What is it about modern fantasy authors?

Fried Egg

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What is it about most modern fantasy authors in that they feel the need to write endless epics? Why is it that many feel the need to over complicate their stories?

When you look back to early works of fantasy, they tended to be mainly in short story or single novel form. Even when stories were loosely connected in a series, they still stood on their own and could be read independently of the others. They did not feel the need to overly complicate their stories nor drag them out.

I suspect that Tolkien and the success of LOTR is to blame. Since the success of that has become apparent to publishers, they expect their authors to likewise churn out epics of vast proportions. Afterall, it's a good money spinner isn't it? Get people hooked into a series and see how far you can drag it out. Each book is just a continuation of the story that was begun in the first volume and the whole series has to be read in order for it to make any sense. Robert Jordan's "Wheel of time" series is a classic example of this.

Now I'm not saying that all modern authors are rubbish and I'm sure there are many counter examples to my sweeping generalisation. I have read and enjoyed many modern authors. But I find myself increasingly frustrated by modern works of fantasy with less and less patience for reading long series. Perhaps this has correspondended with my gradual discovery of classic works of fantasy and exposure to different writing styles.

Am I alone in this way of thinking or do others also feel this way?
 

j d worthington

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Well, you're not alone. Charles Platt had much the same thing to say over 20 years ago with his article "The Curse of the Hobbit", (Heavy Metal, September 1981, pp. 65-66).

For myself, I've just seen before too much of what I've seen now, and done better. And while I love large books, I don't like books that are spun out beyond what the story (or what the writer is trying to say) requires; and most of the series, I think, could genuinely be fit into a much smaller space, without losing anything of worth whatsoever. There's too much fat, and not enough meat, and the writing doesn't carry a feeling of conviction... it often feels false and artificial. Put together, I'm afraid that's too much for me to find an interest in much of it.
 

Lenny

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Personally, I quite like these big epics. :p

But you do get a lot of authors who write series that can be read from last to first if you really want to.

You might miss a few things, but Pratchett's Discworld and Modesitt's Saga of Recluce are two examples of such series.
 

Fried Egg

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Actually Gemmel's an example of a relatively modern author who wrote books that stand alone and are not overly complicated in my opinion.

I don't like Pratchett but I've not come across Modesitt before.
 

Talysia

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I know what you mean about certain book series turning into sagas, and how you can get fed up of them. I've had WoT fatigue myself. Still, one of my main joys whilst browsing the library now is finding some of the lesser known and newer authors, who are content to release standalone novels as an entryway into the genre, and who don't feel the need to make their debut with a lengthy series. Of course, these books are quite rare, but they are out there, and I've been enjoying reading them.
 

Lenny

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Hmmm... you've got me trying to think of more authors who write stand alone books in series now. :p

L. E. Modesitt Jr. is an American author who's written 13 or 14 fantasy books under the series name The Saga of Recluce. He's also written a few dozen or so Sci-Fi books. Very good author.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
 

Fried Egg

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They don't have to be books in a series. I'm just saying that I think all books should be able to be read in isolation, whether they're part of a series or not.
 

Lenny

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Ah! Fair enough.

I'm just guessing, here, but are Neil Gaiman's books all separate - ie not part of a series?
 

j d worthington

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They don't have to be books in a series. I'm just saying that I think all books should be able to be read in isolation, whether they're part of a series or not.
On that one, I don't quite agree with you. I see nothing wrong with series where the books are interdependent; my complaint is where they are in a particular mold, and lack originality, depth, or good writing (or all three). And I dislike creating series when a single book would have done as well ... spinning things out to inordinate length in order to make a series. The format of an idea should fit that idea, whether it be a prose poem, a sonnet, a haiku, or a 25-volume series. I simply feel that, all too often these days, writers either choose, or are forced by market decisions, to construct these Brobdignagian edifices where an humble Lilliputian cottage would have done as well.
 

Talysia

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And I dislike creating series when a single book would have done as well ... spinning things out to inordinate length in order to make a series. .
I'll agree with that. It happens quite a lot with some graphic novels. The artist gets paid per page, and so the story often gets padded out to a ridiculous degree, making for annoying reading.

As for each book being able to be read in isolation of its fellows, I agree that each book should still make sense if you were to pick up book two or three not having read book one. Still, I don't mind long or interdependent series, especially - as JD said - if they're done well and not padded out.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I think the more appropriate question would be: What is it about modern fantasy readers? These big bloated series will go on only so long as readers continue to buy them. While some readers are tired of them, a very large number may still be clamoring for more. And I know from talking to people over the years that even many of those who say they want something new, something fresh, something standalone -- once they're actually standing there in the bookstore they put down their money for the latest Robert Jordan or David Eddings.

Money is tight, or people are cautious about spending it -- or whatever it is -- and for all that readers might plan to experiment with something new, when it comes right down to it most are liable to play it safe and go with the known commodity (where they can at least catch up with favorite characters, even if they're fairly certain the rest of the book is going to be disappointing), rather than risk buying something they may not like at all.

