Lately I’ve seeing a lot of articles and blog posts about genre, in particular the fantasy genre. This has got me thinking about the things that make up the genre, and how stale it has become. Last Friday another blogger wrote about Originality in Fantasy and I decided that I wanted to elaborate upon this.
Think about the things that make up a fantasy story. Swords, magic, castles, robes, horses, forests, animal companions, ships, creatures, and royalty are the things that first come to mind. These are the sorts of things on book covers and that get a lot of page-time in the book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy book (or at least series) without all of these elements (excluding perhaps ships).
As for plot, there is usually some conspiracy by whatever government is in place (usually a monarchy – one with a king as the major power (a queen is almost never in charge in fantasy)) and a small band of do-gooders that must stop the tyrant from completing his evil plans. (Okay, that may be a bit over-simplified but there’s a grain of truth in every stereotype – right?) And, if that isn’t bad enough, the whole world is usually in danger and the Chosen One must come to the rescue after rejecting the idea of being special. Oh, and there is almost always some beautiful woman in need of saving – or maybe manipulating the hero.
So. What do we do with that? Why in the world do we see these elements and accept them as the way fantasy must be written? We can build our own, original worlds, and not set them in a medieval-looking kingdom as so many books are. When we build our fantasy worlds, it can be difficult to do something new, it’s true, because we are tempted to stick with what works. Staying with what works is safe and can make us be less afraid of failing, but it won’t help us stand out. Maybe this series will help fantasy writers (myself included) to see the things that, quite frankly, are getting boring and move on from there.
In this series I will be talking about each of the following topics, as well as giving some examples from books. Disclaimer: I have no problem putting a book aside and forgetting about it if it does not live up to my standards, which means that many of my examples will be the positive ones. I make no apologies for that, I don’t like to tear people down, even if I’ve never met them. But I will have some negative examples (particularly when we get to the hero/heroine post).
Following is a list of the things that I will be covering in this series, and a little bit about what I hope to discuss about them. Please, if you have any suggestions for other topics in this series, don’t hesitate to leave a comment, now or ever.
Setting in a fantasy novel can be the most important, most exciting thing to develop. It can be a character all itself and help or hinder the protagonists and antagonists. It can be integral to the plot. And yet many writers create a static setting, one that is only good for the characters to journey through and has no purpose.
Magic is almost always included in fantasy, even if it is only alluded to. Too often writers take the same ideas about magic, and just label it as something new. Too often the rules of magic are the same: it drains the users power, the user can drain someone’s life for power, the magic is addictive, and so on.
From animal companions to mythical beasties, the creatures of fantasy novels are in serious need of help. Taking mythological creatures and throwing them into a novel without regard for if they actually fit is a huge sin for a fantasy author. A dragon has to have a viable food source (oh? let’s throw in a pasture of cows – but don’t forget that those cows are going to be con within a few weeks!) and have at least some believable reason to be there in the first place. Authors making up their own creatures don’t often think about the environment or evolution of the creatures at all. But here’s the question: why have mythical creatures at all?
Horses, walking, and ships – the cornerstones of travel in fantasy novels. It’s hard to come up with anything else, they can’t have cars or bikes or anything modern because, of course, the story is set in the medieval period. Give us a break. Change the setting and get some new transportation!
In almost all fantasy novels, royalty is included either as a protagonist or villain. It’s not bad to include royalty, but for goodness sake once in a while can we have a different form of government?
In fantasy, stories are almost always world-driven (as in the reason for the story is to show the world and how (not) different it is). This means that to show the world, it must be in danger. Why? Why not have a character emigrating from their home country? Heck, why not have a story that is driven by the lives of a couple of farmers, trying to get by? Why does the world have to be in danger in a fantasy novel?
A lot of times, one of the driving plot points is war. War stirs up all sorts of feelings that people don’t know they have, so it can be an interesting plot point. But war for the sake of war is unnecessary. Give your nations a valid reason to fight, and focus on the characters caught up in the violence.
A power-hungry, evil sorcerer or a power-hungry evil king. Hey, if we’re lucky it’s an ancient evil that threatens the stability of the entire world. Let’s mix it up a bit, huh?
THE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
Ah, the lady locked in a tower or being kept captive by an evil lord. All she does is wait for her hero. Please. Let’s chuck this out the window and move on.
THE HERO – OR HEROINE?
Who is the protagonist of the story? I’ll save my thoughts on this one for the actual post.
I hope you will stick with me and again, suggestions for other posts in this series are most welcome.
Take care, fellow travelers.