Fantasy writers, we need to talk

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!

Growing pains

It is a strange thing indeed, running in pitch black. Constantly thinking you’ll double back somehow and bump into the thing you’re running from. Of course, who runs without something to run from?

It is even worse still to have someone switch on a light only to find that you haven’t moved at all. Your shirt got stuck on a loose nail which, unbeknownst to you, had been holding you in place all this time. All that effort you exerted for nothing, all that fear you felt still lingering, all that joy from leaving fear’s source gone.

You look around blearily, blindly. Why hasn’t the scenery changed? You wonder, though you subconsciously know why. You just don’t want to admit it. You stop the motions of running and cautiously look behind you. And there it is – still there. Still right behind you. Monstrous. It fills you with fear because it still gains a particular response in your brain – a motherly instinct, a need to protect – which incapacitates you. You cannot resist picking it up and cradling it in your arms even though you know it is wrong, unearthly, sordid. Dirty. You hold it at arm’s length, but still it manages to pull closer. It looks you dead in the eyes, smiles, then bites your nose. You try to drop it – half to tend to your nose and half to simply get it away from you – but it’s too late. It’s attached itself to you. Nipping and knawing on your flesh until you’re a pile of bones; until you have nothing left. And really, a part of you still wants to help the poor creature licking its lips as it perches on your skull. For if not you, then who? And if not it, who for you? You’ve never met another soul in this strange world.

But then you realise someone else must be here. Someone else turned the light on as you tried to make a run for it. There’s still life out there yet.

You just have to meet it.

It is difficult writing this and even knowing what to write. I’m sorting things out, stuck in a limbo at the moment, so I apologise if there’s been radio silence from me recently. For those who are actually in my life too, I’m sorry if I’ve been distant or silent. Just been trying to work things out for myself. Trying to repair the mistakes I’ve made, trying to get my feelings in order. Grieving. I feel like an ugly person right now, full of anger and hurt. 인간쓰레기처럼. Like human trash.

I promise I’ll be in touch soon. Just got to find that light switch… and the exit. 🙂

Survival (Part One)

I was born in Little Emming the same year Christopher Tin taught the world how to steal other people’s magical abilities. That was a crazy year, though I slept, ate and shat my way through most of it. As you can imagine, it was a traumatic time for my parents; I should have been flying objects around my cot by then or turning my milk from plain to banana flavoured. They spent all year certain that someone had stolen my own powers, though what someone would want with a baby’s feeble magic is anyone’s guess.

The years passed and they slowly came to terms with the fact that I was Different. Even when they wrapped my spellsphere with their own powers, I couldn’t get it to work. So eventually they gave up.

I’ve heard in Asin that they treat people with green eyes differently depending on proximity. Everyone wants to be friends with a green eyed person, sure, but they don’t want to be related to one. Well it was the same with me. I had more friends than my personality warranted, but my parents distanced themselves from me or begged me to see a demon whisperer who would rid me of my evil.

And I did what they said, but to no avail. Still, not everyone can say they’ve talked in tongues to the Lord Cleric Overseer himself. I pride myself on that, at least.

So while all my peers were racing board wipers around with their mind, I had to hold mine and run with it (the wiper, not my mind… though I did do that too). Suffice to say I never won a race, though I excelled in morning exercises.

And when careers advice came around, all three advisers I saw were rendered speechless. They all gave me the same look over their glasses – startled and a little afraid, I think. In the end, I was given a written document which said there was no job I could fill in Emming and that I should try Asin with the other non-magical folk. Suffice to say I was pissed, so I decided to do my own research. I decided I would read all the Little Emming books I could to try and find my place in the world.

But I got through half a tome and fell asleep, my drool dampening the pages so much that they wrinkled and Mrs Kripp kicked me out of the research library. All I had access to was the fiction section – all Asin imports of course; no one in Little Emming has time for a novel when they could put on a play with magic in ten seconds flat.
So I read them instead – the only Emminger in a sea of magical Asinians (my opposites, I guess) looking for a piece of home in the weird and wonderful place they lived. It took me a while to learn Asic, but I met some good non-magical folk along the way and eventually managed to read even the hardest of novels – Battle and Calm.

Writer’s debt

No, I don’t mean the student loan kind… but there is that, too.

This if far-flung from my usual post, but I’ve been using a technique which I thought might be helpful to other people.

I love to gamify anything and everything. Learning a language? Check. Setting targets? Check. Playing games? … wait. Check?

So I’ve been setting myself a writing goal each day – x amount of words. Whenever I don’t meet it, I gain what I call “writer’s debt”. So say my goal is 500 words a day. If I miss one day, I have a writer’s debt of 500 words. If I miss three, I have a writer’s debt of 1,500 words, etc. It keeps me on top of things.

I also thought of an alternative if you wanted to raise the stakes. Just like some people have a swear jar, if you don’t reach your writing goal and you end up earning writer’s debt, you have to put x amount of money into a jar. Maybe that money could be used for something in particular, I don’t know (I haven’t thought that far).

I hope this helps those who procrastinate as much as I do!