Five Fantasy Failures
As a lifelong fantasy fans, we have devoured dozens of fantasy novels in our time and even written a few as well. Most of them are quite enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some aspects of the genre that have started to get under our skin. Not all of the mistakes we’re about to list are necessarily exclusive to the fantasy genre, nor do we claim it to be a complete list of everything that can go wrong in a fantasy novel. It is merely some of the things that have become extremely irritating and tiring and can often be found in these types of books. So, you aspiring writers take heed and you fantasy aficionados share a collective sigh, as we dissect the five biggest letdowns from the land of magic and dragons.
Everyone likes a good love story. Even people who read fantasy for the swordplay and badass mythical creatures can appreciate what a good love story between two characters can do for a novel.
Unfortunately, this seems to have led to some kind of unstated rule that every bloody fantasy character needs to fall in love at some point, which in turn has led to an unending stream of half-assed or poorly planned romance plots that make little to no sense. This phenomenon reaches its peak of dumbassery in something we have dubbed Randomsex.
Randomsex is not just a poorly written romance. Nor is it merely a case of a character having an unexpected one night stand. Randomsex usually goes something like this:
“Hey, I’ve only known you for two hours, and we have nothing in common whatsoever. We should fall madly in love and have sex!”
If you want to include a love story, you have to foreshadow it and develop it. It has to be a logical thing for the two characters to do, and it has to serve a purpose for the greater story. You can’t just throw two random protagonists together and have them mate like a pair of rabbits in springtime.
Maybe we’re just reading the wrong books, but lately it feels as if some authors are subscribing to a school of thought that every female fantasy protagonist needs to get raped sooner or later. This has led to the birth of Randomsex’s darker cousin, Randomrape.
Obviously we’re not fans of reading about rape (that feels odd to say), and we imagine most people are siding with us on this one. That said, we acknowledge that under some circumstances, it could be necessary to part of a story. Randomrape is what happens when it isn’t.
Even more so than consensual sex, rape needs to be in some way foreshadowed and play a key roll in the story. You don’t just have your protagonist randomly ambushed and gang-raped while going to the store and then fail to mention it again for the rest of the story. If you can’t think of a way to add drama to your story, there are better solutions than simply deciding, “Needs moar rape!”
If you find yourself writing about a sexual assault, take a moment to ask yourself “Can I tell this story without a rape scene?”. If the answer is yes, it’s probably time to reconsider your mental state, as any instances of sexual assault should fit within the tone of the story. This brings us to our next failure…
Stories need to keep a consistent tone. Our thoughts go to a trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, which we will not name to avoid spoiling it too badly for people. The first two and a half books were almost ludicrously light reading. Nothing particularly bad happened, and the characters were all likable and nice to each other. Until the middle of the third book where, in the space of a single chapter, one of the ridiculously nice characters was brutally killed and readers were suddenly treated to graphic descriptions of the nice female protagonist being gang raped and horribly tortured while the villain fondled himself through his clothes because he got off on her anguished shrieks.
What the hell, Lackey?
We’re not saying books have to be exactly the same the whole way through, or that authors can’t surprise their readers. But stories should flow like water. There needs to be foreshadowing. In simplest possible terms, if you want a lot of bad things to happen in your novel, don’t pack them all into a single chapter.
Don’t. Just don’t.
Midkemia is the setting of Raymond E. Feist’s extremely popular fantasy novels. Feist is a good writer and the books are usually enjoyable, but they can also be very frustrating for one reason. Feist has created an amazing world filled with great characters and awe-inspiring fantasy concepts — all of which he steadfastly refuses to use.
From what we can tell, Feist’s thought process looks something like this: “Well, I could give some more info on that really interesting sorcerer character I introduced last book, but what would be even better is to create a new random soldier character and have him sit in a trench and skirmish with bandits for half the book for no reason.” “Who cares about that epic conflict on a mysterious and distant continent? Readers want to hear about how the heroes are getting their shipments of flour!”
(Sorry, Ray. We’re still planning to read At the Gates of Darkness…[as if he cares what we think].)
The real problem with Midkemia Syndrome, though, is that ignoring the interesting concepts already introduced means having to create an unending stream of new interesting concepts, which in turn are passed over for more interesting concepts, and things start to border on the ridiculous.
“Behold the Algallar of Algillieth, a being cursed to know the fate of every person who will ever live but be unable to change any of them. Only it has the power to save us from the Demons.”
“Wow, that’s amazing! How will it stop the Demons?”
“Demons? The Demons were just a ploy. The true threat is the Darkspawn, which can only be stopped by the life giving magic of the Seven Crowns of Thul-Ta!”
“Er, um, okay, what are Darkspawn?”
“Beings so alien that their very presence destroys everything around them!”
“Wow, that’s actually pretty scary. Okay, where are these Seven Crowns?”
“Seven Crowns? Psh, we don’t need those. Only the Runespear of G’tarra can save us from the rampaging hordes of the Fallen Ones!”
“The city seemed to be built of gems and light. Its people flickered with their own magic, their feet hovering above the ground as they walked, and the air was filled with… Squirrel!”
And so on. When writing fantasy, we firmly believe it is better to create a few races, myths, and concepts and then develop them as much as you possibly can. You will end up with a deeper and more meaningful story than you ever could with an endless parade of new fantasies.