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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays Future of Writing

Is there something wrong with Epic Fantasy?

Recently, the website SFSignal posed this question to numerous writers, including Robin Hobb, Martha Wells, and Melanie Rawn. I thought it was an odd question- at least certainly a loaded question. The headline for Andrea Johnson’s article was even more confronting: MIND MELD: What’s “Wrong” with Epic Fantasy?

Some, like Marc Alpin and Teresa Frohock, saw no real issues except an overload of choice and maybe some wrong expectations. Others, like Martha Wells and Melanie Rawn, mentioned the tendency for epic fantasies to get weighed down from having so many viewpoint characters. Robin Hobb felt that readers sometimes couldn’t find what they really wanted in the glut of books offered. Each person’s reply is worth reading, so follow the link and read it yourself.

The various respondents gave decent answers, but I had some qualms with who was asked.

Let me explain. I though it was a decent article, but I’d rather hear more from the readers than from fellow writers and other insiders when it comes to any issues with a genre or sub-genre. As a writer, I want to avoid themes that are getting tired or predictable. However, the “experts” can get jaded from overexposure to insider things, like professional film critics do, and start nitpicking at stuff that most would never notice. As long as my readers are happy with my books, then I’m satisfied.

Are there things in the genre that I dislike? Yup. I’ll not go into all of them because much of it is a matter of personal taste, but I have written about  some of the ways Fantasy Series can fall short (Why Read the Whole Fantasy Series?). I will refrain from ranting on my other pet peeves though. Instead, I will try to write more novels that entertain. I want the readers to enjoy a good read and maybe have something to ponder afterwards. If I can consistently accomplish that, then I have found success.

 

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays Story Lines world building

Why Read the Whole Fantasy Series?

One of the wonderful things about Fantasy noels is that many of them are part of an extended series of books. I love being able to dive into a new world and staying there for an extended period of time. It is one of the things I look forward to creating as I write more books for each of my two fantasy series (the Cirian War Saga and the the Ways of Camelot novels). With multiple books, there is the opportunity to discover so much more about a new world and to watch as characters grow and change. Done well,  a lengthy Fantasy series will gain my loyalty.

However, there are quite a few series that I have failed to finish. Some of them I really tried to enjoy but just couldn’t. I have the third book of a trilogy sitting on my nightstand right now that I have been trying to finish for months but it just cannot hold my attention. I greatly enjoyed the first book and I really wanted to like the whole series, but I found that it just became stale. The story couldn’t sustain itself over that many books.

Personally, I can think of five reasons:

1. Delays in Publishing. The longer the delay the greater the odds of readers moving on to something else. Whether the delay comes from a publisher wanting to space out their release dates or from an author being slow to produce, the result is the same.  Who wants to read a book when the next one could be years away from release?

2. Repetitive Stories.  I have abandoned numerous series because they start feeling like a summer rerun. I will leave when a story drags on, seeming to loop back to repeat similar quests or battles or wars. Life can be a repetitive drudgery; the books that I read shouldn’t be.

3. Stunted Characters. When the main characters never change or mature, then a series will start feeling like a soap opera: lots of words and fake drama but no real advancement in their life story. After ten years of sword fighting, your guy should be a changed man (older, more experienced, hardened, disgusted, crazed…  something, anything)  Trauma should alter a character’s actions, emotions, and life-goals.

4. Stuck in Glue. There are some great Fantasy series out there that have become bogged down in details. The forward motion of the main story arc almost stops. I get disappointed whenever an author writes a whole novel that is only a side-trip. Maybe the houses are nicer looking on a cul-de-sac, but you certainly aren’t going to get very far driving down that dead-end street. Get the main story moving! Leave off all those side stories that don’t really get us anywhere.

