Friday, October 30, 2015

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

At my recent writer's conference, Jessica Day George gave a hilarious talk on 'How to Write Fantasy' ("Only the broadest topic ever," she said, "right after: 'How to Write Fiction').

I have a love-hate thing going on with fantasy.  I didn't read it growing up based on two things: my older brother loved it, so it was his thing, and I really, really hated the covers.  I remember a lot of this kind of thing lying around his room:

Probably a great book, but not for the teenage me.  Puns AND a skeleton AND a centaur?

Other than the Narnia books and Madeleine L'Engle, I didn't crack a fantasy book on purpose until I was an adult.  Once I did, the creativity and the epic scale of good versus evil sucked me in.  But I still never headed to the fantasy section--I thought of those wonderful recommendations as aberrations, not typical.  And I picked up a few with portrayals of women that really got under my skin.

My younger brother kept raving about this fantasy author named Brandon Sanderson.  I checked Mistborn out of the library at least three separate times, because I couldn't bring myself to read it.  It was that darn fantasy cover!

Finally, book drought desperation got to me, and I opened it.  And I'm not sure I put it back down until I'd read all three in the series.  And then everything else Brandon Sanderson had ever written.  I recommended it to everyone I knew (mostly the only people who read it were my friends' husbands or their teenage sons).

Anyway, after a month of glutting myself on Brandon Sanderson's epic fantasies, I had to acknowledge that I actually might be falling for the genre.  I've noticed when I look at my Shelfari page, a good chunk of my 5-star ratings go to . . . fantasy!

I've found that I particularly love YA fantasy.  LOVE.  Here are some recent and all-time favorites:

Image result for stolen songbirdImage result for an ember in the ashesImage result for leigh bardugo booksImage result for false princeImage result for false princess

(See how amazing YA fantasy covers are? Take a hint, adult publishers.)

Read these.  All of them, and immediately.  Thank me later.

Jessica Day George's class reminded me this hilarious site called 'The Fantasy Novelist's Exam.'  It sums up exactly why I couldn't get into fantasy for so long.

Here are some highlights:
  1. Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel?
  2. How about "a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons"?
  3. Would "a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword" aptly describe any of your female characters?
  4. Would "a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan" aptly describe any of your female characters?
  5. Is any character in your novel best described as "a dour dwarf"?
  6. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?
  7. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
  8. Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like "The Blasted Lands" or "The Forest of Fear" or "The Desert of Desolation" or absolutely anything "of Doom"?
  9. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you've read the entire book, if even then?
  10. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
  11. How about a quintet or a decalogue?
  12. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named "Tim Umber" and "Belthusalanthalus al'Grinsok"?
  13. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don't?
  14. Do you ever use the term "plate mail" in your novel?
  15. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term "hit points" in your novel?
  16. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?
  17. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
  18. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?
  19. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an "on the road" meal?
  20. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?
Go read the whole thing--it's hilarious!  Thank goodness so many writers are playing with these tropes and turning them into something marvelous.

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