Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

74 Fantasy Cliches to Avoid!

A friend (can I actually call him that since I haven't met him? Hmmmm....).... Let's try that again. A friendly acquaintance of mine from dropped this gem on a thread I am following there. It is a hilarious quiz for us would-be Fantasy Authors. I've copied and pasted the entire quiz here, but you can link to it yourself here.

Some of the questions made me roar out loud. Laughter of this kind in an office is generally discouraged. Other questions made me cringe a little. I've answered them here as honestly as possible, but feel free to answer the quiz yourself. Anyway, here is the quiz (disclaimer, spelling here is American English):

"Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too. The problem is that most of this "great, original fantasy" is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we're sick of it, so we've compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering "yes" to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once."

(Sonia's note: Uh-oh!)

The Exam

1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?

2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn't know it?

4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
Sort of yes... (in the word's of Homer Simpson: D'Oh!). He always had great power, he never really "acquired" it... but I'm splitting hairs here.

5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?

6. How about one that will destroy it?

7. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about "The One" who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?
How about "The One" who will destroy the world and all the forces of good?

8. Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?

9. Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?

10. Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?
Not the supreme one, no.

11. Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?

12. Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel?

13. How about "a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior"?
A very minor character... but I guess that's still a yes. Damn it!

14. How about "a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons"?

15. Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around?

16. Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?

17. Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?
No. Though I suppose Vanessa might embody some.... Still, it's not the reason for her existence!

18. Would "a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword"
aptly describe any of your female characters?

19. Would "a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan" aptly describe any of your female characters?

20. Is any character in your novel best described as "a dour dwarf"?

21. How about "a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage"?

22. Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?
No. There are no Elves and Dwarves.

23. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?

24. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?

25. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
No, I don't... luckily it never comes up in this series....

26. 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"?
No. Sounds like something out of the Princess Bride....

27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you've read the entire book, if even then?

28. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?

29. How about a quintet or a decalogue?
Turned out to be a quintet... but it wasn't planned. Is that a yes or no in this case?

30. Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book?

31. Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you're still many sequels away from finishing your "story"?

32. Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books?

33. Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?

34. Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group?
No. But that sounds like fun....

35. Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?

36. Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names?
No. The race names do.... but that's still a no!

37. Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?
No, actually. Had to think about that one.

38. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named "Tim Umber" and "Belthusalanthalus al'Grinsok"?
(Raucous laughter) Something is wrong with that! The answer is no, by the way.

39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
No. Though it depends on what you mean by halflings.... Certainly none in the Tolkein sense.

40. How about "orken" or "dwerrows"?
What now? No.

41. Do you have a race prefixed by "half-"?

42. At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?

43. Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG?
No. But that sounds like fun....

44. Have you done up game statistics for all of your main characters in your favorite RPG?

45. Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast?

46. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls?

47. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don't?
No. Even so, detailed analysis of the politics is not the focus of this tale.

48. Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?

49. Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won't break the plot?

50. Do any of the magic users in your novel cast spells easily identifiable as "fireball" or "lightning bolt"?
Not from their fingers. One guy affects the weather with his mood.

51. Do you ever use the term "mana" in your novel?

52. Do you ever use the term "plate mail" in your novel?

53. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term "hit points" in your novel?
NO! Do people do that?

54. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?
Actually, I do. Lived in a gold-mining town.

55. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?

56. 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?
No. But I'd love to meet the man with the stamina to do that!

57. Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it?
No. Weapons aren't magic.

58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?

59. Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor?

60. Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more?
Having carried a couple of actual swords myself, some actually do. Most don't though.

61. Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?
D'Oh! Yes.

62. Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns?

63. Is your hero able to withstand multiple blows from the fantasy equivalent of a ten pound sledge but is still threatened by a small woman with a dagger?
(Bwah hah hah hah!) No.

64. Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man?

65. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an "on the road" meal?
Uh-oh... have to review this one! Who said that "on the road" stew was good stew, though.....

66. Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead?

67. Do you think that "mead" is just a fancy name for "beer"?
Beer is made with hops and barley. Mead is made from honey. So, no.

68. Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?
No. (Score!)

69. Is the best organized and most numerous group of people in your world the thieves' guild?
No. I don't even have a thieves' guild... Now I feel like I'm missing out on things!

70. Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death?

71. 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?
No. Tee hee hee...

72. Is "common" the official language of your world?
Capital D'OH! Yes... there is a "common" language. Though I think I call it the Diplomatic Language. Is that a yes or no? If the question is read literally, the answer would be no.

73. Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before?

74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?

75. Read that question again and answer truthfully.

That was supremely entertaining. For me at least! I managed 3 fails (D'Oh!) and just as many near misses. Is my work so desperately unoriginal?


P.S. - I'm in a good mood today, so I'm just going to ignore my FAIL and assume that my work is still original enough to warrant being published!


whqttt said...

As I've probably pointed out before, there is a world of difference between trying to avoid cliches and being entirely, 100% original.

The example I tend to give is this:

Boy meets girl, they are drawn together, but through the pressures of society are forced apart. Boy dies, girl mourns.

This is the basis of Romeo and Juliet, and also of King Kong.

The differences are obvious, but it is still the same basic story when broken down into its key components.

The art is making something worth reading.

Oh, and if you can do so and then look up your main trope on without thinking "oh dear...", then your job is complete.

S. M. Carrière said...

Very true, but the quiz was hilarious (and not meant to be taken so seriously... it was just for fun) and I enjoyed taking it and laughing hysterically at some of the very valid points that the questions raised.

It was a tongue-in-cheek post designed to make would-be writers take a serious look at their stuff. Let's face it, we've all read a book and groaned....