Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How To Write a Best Selling Fantasy Novel

 I'm not sure where this originally came from, but here is the link to where I picked this up. I've read it over and over though the years, and love it each time I see it. I don't' know about you, but my books have had their share of cliches. How about you? Do you see your writing fitting in with any of these?

1. Create a main character.
Most of the people who read your book will be unconfident males. So make your main character a Loser. Aimless, shy, cowardly, guilty, ill, lazy, rural - any of these will do.

2. Create a Quest.
Out of the blue, the Loser must be suddenly told that the fate of the whole world – or some other world - rests in his incompetent hands. To save the world he must perform some task, confront some nameless foe, learn some mysterious skill etc.

3. Create a Motley Bunch of Companions.
The Loser/Hero must have a Motley Bunch of Companions drawn from different human species e.g. dwarf, elf, Rotarian etc. Each of these companions will have one particular skill such as sword fighting, lasso twirling etc which will come in handy at a particular part of the story.

4. Create a Wise but Useless Guide.
The Guide is wise adviser who knows all about the Quest, but never fully reveals it. He also appears to have immense powers but will not use them when they are most required.
(See Part 7: "Make it Long.") 

5. Create the Land
The first thing the Motley Bunch must do is travel some phenomenal distance through an assortment of vastly different terrains and climates. All Fantasy Lands have every conceivable form of climate and landform - mountains, deserts, swamps, glaciers, forests - arranged randomly across the landscape contrary to any known principles of geography or ecology.

Note: All fantasy worlds are roughly square. i.e. the shape of a double page in a paperback.

6. Create the Enemy
Every Fantasy Land has a Dark Enemy, an almost omnipotent ArchVillain, who is trying to utterly destroy it. It is not clear how the ArchVillain benefits from this. This Villain always has access to vast armies which require no food, payment or other provisioning and can travel thousands of miles and lay siege to cities without any need for a catering corps. For all this, the Enemy is completely dependant on some insignificant object such as a ring or a piece of rock for his power.

7. Make it long.
The important thing about an epic fantasy novel is that the reader must be exhausted at the end of it. They must feel that they have overcome as many obstacles in getting through the book as the heroes have in fulfilling the quest. So the book must be as difficult to read as possible. To do this:

(a) Tell the story in incredible detail. Describe every day of the journey, how far they walked, what they ate, the weather, where they slept, especially days where nothing happens.

(b) Fill every dramatic situation with lengthy introspection. At every moment of crisis the hero must minutely examine his feelings, perceptions, identity, whether he left the gas on etc. 

(c) Never take the easy way out of a crisis. For example, if the Wizard Guide holds great power, he will never use it to solve a situation. To illustrate.

Groll turned his grisly head and raised the black shaft to strike. ‘Use the Gnarlstone" cried Stephen. "No worries" said Gordian and the venerable wizard raised the orb and muttered the Arnic words "Hastalavista". A bright flash flared and the Troll King slumped into a pile of grey-green mush.

Groll turned his grisly head and raised the black shaft to strike. ‘Use the Gnarlstone" cried Stephen. "No" said the wizard sagely. "If we use the Gnarlstone for harm we will only increase the power of the Enemy." Then the shaft struck and Gimlet the Dwarf fell cloven." 

If Wizards and Lords actually used their magical powers they wouldn’t need the Loser/Hero to save them and the book will be over in a hundred pages. So, although wizards can bring trees to life, summon spirits from earth and sky, they have to use guile to defeat the stupidest troll.

You must also:

8. Skip the hard parts.
Despite the need to keep the book long, some bits are just too hard to write. A thousand mile journey by foot is long, but easy to write. Battles on the other hand are hard because there’s a lot going on and you probably require some knowledge of military strategy. So if you’re writing a battle scene and it’s just getting too hard, simply have the hero suffer a wound and lapse into unconsciousness: e.g. 

"… then suddenly his head exploded and a mist enveloped him and he felt himself falling into an ethereal tangible blackness. Badcolds’s sword, still swinging through the air, seemed caught, imprisoned in time. The sound of the battle was suddenly a long way away but just as he closed his eyes and the black cloud engulfed him he thought he heard someone crying from the grassy knoll, "The Toasters are coming. The Toasters are coming."

Voile. Next thing our hero wakes on a white alabaster slab in the Healing Room where the Pure Maiden Warrior (see "Characters" below) tells him that the battle is over and, Guess what? They won! Result: you've saved 50 pages of intricate military description.
For other difficult plot points such as Impassable Mountain Ranges see "Caves" below.

9. Lead up to a cataclysmic battle.
Although the Enemy’s powers are magical, for some reason he must always try to defeat the good guys with good old fashioned hand to hand combat. No matter how much magic power a wizard, king or queen has, they will always end up charging around a battlefield slashing away with a sword.

10. Kill almost everybody.
The Loser/Hero must achieve his goal, gain the power, discover the secret word or whatever only at the last possible moment when all seems lost. To do this it will be necessary to make him fall down and twist his ankle, have an identity crisis, become enchanted etc continually on his way to the goal. Most of the Motley Bunch must die in terrible pain and degradation before the Loser/Hero gets his act together. This is to keep us mad at the Enemy, thought it is basically the Loser/Hero's fault for being so slow and incompetent.
Okay. Now let’s look at some other key points.

