can explain monsters with pseudo scientific fact for example Halflings being explained as a race of pigmies, Kobolds and orcs being remnants of the stone age (Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon) etc etc… the one point I would argue is that the word Fantasy itself has an emotional attachment, the word itself does evoke emotion, just maybe not in direct context to the genre… Science Fiction (the name of the genre) I believe is intentionally cold and void of emotion because technology is cold and void of emotion and the scale in which death occurs in these stories (Entire worlds being destroyed) is also cold and void of emotion..

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      • Well I kind of agree with you on the emotional thing. It’s why I think your setting should be treated as a character in and of itself in a fantasy novel. I just think more people writing fantasy are too much flash and not enough substance, if you know what I mean? As to your point about science fiction it really depends. I don’t view it being cold or detached. Science Fiction is actually really interesting though. I could write a whole other blog post on that. Hey, I had a similar idea of creating monster’s in a fantasy world via a mad scientist (magician) sort of thing! Essentially a reverse The Island of Doctor Moreau. A magician experimented on mixing animal and human DNA with the assistance of magic that created a whole race of monsters. More trolloc than orcs type of thing. That never really went anywhere though, lol. Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2013 15:42:54 +0000 To: snail_um@hotmail.com

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  3. These are the things that made Stars Wars so cool to me, and why Star trek did so well for so long. I happened to love the movie Avatar, though. I think YOU should write a book.

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  4. An odd thing with these is that some readers will crucify you for going against the traditions. Two things I’ll jump in on:

    1) I think most stories boil down to Good vs Evil in some fashion. It’s just more blatant in fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and anything else with a superhuman element to it.

    2) The system of measurement is a challenge. I think it’s decided by the origin of the author. I use feet, yards, and miles because that’s what I grew up on. Those with metric would use that. One could argue that a fantasy world would use neither system and make up their own. “The orc was fifty pulshanks away.”

    Good opinions though. You definitely know your genre. So, how many of these issues are in the book you’re currently reading? Also, is this the right blog to comment on or should it be yours?

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    • Honestly, from the message boards that I have read most fans of the genre are looking for more. If you look at the popular fantasy books trending they definitely break the trend. You have Brandon Sanderson, who has to be the best plotter that I know. When he finishes a story I always leave satisfied and his stories are very well done. Then you have George RR Martin who pretty much broke every trend and wasn’t even going to include dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire. People are loving these books, simply because they are different from what they have read. Patrick Rothfuss is also vastly different with The Kingkiller Chronicles. Then you have Joe Abercrombie which people really love, who really tries to go for the grit and dirty, almost Tarantino at times with his fantasy stories. As to good versus evil, it’s kind of relative. Shades of gray and politics is definitely the la mode in Fantasy right now. What people really like to see though is something that feels fresh and not overplayed (does not mean original). As to measurements, in general descriptions you should try to go more for relational versus explicit. I wouldn’t write the orc stood about fifty feet away. I would write something like, not too far ahead Hiro could see an orc standing in the path twiddling his thumbs. Now in dialogue, with one character expressing to another character, you could use some sort of distance. “Look, he is only about fifty feet away, think you can hit him with that peashooter of crossbow?” Yes, that is one of my points you definitely can create your own system of measurement. Thanks Charles! 🙂 Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2013 15:58:34 +0000 To: snail_um@hotmail.com

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  5. I already commented on Green Embers’ blog, so I’ll just say thanks for a great guest post. I mean, that’s easy to say because I agree with it… These are things that frustrate me in other books as well, and that I tried to turn around or avoid (and maybe poke a little fun at) in my own story/world.

    I feel so vindicated. ^.^

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  6. I think you’ve summed up nicely why I’m not a fan of fantasy. An additional rant from me (being a gnarly stick-in-the-mud) is dialogue that uses a strong modern idiom – “punk”, “eat shit and die” and other bits of the vernacular of today. Somehow, for me, modern idioms break the “spell” or the atmosphere of the tale and I find it impossible to believe in the characters, even for a little while. Not suggesting that it should be all thee, thou and get thee hence – but isn’t there a happy medium?

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    • Yeah, I agree with that actually. Modern vernacular in Fantasy can look really weird. Like someone coming up and saying, “Dude, that was awesome!” would just feel wrong in Fantasy. It’s one of the things that bothers me about Joe Abercrombie’s books actually is the dialogue feels a little too off. George RR Martin probably has some of the best that I have read in the sense it never really feels out of place. I think there is a happy medium for sure. Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2013 18:42:55 +0000 To: snail_um@hotmail.com

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  7. I love this post and your observations are absolutely right. But I wonder: when you manage to omit all those clichés, is it still fantasy? Don’t those clichés make up the genre? And don’t readers expect to find this things?

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  8. Since I am new to the Fantasy Genre (having been dragged there by one Charles Yallowitz) I don’t really have an opinion on what bugs you. I think what you say makes a lot of sense and once I get more experience as a reader of fantasy I’ll be able to engage in the dialog better. I did enjoy your point of view.

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  9. Great post! I had to laugh when I read the The Height of the Matter. When has anyone ever met someone and noted their exact height? Like NEVER. Doesn’t happen in real life. Well, I guess it could if they happen to be standing right next to a door height marker used for security purposes in a bank…

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