The average modern fantasy reader is, oddly enough, not very adventurous. Or maybe just short on cash. Or both may be true. Whatever the reason, good intentions often fly away as soon as they open their wallets.

Publishers know this, and most of the time they publish accordingly. Most writers I know have some pet project of startling originality or some standalone book they are longing to write -- or have written and can't get editors to look at. Or that somehow gets published and languishes (briefly) on the shelf before disappearing forever. Actually, they're lucky if it's the first rather than the second, because once promising careers have been known to crash and burn on the sales of a single book.

What you see on the shelves at your local bookstore is a far more accurate representation of what is being read than of what is being written.
 

ambershadow

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I agree with you most people are afraid to buy an unknown author for fear of wasting money (buying a book is never a waste in my opinion) thats why I start at the library to read new authors then I buy later
 

pyan

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I suspect that Tolkien and the success of LOTR is to blame. Since the success of that has become apparent to publishers, they expect their authors to likewise churn out epics of vast proportions.
Mind you, compared with some of the stuff being churned out these days, LotR looks like a modest length for a fantasy novel.:)
 

Fried Egg

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j. d. worthington
On that one, I don't quite agree with you. I see nothing wrong with series where the books are interdependent; my complaint is where they are in a particular mold, and lack originality, depth, or good writing (or all three).
Well, of course there are exceptions to every rule ;) For the most part though, most of the great works of fantasy (that I have read) are but one book, or could (and should) have been.

It is not only the length of modern books/series that I am lamenting either. It is their writing style and, as you say, their unoriginality.

Teresa Edgerton
Money is tight, or people are cautious about spending it -- or whatever it is -- and for all that readers might plan to experiment with something new, when it comes right down to it most are liable to play it safe and go with the known commodity (where they can at least catch up with favorite characters, even if they're fairly certain the rest of the book is going to be disappointing), rather than risk buying something they may not like at all.
It was precisely because money became very tight for me that I found myself more often than not in second hand bookshops rather than buying new books. Thus confonted with (on the whole) older books that I came to my current view. There I can pick up a Conan book (say) for 90p rather than spend £6.99 on the latest volume in some 10 part series. And find myself more satisfied to boot.
 

Mark Robson

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The average modern fantasy reader is, oddly enough, not very adventurous. Or maybe just short on cash. Or both may be true. Whatever the reason, good intentions often fly away as soon as they open their wallets.
How true! I make this point whenever I give talks ... as well as giving the people I'm talking to a reason to try someone new - me! :D

There is no doubt that given the vast choice available today, people - even those who have never read much fantasy before - will tend to read the books by the more popular authors first, rather than branching out to discover the breadth of writers in the genre. The common perception is that because a book or an author is popular and stocked widely, then they must be the cream of the writers in that field. In reality the reasons for the author being popular could be totally unrelated to their skill, or the books being better than many others less well distributed. More often it is because the publishers who first took that author on thought the book, or the author, should be popular, (for some reason not necessarily related to the originality or strength of the work) so they invested money in promotion to see their vision fulfilled.

Once you have a large readership, it appears you have to do something pretty bad to lose them. I know several disillusioned John Grisham readers who continue to buy his books despite the fact that they have not really liked his last few books. Likewise with Robert Jordan and David Eddings ... I could go on. So why do they keep buying? Because they enjoyed one or more of that author's previous books and they buy in the hope that the next one will be better. What hope do new authors have when people are so set in their buying habits? All we can do is give people a reason to try something different ... in my case it is taking a lot of leg work and some very fast talking, but I can now see that it's not a lost cause.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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Well, I frequent used-book stores myself, looking for books that are no longer available, and like you I feel I can afford to be more adventurous there, because the books are cheap. But I try to buy new books by new authors, too.

Because when people buy all of their books used, or only try new authors after others have approved them, they give up any control over what kinds of books will be available in the future. If people who love good books won't pay for them, then who will?

And as much fun as it may be to discover a wonderful little-known author among the used books, it can be heartbreaking to realize that there was never anything more from that same writer simply because of reader apathy.
 

pyan

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Part of the problem has to lie with the bookshops, as well - the High Street chains especially. They seem to be more and more reluctant to stock books by anyone except established authors these days.
 

Sibeling

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I have noticed this, and I'm quite annoyed by the fact that nobody seems to write good, honest trilogies anymore. Exposition, complication and resolution - three volumes is the perfect amount for a long story.

But nowadays authors just write those countless books, and you can't understand what they are about unless you have read the previous volumes. This has discouraged me from buying some books- if I know that the thing is going to be endless, I just will not buy it. I don't want to own only the beginning of the series, if there are ten books and they get only worse.
 

vurtomatic

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Who are you referring to as 'modern fantasy writers' who write overtly long series? Curious because only Jordan springs to mind right now.
 

Culhwch

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George RR Martin, Steven Erikson, Terry Goodkind... Though I am sure they would all have their supporters against accusations of being too long.
 
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