Sunday, February 5, 2012

5 Lies About Writing Fantasty

This was a post I had had on my mind for a while.

It's about four + one (of many, I'm sure) pitfalls that many writers, particularly myself, had fallen into while writing fantasy. If I had known that these were lies when I started writing, I would have saved myself so much time.

I don't know whether writers particularly put pressure on these issues, but I know that from reading fantasy myself, I thought these were necessary things that would make my story a good, solid fantasy novel.

But as I later found, I didn't need any of these things. And if you're having trouble starting your fantasy novel, this just might help.


Alright, this was one I believed for a really, really long time.... and it's a total lie. Trust me. 

While a "normal life" scene is pretty classic (typical?), it's not necessary, no matter how bad you feel about the upcoming trials in your character's sorry life. 

I mean, sure, your young hero strolling his little fairy-tale happy (or small, insignificant) village before his aunt and uncle die *cough* or whatever, sounds like a fun scene to write. And I'm sure you may see it as a great character development opportunity, 

But here are some reasons you should forget it:

"Normal life" scenes are:
1) generally boring/pointless.
2) unwanted brakes on a rolling, rollicking story (even if there was an epic, action-packed prologue right before)
3) opportunities for extravagant telling, commonly about your hero's personality, hair/eye color, etc...
4) Nothing but description oftentimes. Tedious description. 
5) Overly formulaic and extremely obvious

The thing is, and I'm not making this up, I've been studying all the fiction I've been reading of late and I think it's a fact: jumping straight into the action, or at least into something new, is the best way to go. Backstory can be clued in in small doses, later.

The reader should be able to discern what "normal" was by how the hero reacts to the abnormal changes in his life.

Take Ender's Game, Percy Jackson, or The Ruby Key for instance: each of those opens with a change of routine, something out of line.

Even though information is given about "normalcy," it's delivered appropriately, and is necessary information while avoiding the pitfall of extravagant telling/history.

Communicating that information about "normal life" isn't wrong. But you don't need a whole scene for it. Throwing your reader straight into the new and exciting with your hero is much funner. :) We don't care what his morning routine is, we want to know how his adventure goes.


I know. We've all taken our cue from Luke Skywalker. There seems to be some unspoken rule that the hero has to be some young buck in his teenage years for the reader to connect.


Of course, there is nothing wrong with placing your hero in this age range. Nothing at all.

But don't let that age stereotype hem you in and keep you in a box.

Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novels are about a 20-something hero (those books are not recommended by me, though...). The first book in L.B. Graham's Binding of the Blade series is also about a 25-year old. And the Sword of Lyric series starts off following a protagonist who is the mother of an older teenager, plus other kids. Certainly not a heroine in the 15-18 age range!

And on the flip side, The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle are about a brother-sister duo who are 14 and 12 (if my memory serves right...) and Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles series is about an eleven-year-old.

The point is: there are much more important things that make the hero relatable to the reader than age. So don't let the stereotype of fantasy heroes limit you.


Far from true. While they can be utilized and are necessary for some novels (BotB for instance), if you don't feel one coming to you,  then don't even worry about it. Prologue does not make the novel, young grasshopper.

Actually, even if you already have a prologue, but it seems to lose it's impact in hindsight, you won't be evil if you cut it out in the editing process. I had a prologue for Dantere's Story, but since then I've done a POV change, and I ended up dropping it even though I really liked it :) [I am considering putting it back in later, but for now I'm not thinking about it.]


Now, now. Learn this now: Tolkien is Tolkien. You are not Tolkien. 

I mean, use big words if you want. But don't do it because Tolkien did.

Besides, as much as you would love it, no one really wants to read an LOTR-wannabe. (*cough* Eragon...) Yes, imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it's definitely not the highest form of writing. o_O

Sure, get inspired and learn as much as you can from whatever epic story you just fell in love with. Just don't rewrite it all over again.

I'm going to pretend to hate to tell you this:

You did not write these books. Nor will you ever write these books. But the great thing about stories is: there's always a story that hasn't been written. It's your job to find it. Never mind the stuff that's already been done.

But whatever you do, make sure you're writing the way YOU want to. Writing like someone else never really works. Copying someone else's plot also never works.


Actually.... that's not a bad idea. :) It's worked before, after all. Multiple times. The only possible problem with that, though, is that it's already been done. 

Try to avoid it if you can, because people automatically think "Ring of Power!" but, if you can "disguise" that similarity well enough, go for it! I mean, as long as this all-powerful device doesn't:

a) need to be destroyed
b) turn you invisible when worn 
c) turn people into raw-fish-eating creeps
d) all of these at once

then you should be good.  ;)

With that: write on, friends, and don't be held back by the norm of fantasy. 

And on a side note, please be inspired by the following random pictures:


Varon said...

Love the Romantic painting, I forget the title. I think it has something to do with a Wanderer.

Great thoughts too, especially since I'm once again diving into writing fantasy after a several year hiatus where I wrote just about everything but fantasy (And romance. And historical.

The prologue one is especially true. I rarely use prologues anymore, but for my fantasy project, I'll call it Chapter 0 instead.

For the normal life, the MC is getting beat to a pulp by a bully. Action-y enough? ;)

Didymus said...

This was very good! I'm totally going to pass this along to my writing friends! Thanks for such a great post :D

the Ink Slinger said...

Awesome post, Abby - I agree completely.

Also, thanks for dissing Eragon: it's one of the worst fantasy books I've ever read. Talk about an uninspired mish-mash of George Lucas and JRR Tolkien... ugh... :D

Amanda said...

I write historical fiction, and I must say nearly all of these points apply to it as well.

Can I just say that I took a breath of relief after the first point? I hate trying to come up with an interesting yet peaceful opening.

