10 Commandments of New Fantasy (Pt. 2)

New Fantasy has rules! And as any good writer knows, you must know the rules – before you break them!

Last week I began laying down the law. I was happy to see some discussion of that post over at Mythic Scribes. It certainly shed some light on what I’ve been seeing as I plod through this crazy genre we call Fantasy. Also, (embarrassingly) it called out an error. Looks like I need more sleep. Anyway, I’m back with the final 5 commandments of New Fantasy.

Hope you enjoy!

My-Family-Tree-image26) Thou Shalt Not Introduce the Entirety of Your Obscenely Long Cast of Characters within the first book (tome) of your work.

Many authors in Fantasy will write sprawling epics that continue on for volume after volume. Some of the character lists in these series are just plain ridiculous when looked at all at once. DON’T make us look at the whole list at once by trying to introduce every character in your epic within the first book of said epic. In my mind, this sin is comparable to watching a bad stand up comedian. Absolutely painful. If you’re writing an epic, spread out your introductions, you’ve got time. Start with a few characters and really make us invest in them. We’ll be more willing to buy again when new characters start sprouting up later on down the line. Plus, added bonus, if we don’t like your new characters, we can fall back on the characters we’ve already met. I won’t say this is an incredibly prevalent sin, but it’s extra noticeable to me and in many cases I’m often surprised at the authors that do this.

7) Thou Shalt not mock the Holy Trilogy with a Forth book!

Ok. Admittedly, I’m not sure that pun makes sense. What I’m trying to say is keep your series tight. Personally, I’ve had a lot of success finishing trilogies (I mean in terms of reading). You can still have an EPIC set of books without taking up an entire row on my book shelf. I’ll probably go on about this some more but page length does not always equal quality. And realistically, once we get past a third book, one of two things will happen: A) My interest is waning or B) I never even started your series because it’s too expensive (I mean in terms of time). And too risky. I’ll be really upset if I sunk 4 – oh 10? books of my time into your series and your ending isn’t good. I started reading Fantasy a few years ago, and have lately been feeling like I scooped up enough snow to make a snow ball, started an avalanche, and now I can’t move and perhaps will suffocate (that’s maybe a bit dramatic). Anyway, keep things simple.

8) Thou Shalt not pass 1,000 pages per volume!

I think this is going to be even more difficult for authors now that digital publishing is starting to make page lengths a thing of the past (although I’ve read some studies arguing that shorter posts get more views). BUT! Please keep your individual books on the shorter side as well. Thanks!

Forged in the fires of . . . Fire?
Forged in the fires of . . . Fire?

9) Thou shalt not overly rely on ‘lore’

I believe this will help authors with their page counts and volume numbers. I know that for many, we read Fantasy to immerse ourselves in another world which has its own customs, traditions, cultural icons etc. however, this cannot be all your novel is about. If it is important that the sword (I say sword here because that seems typical of the type of relic you’d discover in a Fantasy) your character has just discovered was used by some hero from long ago . . . then tell us, but I’d ask you to really gauge its importance. If the main character discovers an important item, then their twelve or fifteen other companions need not discover important items as well. At the very least, the back story required to explain all of these items will distract from the main character’s discovery. And again, I’m mostly just griping about exposition in general. There are perhaps more clever ways to get the reader this knowledge without relying on long swathes of text that take you out of the action.

10) Thou shalt not have Nukes in thy Fantasy!

This is really about something larger. It’s about the tech in your fantasy series. I believe Arthur C. Clarke once said:

‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

I love this quote but when writing Fantasy, I still feel that authors have a big decision to make. Is this a world where magic exists, or where science exists? And stick to that decision. If you’re going to try and blur the line between magic and science, make sure you always have a firm grasp of where that line is. It will help you write a better story where both your magic system or your tech system are more concrete. Then you can drop whatever hints and foreshadowing you think you’ll need to bring your reader to the same place where you are. I think about it in terms of  writing a Mystery. You can’t write one if you don’t know ‘Who dun it?’

I’m hoping this last commandment will ruffle some feathers and to prove me wrong, readers will comment a whole slew (avalanche?) of books in which both science and magic exist. However, as of yet, I’ve seen only worlds that have science or magic, even if the difference is hard to tell. Make sure as an author, you know which world your book is placed in, and can back it up with evidence from your text.

Until next time . . .

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