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Rules of SF/Fantasy to Break

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by KC Trae Becker, Sep 5, 2016.

  1. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

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    I just discovered an older article on breaking unspoken rules for writing SF/Fantasy stories. 10 Writing "Rules" We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break

    I found it an interesting article and would love to hear it discussed here. Any opinions about it are welcome.

    Though the article was suggesting more people do these things I was surprised to see that publishers and readers are shying away from prologues, portals and FLT. Can anyone confirm this article's assumption that these devices have fallen out of vogue? I'm especially wondering what the complaint is about portals. (I have heard minor complaints and the reasoning behind them about the other two.)
     
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  2. bdcharles

    bdcharles Minstrel

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    Well, I don't want other fantasy writers to break with these cliches because I want to be the one to do it! ;)

    I suppose a portal is a bit of a lazy device. Why not invent some interesting way for your characters to get from A to B? I tend to sympathise with alot of these points. Dwarves is another one - though of course Tyrion Lannister now admirably carries the flag for non cliched dwarfism. Dragons - reboot or retire? Prophecies and psychic visions - often used as a band aid on a sucking plot chest wound. Magical tree-dwelling elves - bah! Give them base street narcotics and see what happens.
     
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  3. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    I break the first three on a regular basis. No third person omniscient is as stupid as the no adverbs rule - like adverbs, it serves a purpose and can easily be used right.

    Prologues can be great for setting a hook. A prologue that runs ten pages should just be made chapter 1, but if it only goes a couple of pages, it can work great. I've read lots of books in which the prologue drew me in and made me want to see what was going to happen.

    The no infodumps rule always struck me as absurd for fantasy. I've created a world that exists only in my head. The only way the reader can know about it is if I tell them. Like everything, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it, but if the story takes place in a fictitious world, it's going to have to be done. My world has magic in it, and one of my characters is a very powerful sorceress, so a logical question a reader would have is, "Why can't she just make her enemies disappear with a wave of her hand?" I answer this by having a non-magic using character ask this of my sorceress character. In answering the character's question, she also answers the reader's question and explains an aspect of the world.

    You can't have magic? In a fantasy?! Seriously? What's next, no swords? If you don't want to write about magic, fine, but to flat out forbid it?

    I guess I should've said in the thread about pet peeves, but one of mine is the so-called "rules" I see all over the internet, this idea that you don't dare violate any of these rules, and if you do, you're a sucky writer. It would be so much better if they called them guidelines instead of rules. I know it sounds nit picky, but the way these ideas are presented makes them sound as unalterable as the rules of physics and woe unto any soul who tries to alter them. Use them as general guidelines, but if you adhere to a formula of strict rules, your writing will be formulaic, your voice will be lost, and your work completely indistinguishable from all the other formulaic crap out there.
     
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  4. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

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    So you object to doorways that lead exactly where someone is going, like teleportation vs. a portal to another dimension like say Narnia?
     
  5. I've seen this article before, and it makes some good points.

    The thing about series is so true. There are VERY few standalones in fantasy. A lot of it is just the nature of the genre; the plots tend to be large scale (involving entire countries or worlds rather than individuals) and the worlds require lots of development. There's also the fact that there's more $$$ in a series than in a standalone. I'm sure many trilogies and series in existence now could have done well or even better condensed into a standalone...

    I also agree with the thing about portal fantasy. Portal fantasy has practically vanished now. I can't think of any popular portal fantasies published within the last...like, fifty years. That aren't middle grade novels, anyway. But...is there anything necessarily WRONG with it?

    The last several "rules" I've never heard before, or at least haven't seen. No present tense? In YA it's epidemic. Thats just the way YA books are written nowadays; there's no reason for it, and 90% of them would be better in past. And, no unsympathetic characters? Maybe that's because we need to relate to/sympathize with/somewhat LIKE characters to care about them and thus, care about the story?

    Let me adad one of my own to the list:

    11) Fantasy Has to be Large-Scale

    I mentioned this earlier. Plotlines in fantasy tend to involve entire countries and worlds. Wars, the threatening of all humankind...stuff like that. But where are all the stories about normal individuals that just happen to live in a fantasy world going about their lives are dealing with their personal problems? Why are there no stories about a werewolf finding love in the shape of an unemployed necromancer after a messy divorce? Or stories about a girl who gets a job at a rescue center for magical creatures after being expelled from her magic school? We all know about weapons, wars and politics in fantasy, but what about camping trips, job interviews and movie dates in fantasy worlds? Why does fantasy=stories about saving the world? What about saving one's marriage, or saving one's magical smoothie business?

    I could start my own thread on this...
     
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  6. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    I like action plots with larger than life figures, but I do have some books where the MC's main goal throughout the story is not saving the world/country/etc, but protecting or saving a single friend... they just end up facing a major threat at the end, but the larger stakes are not known for a vast majority of the plot so the motivation is more personal. In my current WIP the climax will involve a princess being convinced to embrace her adopted status, and gaining the acceptance of the people as heir despite not having legitimate royal blood. The princess herself is 'epic' though as described in other posts lol.
     
