So, being a fantasy author, and growing up reading, writing, watching, imagining, and drawing fantasy related stuff, I have found that the fantasy genre, like many other genres, have some fairly significant clichés and archetypal story lines and characters. I truly think that some of these are unavoidable. Fantasy is fantasy just like mystery is mystery and romance is romance. There is only so many different story lines, ideas, etc. that an author can come up with.
However, there just seems to be a number of things fantasy authors - and this is probably true with mystery, romance, and political intrigue authors as well - continually do that places us in the realm of popcorn fiction, turns off readers, makes us seem like the nerds playing magic in the high school hallways (no offense to nerds or Magic the Gathering players) and irritates even me. So, here is my list of the five things I wish fantasy authors would stop doing.
1. Deus Ex Machina
What does this mean? It literally means god from the machine. This is the literary device that was commonly used by Greek and Roman playwrights to work the gods into their plays or to help their heroes solve seemingly unsolvable situations. So how is this applicable today? Don't get mad at me. I love Tolkien and I love Lord of the Rings, but one of the final scenes, when the Giant Eagles save Frodo and Sam from the impending doom of Mount Doom's wrath, that is a perfect example of Deus Ex Machina. They should've died. You know it. I know it. The whole world knows it. The fact is, Tolkien broke a lot of the literary rules that many authors today must live by - and he is still great. But as I continue to read fantasy novels, and as I continue to write fantasy novels, I begin to realize that many fantasy novels extract their heroes and save their protagonists from situations that are hopeless, all because of a spell the wizard forgot he had, or the magic sword the knight didn't realize he possessed, or the world bending acorn the ranger received as an elvish gift. I suppose the whole point to fantasy and science fiction is that these are tales that are beyond reality, and I am certainly not looking for extensive realism in my fantasy, but I do want some. As morbid as it sounds, I want main characters to die. I want them to face the same hardships I face, encounter the same trials and tribulations, work themselves out of bad situations the same way I would - only, with the help of magic or a dragon or a magic sword. But I don't want them to be miraculously saved. When Matrim Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series (spoiler alert) dies, I wanted him to stay dead. But Rand al'Thor, not realizing he had the power of Bane Fire, brings Matrim back. Again, I know some of this is going to occur in fantasy, and I know it occurs in my own writing, I just want less of it. I believe, with less Deus Ex Machina, fantasy would cross genre boundaries.
2. Names and Places that I either can't pronounce, or sound like the author was literally looking around his/her desk and putting random words together
Everyone who reads fantasy and science fiction knows what I mean. You come to that one name (and for the sake of not wanting to slam any particular author, I will leave specific examples out) and as you sound it out loud - "Pap-stap-uter-ex" - you realize that at that moment, at the moment the author needed that profound name, he happened to be sitting in front of his computer with a paperclip in his hand and a box of staples on his desk, and he thought by adding ex to the end of the name, it made it clever. So as Sir Papstaputerex goes through his adventures, all you can think about is, "You couldn't come up with anything better?" I know that these are make believe world, and I know that these are make believe people, but can't we be a little more creative? And how about names and places that I can pronounce? I read a book not too long ago, and the name of a people in the book was literally so long, it took up a whole line on a page, and the author even explained how other peoples shortened the name because it was so long. WHAT? It just seems to me that there is going to be a certain amount of popcorn involved in fantasy, which is ok and expected. But that popcorn level goes up as we have more and more inaudible, unpronounceable, wacky names and places.
