4 Things I Learned from Writing Fantasy

1. People say they want originality, but not too much. 

How often do we see articles or hear in conversations that people want originality? No one wants to read a carbon copy of another story, obviously. When that happens, it is simply lazy and not worth the effort to read. However, originality is a tricky thing because most people approach genres with certain expectations. If those expectations are not met the end result could be a turn off to the intended audience. This isn’t always true, as I will address later on in the list, because while people are wanting familiarity, the Fantasy genre is changing. There are certain unspoken parameters of Fantasy that people expect, while at the same time demanding originality. How many Fantasy books written since Tolkien’s works have included elves, dwarves, and humans? Most, save for very recently. How often are elves portrayed as extremely beautiful and immortal or at minimum long-lived? Almost always. How often are Dwarves portrayed as greedy people with Scottish accents? Almost always. There isn’t anything wrong with including these things, but it goes to show that there is a lot of familiarity in Fantasy and most readers have come to expect this.

2. I cannot please everyone.

This is rather obvious and straight-forward. However, the truth is writers want their stuff to be liked. We wouldn’t do what we do, work as hard as we do, if only to expect most people to hate what we write. No matter how well the book is written, or how hard we work on it, someone will hate it. Someone will inevitably write a lukewarm or negative review and the temptation to let that crush us is great because we put so much time and money into our books. Yet, like anything in the arts, rejection is a part of it, in fact it is a necessity.

3. What’s popular isn’t necessarily what I like.

The popular trend in Fantasy lately is dark, gritty, with cynical undertones. I can appreciate some stories that take this approach, and I have even enjoyed them. Yet, I tend to enjoy the more traditional Fantasy of good versus evil and the triumph of darkness. Good doesn’t have to always win in every story though, but like everything in writing here must be a purpose to good losing. This direction of Fantasy isn’t what I grew to love about the genre. I know the purpose for the dark and gritty tales with characters dropping like flies is intended to be more realistic, yet personally I see enough evil in the world. That doesn’t mean the stories I read and write are always rainbows and sunshine, but what I am saying is that I don’t try to overwhelm my audience with darkness and gloom. I try to attract people who might read the Shannara books, or Tolkien more than GOT.

4. Selling books is harder than writing them.

Convincing strangers who never heard of you to buy your books is far more difficult than it is to write a book. With time and patience, a writer can finish a book and with editing and revising the story can become solid and publishable. Selling the book takes even more patience and a different type of creativity. Discovering one’s audience and placing the book in front of them is a constantly evolving process. On top of all that, generally it takes years to become established as an author and that is if you did everything correctly combined with factors outside of your control such as luck.

More Thoughts on Characters

There is a trend lately I’ve noticed.  Perhaps it’s been this way for a long time, but it didn’t start to grab my attention until about five years ago.  I don’t know if it is the hypersensitive culture we now live in that’s contributing or not, but it appears that individual characters in fiction are viewed as representing a whole group.  An example, someone I used to know made the comment he doesn’t like the show Home Improvement because Tim Taylor is aloof and a bad example of a husband, father, and a man in general.  That assessment may be true, but that isn’t the point.  Tim’s character isn’t supposed to represent all men it is an exaggeration of what some men might be like, or more specifically these are traits specific to his character that are hyperbolic due to the comedy genre. 

I have come across countless critiques like this where someone will complain about a character poorly representing women, the LGBT, religion, race, or anything you can think of.  There may be certain isolated incidents where this complaint is warranted due to shady motivations from the writer.  However, unless there is evidence to support that the writer is using a character to propel stereotypes, that shouldn’t be assumed.

The personality traits of my characters reflect on them alone.  If a woman has a weakness that doesn’t mean I think all women are weak or need to be saved by men.  If there is a male character in my books that is a little dull that doesn’t mean I think men are dull or can only survive if a woman is there to prop him up.

Fiction, if done right, should not be afraid to have a variety of characters and the personalities of the individuals in the story do not necessarily reflect on a greater whole.