  7. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    It's almost all YA or MG. The Outlander series is a time-travel romance aimed at adults. Time travel isn't necessarily portal fantasy, but the books keep popping up in Fantasy, so there it is. Also, Timeline by Michael Crichton, as silly as it was.

    There was a series back in the 80's about an artist who creates a portal back to Viking times during an artist's exercise when he has to draw something like 200 perfect circles on top of each other on a canvas. I don't remember the name, though. Still, it was 30 years ago.

    Harry Potter really killed the portal fantasy / crossworlds fantasy market; I am 99% certain that Dragon's Trail didn't get picked up because it was a YA coming-of-age portal fantasy that I was shopping at the same time that HP was happening. Every portal fantasy that I have seen recently -- and I've been through the Look Insides of dozens if not hundreds of them in the past few months -- have been aimed at kids, either YA or children, and they all use the exploration of the new world and the protagonists' eventual dominance in it as a metaphor for Coming of Age.

    This is why I'm hoping my series, rewritten for adults over the past few years, resonates with a new market. Adult characters, redemption arcs, swearing, elf boobs, scary fight scenes, and the employment of the portal trope as a metaphor for an arms race, but also as a vehicle for moral and ethical examinations of our society, which I can't believe ten thousand other authors aren't doing. It seemed so painfully obvious to me to use the story to make a series of philosophical arguments and observations that I've almost taken the higher levels of allegory out several times, but it has been pointed out to me numerous times now that nobody has ever done this in a portal fantasy, at least not recently. (Glory Road had some insights, but that was fifty years ago.)
     
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  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think horror stories use portals in a peculiar way. Something like Stranger Things, where there's a monster on the other side who breaks into our world. Demons, ghosts, faeries, etc., traveling from one world to the primary world of the MC.

    I suppose the method of sending people from our world to a fantasy world—a fairly common type tale from, what, the 80's?—might carry the onus of being a Milieu story a la Card's MICE quotient. The story ends when the characters return to their own world when their adventure is done or, in some cases, decide to stay. Thomas Covenant. Narnia. There are some special requirements, or expectations, of such stories. They can be wonderful, but a lot of people don't want to write a Milieu story. I think that might be the least common of the 4 MICE approaches?

    But if we insert a portal into an Event, Idea, or Character story, with our MC traveling to a strange place? Maybe that upsets the thrust of those types of tales. I don't know. I've not actually given it too much thought.
     
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  9. bdcharles

    bdcharles Minstrel

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    I suppose it depends on how big a plot device they are, and where they fit in the suspension of disbelief spectrum. With the doorway to Narnia, it was never a straightforward matter of just waltzing on in there and bang, you're in Narnia. Sometimes it didn't work, time went funny, it was a challenge, and so on, plus it made the ordinary extraordinary. In the case of teleportation, I don't object to them in things like Star Trek but, I dunno, I think the time is ripe for new ideas, or to at least rethink the old ones.
     
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  10. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Crap.

    (Hides time travel portal heist fantasy for middle grades under desk....)
     
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    When the men on the chessboard
    Get up and tell you where to go
    And you've just had some kind of mushroom
    And your mind is moving low
    Go ask Alice
    I think she'll know
     
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  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Fifthview and I have been having a great discussion about "rules" and telling people what, and what not to do in fiction.

    I'm a firm believer in execution.

    I'm a firm believer in "You can do whatever you want as long as it is interesting."
     
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  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Sorry, but the article did not persuade me in the least. Anything that can be done can be done badly. And every rule can be followed well. If there's one thing I'd like to see, it's fewer prescriptive blog posts. Oh, and an end to numbered lists of every stripe.
     
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  14. Anything that can be done, can be done well too ;)
     
  15. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    I agree with you for the following reasons:

    1) I've personally written some terrible fiction.

    2) Apart from the basic rules of grammar, I don't believe fantasy fiction should be limited by rules save the ones you've already established within your creation.

    3) People who write blogs telling other people how to write and be creative are egocentric assclowns.

    4) Numbered lists are overused these days.
     
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  16. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I read this like this.

    Sorry, but the article did not persuade me in the least:

    1. Anything that can be done can be done badly.
    2. Every rule can be followed well.
    3. If there's one thing I'd like to proscribe, it's prescriptive blog posts.
    4. If there are two, then: numbered lists of every stripe.
     
  17. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    When the men in the chess board start telling you where to go, it's time to learn the game better than they do.
     
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  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    When logic and proportion
    Have fallen sloppy dead
    And the White Knight is talking backwards
    And the Red Queen's off with her head
    Remember what the dormouse said
    Feed your head
    Feed your head

    [Heh, but maybe this one belongs in that other thread.....if not for the portal thing. Here's another portal: link.]
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2016
  19. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I've always loved that song.
     
  20. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

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    Prologues for me, if not done right, are boring and useless. That's why I tend not to use them, so maybe that could be what is happening with them.
     
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