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Five Fantasy Faux-Pas

August 31, 2010

Okay, maybe not “faux-pas” but it started with an ‘f’ so I went with it!

This week we are blogging about what five things we would like to see in the genre we write in. So with that in mind, I have a confession to make. I don’t read books in the same genre that I write. Now before you start throwing things at my head, I do read Epic Fantasy, just not anything released in the last five years. I prefer to watch fantasy movies rather than read the books. Why? Well, that is what I’m going to blog about today. I quit reading Epic Fantasy because of these things.

 1. Voice and Style – I find sometimes that Epic Fantasy novels are written in such a way that I have to make myself smarter in order to read the book. I don’t feel the need to have my old English dictionary handy in order to understand the story. If I can’t understand the story without a dictionary, I lose interest in reading it. Usually if I don’t know a word in a story, I can at least understand the meaning based on context – what else is going on before and after the word was used. However, in some fantasy that I have read, I can read a page two or three times and still have no clue what is going on. This isn’t the most important thing that this genre needs, but it is the main reason why I prefer movies over books. It might not happen as often as I think, but it did in the books that I happened to pick up. And it’s not just actual word definitions – it’s merely the style the story was written in. I’d like to see Fantasy stories that aren’t — well I guess the word would be ‘poetic’. A more relaxed style would be nice to see, I think.

 2. Dragons – This has two points really. I hate stories where dragons are portrayed as the evil ones or the villains. They eat people and destroy villages. I also don’t like dragons that have this obsession with becoming human. This goes along with originality I guess as it seems that many stories I read about dragons have one of these elements in it. I prefer stories where dragons have a more positive influence. I see dragons as guardians and protectors not out right killers.

 3. Faeries – (Yes, with an ‘e’ not an ‘i’) Besides my spelling pet peeve over this word, I also find two things missing with faeries here. 1 –  Lack of faeries in stories geared for adults. Elves usually seem to take the spotlight here. 2 – When there are faeries they follow the same pattern of being tiny creatures that help things grow and the seasons change. While that’s cute, I would like to see more faeries that do NOT do these things. In my novel I purposely avoided the faery stereotypes in order to have this in my genre. I’d also like to see a more adult type of story with faeries in it as main characters. (Oh and as far as artwork is concerned, there is a lack of male faeries depicted. I’d like to see more male faeries become great heroes in stories and art.)

 4. Character Development – Movies even lack this point to me. The stories focus on the magic and the world and the epic adventure the characters are on but it seems to lack deep character development. Now, this is merely my opinion. I’m sure others out there will disagree with me on this point. However, this is just what I see in what I’ve read and in movies. However, given the amount of fantasy I used to read, I can honestly say I don’t remember a single character out of any of those stories. But I remember the plot and the world they were in. Tolkien did a FANTASTIC job with his characters. Perhaps he just spoiled me and I subconsciously compare other books to his. Do I hate plot driven stories? No, of course not. I would just like to see more memorable characters come from this genre. This relates to numbers two and three really. I want characters that stand out, that make me love and hate them, that make me laugh and cry. I want to feel like I made a new friend.

 5. And this last point might be more of a technical thing rather than an actual story thing. I want to see Epic Fantasy (or all Fantasy for that matter) to separate itself from Sci-fi. Sci-fi is great, I’m not knocking it. However, I have searched for magazines and groups to join, but pretty much every time it’s a combined thing. I have also seen Horror grouped together with these two! It would be nice to see the genre itself be able to be on its own. Is there a Sci-fi Fantasy combo? Yes. I’m not talking about things like Avatar. But in my head, I don’t see how Lord of the Rings relates to Star Wars. (Okay that was a huge leap, but you get my point.) Sure, they are both epic stories of adventure and the battle between good and evil. But look at the differences. Steel swords vs light sabers. Elves vs Wookies. So, I’d just like to see Epic Fantasy (and Sci-Fi) branch out to stand on their own in groups and magazines. (Which most likely means a demand for more people to write in these genres, especially Epic Fantasy. There are a lot of Fantasy stories out there and authors too. However, it seems the authors I actually meet nowadays are Urban Fantasy writers.)