Thanks! :)

Annika Elipton said...

Great post! These really make sense when you think a litte :D

Marian said...

Great post! I pretty much agree with you on all of them, especially #3. I recently tried reading a book with a long (and fairly well-written) prologue, but then the setting & characters changed in Chapter 1 and I felt like I'd wasted my time. Plus, it just comes across as a cheap way to grab literary agents' attention, not as a stellar opening to a novel.

Arda said...

This was a very helpful post! Great for getting fresh ideas! I started a fantasy story a while ago and barely got anywhere, but if I start it up again I'll have to refer back to this!

Eldra said...

Great post, but... where's number four?

The Director said...

Oh shoot..... I miscounted! *runs back and fixes numbers*

Charley R said...

Awesome post! I totally agree on all these counts - hence why I have my 20-something year old hero Rin living a fun but weird lifestyle, with only a few somewhat-subjective an occasionally-useless magical thingehs on him (none with the property of turning invisible, thank heck!), and only use the words I know (though, without sounding arrogant, I know a lot, and I'm fond of them, haha!)

But fantasy is just too much fun to give up. Tolkein is my idol, but so are so many other authors ... curse you George R R Martin for breaking my heart again yesterday!!!

But I digress: awesome post! Love the piccies too - The Silmarillion! *melts into puddle of fangirl*

Sorry *grins*

Hannah Joy said...

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH You posted my favorite painting!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That Caspar David Friedrich one. :'-) You are my new favorite person. And the list was cool too.

Farjag said...

Yea... after I realized that writing an epic adventure story with a thirteen year old crossing swords with the world's evil villains and masterminds wasn't exactly realistic... I upgraded. :) I actually don't usually give an exact age, I let the character's voice, appearance and actions decide the reader; but my main characters as of late have stayed about the 20-24 range. I find it easier to believe in a 20 year-old master swordsman than a 13 year-old one.

Not that my characters are master swordsmen (really) :)

Nairam said...

As to #1 and #3...

They might turn some readers (read: ME) off. Partly because of my One Year Adventure Novel educating/brainwashing (it's good brainwashing) partly because...they get old. I want the action, not the set-up. There's a reason OYAN likes to call chapter one The Inciting Incident or The Day Everything Changed.

And prologues.

Prologues are what writers love to write and readers like to skip. Basically truth. (Not always, but hyperbole for the win.)

Good post. :)

The Director said...

Nairam, you say you disagree, then you say you want action, not set-up. How is that disagreeing? ;)

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Great post! I love all these points and I've bookmarked this for future reference. (:

Haha, your point C about Gollum cracked me up!

And that's the reason I didn't like the Paolini books -- they seemed like they were ripping off the LotR books SO MUCH, and what new stuff he was bringing to the table just seemed really boring and two-dimensional to me. But then, I know a lot of people like them. So...I don't know.

Chris said...

At last! Someone who shares my opinion about Eragon! I really disliked that book, to be generous. You should read my review of it. I really hated it, especially the fact that Paolini rewrote LOTR and got famous for it. People say he was only fifteen, but to tell you the truth, I really want to tell them, "fifteen doesn't excuse plagarism."

Sorry. Eragon rant.

Out of curiosity, how is it like Star Wars? I don't remember seeing many similarities.

Star-Dreamer said...

^Chris: Hmmm... Personally, I don't think Eregon is a take off of LOTR for several reasons. I mean, OK, I understand that he decided to write an epic, that it was set in a different land, and uses typical fantasy creatures, etc, etc...

BUT there is no one object that must be destroyed (aka, a ring, or some such), there IS a dark lord, but, as you may have noticed, the characters are not traveling straight to his strong hold... the dragons are good and not evil, the elves and dwarves have TOTALLY different religions, histories, characteristics, (etc), than those of middle earth (though I do recognize the few similarities involved), not the mention Nasuada, or Murtague... tokien pretty much refrains from using "magic" in an outward fashion (such as Arya moving the stone to Pallancar Valley), Aragon is not Frodo's father like Brom is to Eregon, and Fodo does not have special powers that link him to a dragon, or elvish history, or that he uses in any outward form. So in essence, I would not say that Paolini was trying to do a spin-off of Tolkien... although it's quite possible (and probable) that he was inspired by Tolkien's writings.

(Woah... that was not meant to be a rant...:p Sorry guys. I was just intrigued, is all, and wanted to throw in my two bits. Haha!)

Star-Dreamer said...

Also (to finish out my thoughts) many of Eregon's personal characteristics are NOTHING like Frodo's, not to mention the many varying differences between their journeys, the landscape, the Varden (which, no, I do not think are like the men of Gondor), etc. Similarities, yes... but enough differences that I don't think Paolini was trying to pull a "spin-off" so much as Tokien inspired his work. I believe Paolini was trying to be original, but ended up using some aspects that have made people think badly of his writing.

Star-Dreamer said...

(BTW, I liked the post, Director. ;) Everything you said about writing is very true. Well done. ^_^)

The Director said...

@Star Dreamer, I think the general view held is that Eragon is Luke Skywalker, in the world of LOTR. While there is a lot to commend him for. (after all, he is a published author...), I think us writers like to pick on him half because of true critique, and also dare I say out of jealousy? I mean, I think it's safe to say that any of us think we could write a better, more original story than his, yet he's the one with four books published....

Anyway, the point it, it's not just LOTR he ripped off. Star Wars also had a large influence on him, I'm sure.

And I appreciate the "rant". Your two bits are most welcome!

Hyacinth said...

Oh dear, I have a prologue and a normal-life beginning. The prologue certainly wasn't forced, though, and the beginnign isn't completely normal, so I guess it isn't too bad.