khaosworks: (Nerdboy)
[personal profile] khaosworks
"Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too. The problem is that most of this "great, original fantasy" is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we're sick of it, so we've compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering "yes" to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once."

Don't necessarily agree with all of its no-nos, but amusing nonetheless.

Date: 2008-03-12 02:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zanda-myrande.livejournal.com
Mm. I don't think I'll click through. Anything whose stated purpose is to block someone's creativity, however poor that creativity may appear to be in someone else's eyes, kind of turns me off.

Date: 2008-03-12 02:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] khaosworks.livejournal.com
I think it's less of "blocking" than a tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out the cliches inherent in much of fantasy writing.

Date: 2008-03-12 11:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zanda-myrande.livejournal.com
Sorry. I have a sense of humour failure in this area. I shouldn't have commented. Please ignore me.

Date: 2008-03-12 03:56 pm (UTC)
aunty_marion: (Ai Cthulhu!)
From: [personal profile] aunty_marion
I think I'm with [livejournal.com profile] smallship1 on this, actually. OK to point out cliches, but not to present it as a firm rule. ALL fantasy writing is derivative when you check far enough, even Tolkien. And for me, that's part of the fun of it.

Date: 2008-03-13 12:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pbristow.livejournal.com
If they replaced the word "abandoned" in the final line of that intro with "re-worked", it might go over better. As a check-list of traps to avoid falling into, it's not bad. (I found the linked info on swords quite enlightening.) It could save a lot of people the embarrassment and heartbreak of having an editor tell them these things *after* they've put a lot of work into a doomed novel.

Date: 2008-03-12 02:06 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cheshyre
Have you read The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land?
Sounds like you would enjoy it.

Date: 2008-03-12 02:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] khaosworks.livejournal.com
I confess that aside from reading The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant in my misspent adolescence (and Narnia and Prydain) I've never been much of a fantasy reader. I much prefer send-ups of the genre, like Pratchett.

That being said, I've been told that Tough Guide is a send up of the genre, so I might check it out one of these days. Thanks!

Date: 2008-03-12 06:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rimrunner.livejournal.com
It is. Or, well, it's a send-up of guidebooks as well as of the genre, sort of.

The entry on horses alone is worth the price of the book: "Horses are of a breed unique to Fantasyland. They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the DARK LORD are only half an hour behind."

It goes on like that. Really funny stuff.

Date: 2008-03-12 02:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elorie.livejournal.com
I did pretty well, except the prequel/trilogy bit. Which basically is a way of saying, "are you going to go to all the trouble of creating a world and complex societies, just so you can write one and only one 90,000 word novel? If not, you are Not a Good Writer." To which I say, yeah, right.

I think I do have one instance of Unrealistic Cooking Time, but that's easily fixed.

Date: 2008-03-12 02:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] khaosworks.livejournal.com
I think the operative word here is "planned". Even LOTR was conceived as a single narrative and split up only because it was so big, but after that, everyone seemed to be deliberately structuring their story around three books, to the point where you can't get a story (not the whole thing, mind you, but just a single story) - with beginning, middle and end - without having to commit to three or more volumes. To me, that was kind of annoying. I don't mind return visits to a universe or minor loose ends, but to say from the get go that you got to buy three books (and not even on a comic book publishing schedule), is a bit much for my taste.

Discworld is a perfect example of a series that doesn't require trilogies or quintets or what have you. And I keep coming back to Pratchett not just because I love the characters and the world, but because I know once I finish that volume, I'll have consumed a satisfying story, with an actual resolution.

Date: 2008-03-12 03:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elorie.livejournal.com
I try to ascribe to Lois McMaster Bujold's dictum about novels in a series...which is that they should all stand alone. The novel I have finished ends on a bit of cliff-hanger, but that's because the main question of the story HAS been resolved. It's just that part of what happens is that that in solving one problem, they discover an even bigger one. Yep. I didn't do that on purpose, though...I started the novel with just an image in my head, and *I* didn't know what was going to happen until I wrote it.

Date: 2008-03-12 03:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] allandaros.livejournal.com
I was fine up 'till they said that all novels containing elves or orcs should be abandoned.

Man what?

Date: 2008-03-12 03:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] khaosworks.livejournal.com
Like I said, I don't necessarily agree with all of this. But on contemplation, perhaps this particular cliche ought to be re-examined. The thing about elves and orcs in modern heroic fantasy is that they seem ultimately derived from Tolkien... sometimes in whole cloth, which gives rise to the somewhat curious idea that elves and orcs are Tolkienish throughout multiple universes.

In fact (again with the caveat that I'm not a big fantasy reader), there only really seem to be one type of elf in modern heroic fantasy... i.e., the Tolkien mold, and for orcs, two types: the Tolkien completely brutish faceless hordes, and the Warhammer/World of Warcraft model of them as a violent, but viable civilization. It's an almost lazy kind of shorthand, as if the writer can say, "that's an elf" and nothing more need be said because Tolkien's elves have had such a powerful impact on the fantasy reader psyche that everything is visualized in a flash. Ditto with orcs.

Again, not that you can't or shouldn't use them, but the question then becomes, why do you need them, story-wise? What's the thematic or in-story role for them? Or even, why call them "elves" or "orcs" to begin with? Can you call them fae, or goblins, or another made up name? Do they even need to look tall and lanky, or brutish and fang-toothed, as the case may be?

My favourite kinds of elves, though, are the ones that Pratchett wrote about in Lords and Ladies, and Gaiman touched on in his Sandman stories. Beautiful, elegant, powerful, and complete and utter bastards. Which turns the Tolkien expectation of them, which has somehow become more prevalent, on its head and takes the idea of the elf back to its more earthy roots. As it should be.
Edited Date: 2008-03-12 03:33 am (UTC)

Date: 2008-03-12 10:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lonemagpie.livejournal.com
Autumn Mist, a Dr Who written by, er, me, also uses the buggers rather differently.

But then, I'm a Celt and know the original stories and legends!

Date: 2008-03-12 11:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] etherial.livejournal.com
My favorite fantasy setting, Earthdawn had a very good answer to this. Elves and Orcs and Humans and whatnot are all Races. They're peoples, and while they have individual culture, to paint any of them in such broad strokes is beyond stupidity. The Elven Blood Wood is corrupt, judgmental, and possibly the servant of extraplanar entities out to torture us to death for their own amusement, but elves in general are tall, charismatic, long-lived, and the ability to generalize ends there. The Orc Kingdom of Cara Fahd is a fertile valley populated by nomadic tribesmen. Orcs in general are passionate, free-thinking, short-lived, and are still facing the ghosts of generation after generation of slavery.

Date: 2008-03-12 03:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terriwells.livejournal.com
I laughed out loud when I got to 33 and I must confess, I've never even READ Jordan's work. I'm tempted to print it out as a "sanity check" the next time I decide to try to write a fantasy novel.

Date: 2008-03-12 03:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wcg.livejournal.com
Looks like a checklist! I bet you could repackage the list as a checklist for budding fantasy writers and sell it for $19.95 a pop.

(Also, noting your mention of Pratchett, it looks like a checklist he might use.)

Date: 2008-03-12 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kampongchicken.livejournal.com
I'm more a fan of Robert Silverberg's Majipoor stories, which are scattered amongst novels and short stories.

Date: 2008-03-12 10:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lonemagpie.livejournal.com
Amazingly, the only yes I get for The Light Of Heaven is question 28 ("do you want it to be a trilogy")

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