 And on the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars analogy, the more I think about it now, the more I realize how much in common they do have. So, it might be a bad analogy but still. One is clearly Sci-fi and the other clearly Fantasy. Hopefully you got my point anyway!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2010 10:44 am

    Great post! I’m with you on the dragon aspect. If the story/movie has people trying to survive from bad dragons I am not interested, at all. However, I am okay with some dragons are bad and some are good. I don’t like how, sometimes, in epic fantasy (and other genres) an entire race/species/etc is considered bad. It sends a negative, hidden message, and it’s not as believable for me. My BF wants cowrite a book and he labeled one species as the villains with a single one from that species helping all the others get alliances to survive the onslaught and I just don’t like the ideas right now because of that.

    I do like faeries, and would like to see more as you stated but I’m less picky about the spelling. Fairy is okay for me. *shrugs* I also love elves, and still want more or at least more of a web presence cause Paranormal and UF and YA non-epic/high seems to be more popular.

    I also don’t read in genres I write. Cause I love epic fantasy, but haven’t written it yet as I’m a bit uncertain I could pull it off. Plus this mutant series and the other subgenres take up most my attention right now. And I’ve never read Tolkien. I tried to read the Hobbit and just couldn’t. So, I’ve read stuff like 3 of the dragonlance books (in a 4 book series cause it felt done at 3 for me) and 3 of Robert Jordan (which I like but haven’t gone back to read the rest). And it would be helpful, as a reader, to have fantasy and sci-fi separated. I’d be able to figure out the genre of my own novels easier (because people ask where would it be shelved and the stores I see the answer is “fantasy/sci-fi”). It would also be easier to pick books to read when I’m looking for books in a specific genre.

    Okay. I’ve commented enough. 😉 Awesome topic/post.

    • August 31, 2010 9:19 pm

      Dawn, after talking to you and Noah, I am 100% positive that your mutant story is Sci-Fi. Yes, Sci-Fi currently shares a shelf (and everything else) with Fantasy. But when someone asks you what your genre is, you don’t need to include the fantasy part. Hope that helps you a bit.

  2. August 31, 2010 5:40 pm

    I do so agree with your points on voice and style. Despite having used some pretty big and obtuse words in my academic writing (it seems to be expected), I cannot stand having to think about dictionaries when I am reading fiction! Big words are only really appropriate for niche readerships and when writing the dialogue of “highly” educated characters.

    A great post and (forgive me here) if I lump dragons and faeries together as part of the character process, then your comments are applicable across the board! 🙂

  3. August 31, 2010 9:14 pm

    I have to agree with you all on the “I-don’t-want-to-take-out-a-dictionary-while-reading-fiction” aspect. I also love faeries, dragons, elves and realms where magic prevails. But I don’t touch high fantasy because of the gigantic “NERD” sticker on the covers. What? It’s not my imagination, you know you’ve seen it there too.

    Yeah this is pretty hypocritically of me to say, because I love to read Shakespeare and classics like The Great Gatsby. But … just look at Harry Potter … YA adult fantasy that was a hit sensation even with adults. Why? Because no one had to open up a dictionary in order to read it. Yup. 😉

  4. August 31, 2010 10:01 pm

    NERD sticker? But, you ARE a nerd JD. I mean, hello? You are MY best friend (that’s like 50 Nerd points right there) AND you talk to the characters in your head as if they were real people (which is like, another 20 Nerd points and 200 Crazy points…)

  5. August 31, 2010 10:34 pm

    Hello, Ana. I know I have said this before, but I so appreciate everyone who posts before me! It’s like I get to look over your shoulder in class, get extra help and not get into trouble for it!!
    Not really, but sometimes I am uncertain in which direction I want to go, and you ladies provide a good measure of inspiration.
    I do appreciate your candor with regard to not currently reading in your genre. For me, I sometimes feel like I’m expected to be some sort of expert when in fact all that I am doing is presenting a sliver of what I bring to the table, and nothing more.
    Thanks for posting and have a great week.
    -Jimmy