Bad Expendables.
It will be necessary to create Bad Expendables. These are the orcs, goblins, trolls, dragons, wights or any other creatures that we are happy to kill in their thousands. They are usually black, hairy, sweaty or in some other way unacceptable by middle class Caucasian standards. Often they are deformed, based on the traditional belief that an ugly body reflects an ugly soul. It is our way of doing a service to the sick and disabled by reminding readers that people who are disfigured look that way because they’re evil.
Note: in Fantasy Lands the concept of reform or rehabilitation is unknown. All allies, minions, vassals and instruments of the Enemy must be summarily killed even if they serve their master primarily out of fear.

Tough Old Warriors
All fantasy novels must have an elite brotherhood of highly trained, pathologically loyal, hereditary fighters. These are invariably sturdy, sullen and have livid scars, one eye missing, only one arm etc. Contrary to logic, the more injuries they bear, the greater their fighting skills.

Pure Maiden Warriors.
Losers are scared of sexuality or dependency in women, so women in fantasy novels are so powerful and pure they make Joan of Arc look like Paris Hilton. They are strong, noble, loyal, brave, high-bred and usually die in the end. Well what else are we going to with them? They’re too scary to marry, and no one in Epic Fantasy Novels ever has sex.

Body Types.
Skinny people are wily and intelligent, big strong bear-like people are invariably dumb.

Character Names.
To make Character Names, just run some nonsense syllables together until it looks like a foreign language. If they are unpronounceable they will be seem even more authentic. "Y"s, "H"s and apostrophes add an exotic feeling. Words like "Dn’a’brht", "ynhazzmhn", "jbreheh’m" are all acceptable. You can also throw in a few names which are just normal English words combined randomly: "Rusk Montana", "Heron Alibi" or "Ermine Dayglo".

Fantasy Worlds always have inexplicable gaps in their technology. They are ruled by councils of venerable sages who are the guardians of the accumulated learning of thousands of years and yet have never got around to inventing anything that might actually help them against wights, trolls and orcs - such as a .44 Magnum. Many Fantasy Worlds possess fine metal working, word-working and the ability to make crossbows, catapults and elaborate secret trapdoors but have no wheeled transport.

Note: Fantasy Worlds never have working economies. Very few people work, there is little agriculture and it is not clear where food comes from.

When wizards shoot blasts of magic at each other the Good Wizard's fire is always blue, and Bad Wizard' is always green or red.

There are three sorts of dwellings in fantasy novels – caves, huts and castles.
Caves are the fantasy writer’s best friend. They are the locations for hidden weapons, centres of wisdom, hide-outs of monsters etc. They require very little description and can be joined together to make a labyrinth. As in Hollywood, all caves have flat floors.
Caves are also useful if you find you have written yourself into a corner by creating an insuperable geographic obstacle such as an Impassable Mountain Range etc. This can be simply solved by taking the Motley Bunch of Companions underground. When they emerge from the tunnels- after days of walking in pitch darkness - they find themselves miraculously on the other side of the Impassable Mountains or whatever. The writer has also saved writing fifty pages of detailed description.
Huts are always in remote locations. Anyone who lives in a hut is simple and good.
Castles are always "hewn from the living rock" whatever that means. Rooms in castles are almost completely bare, with a minimum of decoration.

The Enemy's Stronghold.
The Loser/Hero must eventually penetrate the Enemy's Stronghold. This is never particularly hard to do. Stronghold sentries are never alert and Loser/Heroes can always approach to within 20 feet of the most heavily guarded installation without being detected.
Even the most heavily fortified stronghold always has small unguarded side door where the garbage goes out. Once inside the Enemy's Castle there is only a smattering of people walking casually about. The Loser/Hero will be able to penetrate right into the Enemy's most inner sanctum without being detected.

Note: the Enemy's fatal flaw will always be that he is over-confident.

That's all you need to know.

So get writing and start your career as an 
Epic Fantasy Novelist today.


Michelle McLean said...

LOL! Love it :D

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Wow, this was epic, Kristal! And very funny! Thanks for the chuckles. ;)

Misha Gerrick said...

Lol no wonder my Beast of an Epic is so hard to write!

I break or have broken almost every single rule listed above. *facepalm*

I'm going to have to start over. ;-P

Angelica R. Jackson said...

The sad thing is, I've read books rife with these examples. Even sadder, I liked them when I was a loser, slacker teen. Not just liked them--thought they were brilliant and tried to write one. Thank goodness my tastes have evolved.

Anonymous said...

This makes me want to write the Opposite!!!! I want the skinny guy to be dumb. More important, I want it to be short, say a half-mile journey. Oh man! This could sooo be bad for me LOL. And werid names are actually REALLY hard to come up

Unknown said...

Bahahaha, very entertaining!!! Considering I'm writing a fantasy novel I best take some of this advice to heart.

Note to self: Skip the hard parts, always use proper magical good guy/bad guy colors. Got it!

Lindsay said...

Lol. LOVE THIS. If I write an epic fantasy, I;m calling on you! :)

Unknown said...

Lovely cliches. Does that mean you'll get published if you do the opposite?

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

OH! This is perfect! LOL

Michelle Gregory said...

this always has me in tears laughing.