5. Betrayal. This is more of a complex issue. Whenever I feel that an author has set me up, then I will be hesitant to ever trust him or her again. I have had authors create worlds and then mock those creations (and me for naively believing in them). I have had authors lure me into caring for characters and then wantonly kill them off. I have started series where the first book creates a certain mood and then the author (maybe out of boredom) decides to do something completely different with the sequel. Radical change is fine for stand-alone novels but not within a series. Labeling that book as part of a series means that you (author) are promising to uphold the ambiance, the mood, the characters, the brand of the previous book(s).  A television series doesn’t shift from romantic comedy to police procedural to nature show each week. The TV show doesn’t alter its main characters halfway through the season. That TV show holds to a similar feel from episode to episode. Your Fantasy series needs to do likewise.

I love reading a good Fantasy series. I often reread the better ones. Sadly, though, there have been many trilogies and sagas that I have never finished just because the author failed to hold my interest over the long run. I don’t desert stories lightly, but I also cannot stand it when a Fantasy series fails to be entertaining or to be loyal to the world the author crafted in book one.

When it comes to my own Fantasy series, I will strive to be respectful of my readers and do my best to avoid the five shortcomings I mentioned above. Will I succeed? I hope so.

🙂

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays world building

Mixing Reality with Fiction

I love fantasy. I love reading fantasy and writing fantasy, for it is such a wondrous genre. My imagination can roam and romp through imaginary lands, sometimes for weeks after I’ve read a great book.

And yet I still want a fantasy tale to have some connection to reality. The protagonist doesn’t need to be from “here” like the leper Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson’s stories, but I still need some reality to help me cross the span of imagination to that fantasy land.

Here are three areas where I like to see our reality mix into a fantasy realm:

Anthropomorphism– This term is often used when describing the tendency to give the human attributes to Deity, but I think it can also be applied to fantastic creatures. Is the writer humanizing something alien so that we, as readers, can relate. If your main characters are mice, they had better be rodents with human characteristics like our emotions, our speech patterns, our societal structures. If your characters are elves, dwarfs, or dragons and you want me to relate to them, then show them to be human-like in some way.

I know some villains are distant and their alien ways are vital to the story, but then you can’t bring the reader in close. Tolkien understood this. We never get “into the head” of Smaug or  Sauron because they are too different, but we do get close to Boromir and sense his fatal flaw of envy when he tries to take the Ring for himself and his country.

Flora and Fauna– An alien landscape should have some link to our world in how its plants and animals look and act. Frankly, it is that connection that helps to make the truly fantastic stand out, be it the magical forests in Tolien’s the Lord of Rings or the Ranyhyn steeds in the Thomas Covenant books.

It is because their land is similar to ours, that the hobbits are awed by Ents just as we are. If every tree in Middle Earth walked or grabbed people, it wouldn’t be as startling without overwhelming the story. Because the living trees are unusual in Middle Earth, it is a wonder that doesn’t take over the whole tale.

In Donaldson’s series, the Ranyhyn horses are wondrous because of how they are similar to ours and yet so far beyond any earthly equines.  Their stamina is far beyond any normal horse but we can accept their power because it first awes the protagonists and then is accepted by them too.

Geography– This is an area where I think many writers stumble. I have seen too many lands where the terrain drastically changes without any good explanation or any connection to our world.  In reality, things like oceans and mountain ranges will alter weather patterns and temperatures. I think a writer should be aware of the basics of physical geography or face the danger of creating an unbelievable land.

Tolkien made Mordor different, but he was wise enough to separate it from the rest of Middle Earth by mountain ranges and to show that it was the exception to the land’s reality.  Outside of Mordor, the land follows the same rules as ours. You don’t encounter deserts abutting rain forests or balmy mountains towering over snowy lowlands.

Reality highlights fantasy. I feel that it is the reality, well-applied, that helps to make the imaginary creatures and locations stand out that much more. It is the mundane in a fantasy world that adds awe to the wondrous places.

Interest in how I’ve mixed reality with fiction? Learn more about my first two  published novels: Road of Leaves and Fallen King

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