  6. September 1, 2010 12:09 pm

    I see a whole change coming about in the paranormal genre. Anne Rice started with her tortured characters, limited to being conflicted, sometimes evil and powerful. But their plumbing didn’t work. Now we have vamps with plumbing – we’ve come into the house and gotten away from the outhouse. And we have good vamps, I mean, life-saving heroes. I think fairies (I agree with you about the spelling thing) will have their day as well.

    I don’t read inspirational stories because I like the inspirational stories in other genres better. Just a question of taste on my part. But I like a good message, and working with supernatural characters, if done right, along with the world they exist in, gives us a whole “stew” of opportunity to show emotion, so we care.

    I guess Asimov wrote one romance novel some years ago. It was small, and he never wrote another. I’m actually turned off by some of these labels: for some reason, when I hear urban fantasy or steam punk, I don’t want to read it and I don’t know why. But then, I’m not 20. When I hear pure Sci-Fi, I also have the same reaction. But give me a mixture of the fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal romance. throw in some good sex, and I’m there.

    How about the term, Fan-Sci-Rom, or Fan-Sci-Romer for erotic?

  7. Ien Nivens permalink
    September 1, 2010 12:48 pm

    Excellent points, Anastasia!

    Epic fantasy is a more challenging form than it gets credit for, and it’s popular, which means that there are an awful lot of people doing it poorly. And when it misses, it misses by–wait a minute while I look this up! How much is a furlong?

    I’m back and forth on the high-flown language thing. A poetic style that keeps its head on its shoulders can lend a certain dignity to a scene or a character, but it takes a strong voice that knows what it’s doing and how to be humble, to avoid excess. At the casual end of the spectrum, characters often sound too modern for their breeches. Hercules and Xena come to mind.

    Words like “thane” and “minion”–even if I don’t have to look them up–almost always set my nerddar wailing. Not because they are inherently bad, but because they’re too antiquated to be used more than once or twice a century, when no other word will do, and I can’t think when that might be. No offense to the legit nerds in the room. Maybe I mean dorkdar.

    And while speculative fiction keeps splintering into one sub-genre after another, the tendency to merge large categories like fantasy and sci-fi is relatively recent–by which I mean that it’s happened within my lifetime. It seems that everybody used to know the difference, and it’s refreshing to see that you still do. It’s also true that, both in the rarified atmosphere of experimental physics and in the popular imagination, the distance between science and magic has shrunk considerably.

    And yes to the similarities between LOTR and Star Wars, except that the depth of character development, the sustained narrative integrity and the textural complexity of LOTR, to my mind, are what put it in a different category.

  8. September 8, 2010 5:27 pm

    Dragons: with you on that one. I like dragons. Fairies / faeries – like the original spelling for preference but no strong opinions on that one. Not specially bothered, in all fairness – though I did read a book lately which had adult content, faeries spelt your preferred way, and lots of hunky long-haired lusty male faeries, so other people are with you on that point, evidently!

    Re the Star Wars / LOTR comparison: I once wrote a 5k word essay on the subject at Uni. I was supposed to be doing the Homer / Virgil / Milton comparison but the questions were too dull, so when they wrote one at the end of the q-sheet about “other works you consider could be called epic” I took the bit between my teeth and ran with it. The tutor gave me a B+ for academic content and and AAA (which doesn’t exist) for originality and readability, saying that after reading 25 dull and pedestrian sets of badly-researched musings on his pet subject, mine was refreshingly fun and unexpected. He also pointed out that if I did it in the exam he would fail me with never a second thought…but by that point I’d waded throught the set texts, so blagging it was less of a necessity!!
    Regards:
    J.

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