3. Telling Not Showing
Early on in my writing "career," I got slammed on this concept a lot. I mean, a lot. So much so, that I really reconsidered whether or not I wanted to be an author. I mean, here I am, having these amazing, insanely awesome scenes in my head. How else am I suppose to explain these scenes or places or even people to my audience other than describing them it such great detail that it takes a total of three to four pages to just explain the way the sun rises over the mountains, or the way her hair flutters in the wind? Two amazing authors are so famously guilty of doing this that if they were fledgling writers today, they may have never made it. Of course, I am talking about Tolkien and Jordan. I love their work and view them as pioneers in Fantasy Fiction. However, it seems that too many modern fantasy authors have chosen to follow in these revolutionaries' exact footsteps. Times change, as do the requirements and expectations of industries, including writing. I want to experience people, scenes, and places through dialogue (which will be another pet peeve of mine) and action, fighting, smelling, seeing. I really feel like I am just being told a story when I pick up many fantasy novels. I want to smell the smells, hear the sounds, see the sights.
4. Bad Dialogue
What is it about Fantasy and Science Fiction that authors think its a license for superfluous language, hyperbolic speech, and just bad dialogue in general? I mean, really? I often wonder if authors think to themselves, "Would I really speak this way?" Again, the author typically isn't inputting themselves into the story. These are other-worldly people, in other-worldly places, dealing with other-worldly things. But, if I want people like me reading my books, I might want my characters to speak like me - or them. Here is just a quick example of what I am talking about. Mind you, I just came up with this.
"Ho there, comrade of the eastern hills where the sun shines warm and bright every day of this and every year," Ethgar Blue Beard of the Hakawakaluka Clan exclaimed with great admiration and mirth, his bluish-black beard floundering in the subtle, cool, crisp breeze of the Fourth Wind and his black eyes blazing like dark, endless coals burning on a freezing, moonless, starless night. (A homage to my previous two pet peeves).
"Ho there, fellow barbarian, master of the western steps, where the grass grows tall and strong, lord of the horse people and crusher of all who refuse to follow the great traditions of your people," Spik'a-Val'um'inius replied, his hair - as bright as the noonday sun - shining and casting out the ever growing shadows of a darkening world, his eyes meeting the dark intensity of Ethgar's with an icy coolness about them, one that might freeze those he looked upon if it were not for the warmth in his heart.
"Dost thou come with the good news that makes my heart race like the wild horses of my lands?" Ethgar asked, his well-muscled neck undulating with every word, presenting his arms wide open, in friendship as a long lost brother might meet his kin.
"Nay, nay," Spik'a-Val'um'inius replied. "My news is as dark as witch's brew in the dead of winter."
What the hell was just said? I wrote it and I don't even know what I just wrote. But this seems to be the norm for most fantasy novels. Why? That's a great question. I feel like most fantasy novelists think they have to be the next Shakespeare. But I don't think that is what people are looking for. I think they're looking for stories they can relate to and dialogue they can understand. We, as authors, need to think about how we speak and how we would respond to certain situations and realize that that would be the response of most people, and that's what they can relate to - and that is what they want to read.
5. What is the Motivation?
Lastly, I need motivation. What is motivating the main character to follow the kooky wizard that just barged into the pub talking about the end of the world and so-and-so being the savior, and they have to leave right now? I truly believe that a thousand years ago, or in some make believe land, or a thousand years from now, people would respond the same way people would respond today.
"Um, here, let me buy you a beer and I'll meet you out back in five minutes," while he takes off as fast as he can.
"Get the hell outta here before I beat you and have you thrown in jail."
If everyone is happy and content, why would they change? Or, if everything is so hopeless, there is never a thought a breaking the chains of oppression, why would they change? I suppose this speaks to the epic nature of most fantasy, the overarching ideas and themes, but no matter how epic a fantasy novel is, it needs to have some real motivation. There needs to be conflict. There needs to be problems. Something needs to be amiss and something needs to convince the protagonist he or she needs to change, needs to go an adventure, needs to go with the crazy wizard.
I do believe that at some point, and possibly still, I am at fault for committing all of these writing sins. But as I try to move from being pigeon-holed to one genre to writing across genres, as most authors want, I try as hard as humanly possible to avoid these mistakes. Let me know what your pet peeves and frustrations are with novels and authors. Thanks and Happy Reading!