Warning: There are book spoilers in this post for A Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the Farseer Trilogy. Oh, and for Doctor Who.
When I read A Song of Ice and Fire, I thought Daenerys and her dragons was an original idea and really well done. And then I read The Kingkiller Chronicles a couple of years later. Again, dragons reared their fire-breathing heads. Oh sorry, what’s that? They were called “draccuses” (“dracci”?). Well then they must be different, right? Who are we kidding, you can call a spade a phallange but if it’s used to dig up dirt or sand, it’s still a spade. What’s worse is that these dracci just showed up out of the blue in the second book. Compared to ASoIaF, their introduction felt awkward and unwieldy. After all the interesting magical systems used in the first book and the focus on The University, it felt odd and out of place. Like a murder in a YA novel. Oh well. I brushed it off and kept reading anyway.
A little while later, I read Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy. I loved it until the last book, which dragged on forever until the last 20%. Lo and behold, surprise dragons were introduced to the story again. Sure, I still enjoyed the trilogy, but for there to be dragons again? And for them to be introduced so late in the series? I know dragons aren’t strictly real so they still count as fantastical, but they’re such a common mythological creature that they hardly feel fantastical at all.
1. What happened to the fantastical?
Since everyone and their mother seem to be writing about dragons, they’ve become common and unsurprising. Why not create a new creature? Something we’ve never seen before? Because, after all, that’s what fantasy novels are all about, right? It just feels like lazy writing nowadays to include dragons in a fantasy book. Why not a beast with five feet and no hands – one who sees humans and wishes it had opposable thumbs?
It’s a basic example, but your imagination really could run wild when you’re writing a fantasy novel.
2. Where’s the story?
All too often, fantasy books digress from the story to describe the fantasy world. I understand this is a big reason why writers write fantasy – world building is extremely fun, after all – but shoehorning a few pages of world description is infruriating. Show us the world through the characters when it’s relevant, but I don’t want to have to sit through ten pages of description for description’s sake.
3. Magical fix-all devices
All too often, magic in fantasy novels is a shortcut. A cop-out. A way to cross the t’s and dot the i’s without the characters actually learning anything or growing in any way. Okay, this isn’t always the case, but it does seem to be a trap that a lot of fantasy writers fall into.
Take Doctor Who for instance. While it is of course a science fiction series and the TV series is only now being adapted into books, that sonic screwdriver was such an easy way out of situations. It allowed characters to escape without actually developing or forming bonds with other characters. In my opinion, it really epitomises the heart of this issue.
Just a disclaimer, I am in no way calling myself an expert, but after reading quite a bit of fantasy fiction these are the things that annoy me.
Sorry, rant over! Is there anything you really dislike in fiction that has become a common trope? Or do you disagree with anything I’ve said? Let me know in the comments!