Traps Fantasy Writers Need to Avoid

Every genre comes with its own set of challenges for amateur writers, and fantasy is no exception. Because magic is such an integral part of fantasy novels (95% of the time), it is incredibly important that writers learn how to avoid the tempting traps the genre has to offer.


1. Writing “Time Period” Language 

Ever picked up a fantasy novel with a lot of “thee, thou, and thy?”

If you answered “yes,” to that question, you need to read more fantasy.

Medieval language has no place in fantasy writing, not even in novels that are set within medieval times. Hell, any novel set within medieval times shouldn’t be written in such an archaic way.

Why?

Because using medieval language creates distance between the story and the reader. As writers, it’s up to us to make sure our readers feel like they are part of the story, like they can immerse themselves in the worlds we build and the words we weave.

Medieval language prevents us from doing that in any story, but exponentially more so in fantasy where the reader is already unfamiliar with the world. 

We need to use common language as bridges from the real world into the worlds we create. We must make our characters seem like people to the readers of our stories. Without that, we lose the connection between story and reader, and there the story falls flat.

Medieval language is also called Shakespearean English. Read the following passages from Shakespeare’s works, and ask yourself: “Is this how I want to come across to anyone who reads today?”

“Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?

Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:

Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,

Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?”

~Sonnet 8 

“For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any

Who for thy self art so unprovident.

Grant if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,

But that thou none lov’st is most evident.”

~Sonnet 10

“Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;

What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?

No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;

All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.”

~Sonnet 40


2. Too Little, Too Late: Lack of Action 

It’s a fact of life that we live in a high-paced society. Readers don’t have the attention spans they used to, and the vast majority of readers want books whose action starts on the very first page. 

Sure, fantasy authors in the past could write pages upon pages of background information and keep a reader’s attention. That’s not true anymore. One of the worst mistakes a writer – of any genre – can make – is to introduce action after a reader has already gotten bored.

The most crucial part of your novel is the first five pages. In other words, the introduction. 

Because of my rapid reading speed (I can read ~150-200 pages an hour, depending on genre), I don’t waste time in libraries. If a book has an interesting synopsis, I open it and scan the first two pages. If nothing pulls me in, I put it back on the shelf.

In a way, that makes me an author’s worst nightmare. I am both the byproduct of a society that lives a high-octane, convenience-based way, and I was born with ADHD. So the fast pace of society works well for me, but if an author can’t write words that engage me within the first two pages, I won’t read that book.

Personally, I prefer first person over third person when I’m reading, as the story moves much faster. However, if a book is written well enough, third person works fine.

The best fantasy writers are engaging from page one. Actually, the best writers are.

For fantasy, however, here is a list of authors that hooks the reader on page one. 

And that’s just a few of the authors whose books I’ve read – fantasy is my staple genre, after all.

Now, if you’re wondering how to write an effective introduction, start reading the books of the authors in that list. Reading is a writer’s first priority. If you aren’t reading, you aren’t learning how to write. Thus, if you aren’t reading, and reading a lot, you will never be a good writer. There’s no exception to that rule.


3. Too Much World Building

Fantasy is a great genre because, as a writer, you get to make up all the rules. Design new worlds, create new systems of governments – the possibilities are endless.

But you still have to make a bridge from this world into your world. 

If a writer creates a world that is so bizarre that no connecting elements from this world can be found, a reader is going to choose someone else’s books.

Create a world where everyone is a pink elephant with four heads and the moon floats upside down in the middle of the human homeland and try to create a political system based on the average lengths of the necks of those elephants — yeah, who is still with me?

I’d be surprised if most of my readers here didn’t skip over that paragraph – it’s too absurd.

When a writer builds a world, it needs to make sense. Too absurd a world, and no one will read the story. 

So which authors should you read for a better understanding of what great world-building looks like? Well, here’s a list to get you started:


4. No Rules for Magic Systems

It is often said that fiction must be more plausible than real life, and the only exception in fantasy is that magic can be present. Not all fantasy novels have magic in them, but most do.

When magic is involved, the rules need to be clear and consistent. Otherwise, the entire story falls apart.
Here’s a list of fantasy authors who create amazing magic systems:

5. Overpopulation 

A lot of would-be fantasy writers assume that all fantasy novels require a huge cast of characters and that, for some reason, they must write from multiple characters’ point-of-views.

This is the worst mistake a writer can make because it spreads you too thin. If a writer tries to tell the same story with twelve different characters, that writer is going to get lost.

The easiest way to avoid this? Choose one character and write the story from their perspective. Let the novel stand on its own.

If you get to a point where another character’s point-of-view becomes pivotal to the plot, make a note of it, and then go back and write that character’s story separately. 

Writing does not have to occur chronologically. 

Amateur writers forget that they can piece-meal stories. They can write a scene for the beginning of the book, then for the end, then for the middle – or wherever the heck they want. All that matters is the scenes get written. Worry about where they go after the story is finished. 

There aren’t a great deal of fantasy authors who shift from character to character anymore, but the few who do, do it exceptionally. Here’s a list of authors to read if you feel that you absolutely must have multiple point-of-views in your fantasy novel:

Most of the other authors I listed previously have novels that shift point-of-view around; these are the ones that I believe use the technique most effectively.

And here’s a list of the authors who use singular point-of-views: 

Granted, other authors listed also use singular point-of-views, but these are specifically authors who either only have one series published and write in first person or are authors with multiple series with one or more of those series written in first person point-of-view.


Recap: The Traps

1. Writing “Time Period” Language: Avoid thee, thine, thy, thou in your writing.

2. Too Little (Action), Too Late: Engage the reader from page one!

3. Too Much World Building: Make sure you build a bridge from the real world to your created world in the mind of the reader. Don’t overdo it.

4. No Rules for Magic Systems: When you create a magic system, know how it works intimately. Keep it consistent. Make the rules understandable.

5. Overpopulation: Don’t write from the p-o-v of too many characters. Start with one p-o-v and work your way up to multiple p-o-v stories. Unless multiple p-o-v’s are critical to the plot, stick with a single character’s version of the story.

 

 

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