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Things to avoid when world-building? The Commandments of New Fantasy?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by tlbodine, Feb 12, 2014.

  1. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

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    Has anybody seen this yet? The 10 Commandments of New Fantasy (Part 1) - Amazing Stories

    I thought this was interesting. I also thought the author had an axe to grind about things that don't seem that important (like the misspelling thing, while maybe annoying, doesn't bother me as much), but it does raise the perennial question: What *is* wrong with epic fantasy, if anything? And, the bigger question, are these issues even really that common?

    I admit I don't actually read that much high/epic fantasy, so I have less experience than some, but I thought it might be interesting to talk about :)
     
  2. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    At risk of getting personal, #5 relates to the #1 reason I think "No thanks" when I look at stuff in the Self Promotion section of this site. If you start your blurb with an entire paragraph about some war between factions, without saying anything about what makes those factions interesting and without focusing in on the characters who'll presumably carry the story, I take that as a bad sign for how focused the story is on what matters.

    Also, is #1 really a common thing? I haven't seen it since The Prince in Waiting, which I read back in middle school.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
    Ophiucha likes this.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    One rule I try to stick with is that if I'm going to copy something I'm not going to try to hide it. If something is so heavily inspired by something else that at first glance it is inseparable, then it'll just give the reader a bad impression if I try and use a different name for it.
     
  4. Roan Davidson

    Roan Davidson Scribe

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    Re # 2: I'm nitpicking, but "Sudaj" is not Judas spelled backward. It's "Jadus" spelled backward. Either way, #2 doesn't bother me. I don't practice it, and I doubt I'd pick up on names like that anyway.
     
  5. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    I can tell you right off the bat that #3 is a direct result of the constant demand to make our writing lean and tight. I've said before that in epic fantasy, where we're creating entire worlds. The only way the reader is going to know anything about it is what we let them know. When we don't. #3 is the result. I can't stand it when I'm reading a story and the author can't be bothered to explain any aspect of his world to me and I'm thinking "What the hell is going on? What's a (insert critter/event/whatever here). Other writers go to the other extreme. My personal rule is if you have to have a whole separate appendix just to explain aspects of your world, you've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

    As for his other complaints, I can't say I've encountered them much.
     
    Jabrosky likes this.
  6. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

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    Hah, yes. There really is a middle ground between "tediously describing everything" and "leaving readers floundering to understand what is going on" and it really is your responsibility as a writer to find it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2014
  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Steven Erikson is one such writer that just hurls the reader into the story with the expectation you're supposed to figure it out as you go along. Some people hate this. I'm not one of them because he does it so well.

    Weird spellings don't bother me too much unless something is basically an elf and you're calling it a thindweld or something. The only way I'm cool with it is if the thindweld are slightly similar to elves, but are completely different in many other ways.

    Character names tend to be fine with me. I can handle most anything as long as I can pronounce it. I found in my own work this to be a problem when I tried reading a name aloud. The name was a dragon called Cheraxis. As I read it, I kept tripping over the word. Cheraxis will not make the final cut. :)

    One reason epic fantasy may have a bad reputation in some circles is that some people may not think it's character focused enough. Like some of the characters are just stand-ins for the major conflict. This is shown when the synopsis focuses more on the conflict than the characters who are in the midst of it. While I like a lot of big conflict kind of stories (The First Law trilogy, Malazan Book of the Fallen, A Song of Ice and Fire) it's the characters that keep me going.
     
  8. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

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    Didn't Tolkien use a few appendixes ?
     
  9. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Six, as I recall. XD
     
  10. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    You never really had to look at the appendices, did you? Besides, Tolkien seemed to know more of what he was talking about--it's risky to try to show your work if you're just making up whatever sounds cool.
     
  11. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    Much as I love Tolkien, I don't consider him infallible.
    That's definitely one of my pet peeves. I've never understood why some writers feel the need to come up with some long, bizarre name that doesn't conform to any known rules of phonetics, then have everyone call them a shortened version of that name. Why not just make the short version the character's actual name? I've read one short story where the author actually made use of this - in order to cast her spell, the villain had to say the MC's name three times, but the MC's name was so complicated she couldn't do it in time.
     
  12. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

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    Neither do I, but it felt like an appendix, while definitely not suitable to fill in a lack of consistent representation of the world through the narrative tone, can be a nice touch in order to give the reader some extra lore to chew on - no matter how remotely disconnected to the main intrigue.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm immediately critical of lists of things not to do. Such lists are easy to compile--witness their abundance.

    Give me a list of things *to* do in writing epic fantasy and I'll stick around. Also, give me a list that is something other than ten (or other "standard" number) items long. I'll be more likely to believe they are items you genuinely thing are important.

    I'll call my own bluff. Here's one: give the reader a sense of place.

    This means more than just describing a city when the character first enters it, more than describing the castle or the cavern. It means providing just enough physical touches, employing all the senses, *throughout* the work. The reader should feel each place in the world, should feel movement through the world, should be given touches both familiar and novel. At least once, and probably more than once, the physical world should have a "wow" moment in which something genuinely cool is seen or experienced. Your fantasy world should, in short, be fantastical. It's part of the reason why the reader picked your book. Not the whole reason, but certainly an aspect that should not be overlooked.

    Completing the list is left as an exercise for the student.
     
  14. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I definitely disagree with the point about explaining the magic system. I think that's what makes writing and reading fantasy so much fun: its strange, mystical, wondrous. I don't explain my magic systems when I write, but I do try to balance it out with character common sense, as well. Magic doesn't always solve problems, sometimes it makes things worse, but explaining it takes all the fun out. Just...no.
     
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  15. James Chandler

    James Chandler Minstrel

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    All rules are meant to be broken. Including this one.
     
  16. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Agreed.

    A writer can explain as much or as little of magic as the story demands. There are times where the characters don't grasp the magic, so why would the reader need that knowledge? Readers can gain understanding alongside your characters.

    We need also consider the difference between high & low fantasy, and everything in between. If I'm writing toward the high end, I might be more inclined to describe the magic in a straightforward manner, but I don't NEED too unless it makes the story better through clarity. On the other end of the spectrum, would the story require I explain magic that, for the most part, is a rarity? No thanks, I'll take the mystery here. I'd rather have trepidation around the use of magic as well as the surprises made possible by not explaining everything.

    As long as the writer is consistent in the way magic effects their characters & world, I've no issue.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2014
  17. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

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    The real issue is how much magic is going to effect the plot, or not. Brandon Sanderson lays out his magic systems like science, and generally the day is saved through some cool application of that magic, which has been established in advance so as not to look cheap. GRRM, on the other hand, still hasn't explained anything about how magic works, but since it probably won't help tie up the story that's okay. If the conclusion to ASOIAF turned out to hinge on the obscure properties of Shadowbinding, however, then I would feel a bit brassed off.
     
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