Jul 03 2008

A funny but useful reality check for sword-and-spell fantasy authors

Sword-and-spell fantasy is a genre that attracts many prospective writers, which is good.  Unfortunately, many of those authors are unpolished.  Fortunately, there is an author’s test that will help fantasy authors diagnose some of the most common problems in their book.  I find the following list of plot elements particularly useful:

  • Prophecies, particularly when a character is prophesied to save the world and/or get the girl.
  • Mysterious lineage for any character.
  • Any character that is half-raced, but particularly half-dragons and half-elves. Also, if you have a character that belongs to more than two races (I’m a third human, elf and orc!), please make the character explode in the same sentence he describes his lineage. Your readers will love you for it.
  • A character that is secretly the family member of another. Paging Darth Vader…
  • Any female character that exists solely A) to be captured and rescued B) to embody feminist ideals or C) all of the above.
  • A cryptic sage who speaks in riddles or otherwise hides information from the main character for no reason except that the author wants to drag the story out.
  • A fighter of great strength, great fortitude, low intelligence, and a tendency to end sentences with exclamation points.
  • A mysterious artifact of immense power that will either save or destroy the world.
  • Characters transported from the real world to the fantasy realm. I think this trope is marginally acceptable for young readers, but it’s definitely unacceptable for readers above 13.
  • Names with dashes or apostrophes. The list didn’t include this, but I’m a bit annoyed by names that are longer than eight letters or more than one word.
  • Inn scenes, particularly inn scenes that feature drunken brawls. Christ almighty, if you have an inn scene, know that you are perilously close to the publisher’s wall of shame.
  • The character falling in love with but eventually winning the heart of the unattainable woman. (Because the only women worth having are of a higher social class?)
  • Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?” Well-said!
  • The last two questions are “Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings? Read that last question again and answer truthfully.”

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