The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

M. Robert Gibson

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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.


Well it looks like I should give up on my fantasy epic then :cry:
Conversely, maybe I continue and try to include everything mentioned ;)
 

Overread

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Lord of the Rings itself is derivative of Norse Folk Lore. Honestly if you pluck almost any story off the shelf you can spot patterns in the storytelling that will remind you of other stories written before. Some of these will be true inspirations for the work; some will be happenstance/accidents; some will be because both stories are inspired by a similar further influence. Some will just be the general mechanics of storytelling. Heck sometimes if you strip all the detail out of a story the "right way" you can get a LOT of stories to be "basically the same story" because you oversimplify too much.


Also I'd argue that cliches and common themes actually work to the betterment of Fantasy and Sci-fi. If you say Wazglurdle no one has a clue what that means or what it is. If you say Elf most people will instantly have a basic concept in their minds eye. It creates easy to make connections; those cliches create structures that make it easier to tell some aspects.

Heck some are very hard to avoid, the "wise mentor/teacher" is hard to avoid. Even in reality the vast majority of people learn from those older than them.


Personally I think that each concept should be done not based on if its been done before or if its done a lot or a little; but on if your story needs it. If it fits, benefits and contributes to the story as a whole. The simple "lots of people did it before" isn't a good argument against nor for something in writing. It's simply a fact, your story can include it or not if it fits.
 

BAYLOR

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Well it looks like I should give up on my fantasy epic then :cry:
Conversely, maybe I continue and try to include everything mentioned ;)

Reading this list has been enlightening for me. If I ever decide to write my own fantasy epic. I now have a blueprint. Yes , the 75 steps that you must follow to create the next amazing , stupendous ,colossal , gigantic, bloated, longwinded best selling multi volume fantasy epic which , you'll then sell the television and film rights to some gullible unsuspecting streaming service which will pay you too much money .:D
 
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The Big Peat

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I don't wish to be overly scathing or serious given the tongue in cheek nature of the first post, but this sort of prescriptive stuff often does a great deal more harm than good and obscures just how much of this genre's (and all others, but this especially) success relies on clever imaginative engagement with archetype rather than trying to avoid them.

Besides, even if you do, some reader will go ahead and read the archetype in anyway then convince all their friends it's there too.

I must also note in passing that if there was an exam discouraging stereotypical behaviour for websites and blogs, long humourous lists of cans and can'ts for X would be very near the top...
 

Valtharius

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I can happily report I only had to answer yes to two (2) of these and one (1) was a matter of interpretation, which is indisputable proof that I am the next Tolkien and will reinvent the genre.
But yes, it's really quite simple friends: readers want bold, innovative, and original stories that stay true to the spirit of the genre and remind them of what they loved about the classic works. What's so hard to understand about that?
 
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Bramandin

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I feel particularly called-out on this one, "Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you're still many sequels away from finishing your "story"?" but it's okay because I lost my reader about 50k words ago.

It reminds me of Mary-Sue Litmus tests. Really they just point out the risk that the story is full of cliche instead of automatically being bad. I accepted that my character is pretty Sueish even with the subversions that make her artificially score lower on the test, but I think the most important thing is that not everyone who hates her is bad or lacks a good reason to.
 

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