5 Keys to Writing Craptastic Fantasy

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan
St. Jar Jar, Patron Saint of Crap

So you want to write a really bad fantasy novel, eh?

You’ve come to the right place. After years of practice, I’ve mastered five ancient techniques for writing shitty fantasy. These methods were pioneered by the elves of the Ethereal Empire during the reign of Xerxian Rhafstorr the Sword-Breaker (in the Twelfth Age), so you know they’re good.

Just read on, and you’ll be writing the Ishtar of fantasy novels in no time.

1. Write Clichéd Characters

A story is only as strong as its characters, so they need to be especially lame.

First of all, you want to keep your characters as one-dimensional as possible.  So one-dimensional, in fact, that no one ever questions their motivations.  Unless they do something out of character in order to advance the plot, which is fine.

Fall back on stereotypes.  Your dwarves should be drunks, and your hero should be naive and inexperienced.  When writing your villain, be sure that he is motivated by a simple desire to be evil.  Have him sneer a lot while abusing his henchmen.

2. Craft a Predictable Plot

Certain things need to happen in your novel.  The world must be in danger of destruction, and your hero must go on a quest to save it.

At some point you will introduce comical sidekicks, as well as a wise old mentor.  Be sure to kill off the old fellow near the book’s midpoint, though, so that your hero feels lost and forlorn.  If your hero has loved ones, they should be captured by the villain.

There must be no surprises.  Readers of shitty fantasy expect the plot to follow a tired old formula, and become grumpy when it diverges in unexpected directions.  The secret is to read as many fantasy novels as possible, and to look for patterns in the storytelling.  Then copy them slavishly, while eschewing originality.

3. Describe Everything

Leave nothing to the imagination.  Whenever you introduce a new character, spend pages describing his appearance and mannerisms.  If your character visits a new locale, describe the terrain and flora in excruciating detail.

Since fantasy novels often take place in imaginary worlds, you run the risk of the reader developing her own mental images.  Don’t let this happen.  Instead, keep hammering her with descriptive text so that she envisions the world the right way – which is your way.

Including lengthy descriptions also has an added benefit.  It makes your book bigger.  And as we know, bigger is always better.

4. Pile on the Exposition

Your world has a rich history, and your reader needs to learn it.  All of it.

Therefore, it is crucial that you never miss an opportunity to explain the backstory of your world.  You’ve spent years (or even decades) developing lore, so don’t leave anything out.

A classic way to achieve this is by opening your novel with a lengthy prologue.  Use this as an opportunity to summarize the last two thousand years of history, and to explain the origins of the present conflict.  The prologue itself should feel less like a story, and more like an info dump.  Both you and your readers will feel better after a big dump.

5. Be Inconsistent

You can have fun with this one.  Spend much of your novel establishing a magic system that is governed by rules.  Hammer home that your world functions according to specific, unalterable laws.  And then, at the height of your novel’s climax, inexplicably break these rules in order to resolve the story.

This is a great way to alienate your readers.  You trick them into trusting you, and then expose them as the suckers that they are.  It’s your world, after all, and you can do whatever the hell you want with it.

The ancient Greeks developed a storytelling device that does this beautifully.  They called it deus ex machina.  It involves introducing a new plot development at the last minute that rescues the hero from an impossible situation.  The best sort of deus ex machina will defy the internal logic of the story.  This is a classic way to bring about a happy ending while simultaneously violating the trust of your readers.

What’s Your Secret?

So there you have it.  These are my tried and true methods for writing a terrible fantasy novel.  If you follow these techniques religiously, you’ll be able to craft a tale that rivals the quality of Battlefield Earth (film version).

Have you discovered any techniques for writing a bad novel?  If so, share them with us.  We can all benefit from learning new ways to suck.

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Regrix
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Regrix

Gotta disagree, Kylo Ren is the patron saint of crap… Jar Jar is just one of his apostles.

ThatNerdyWriter
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ThatNerdyWriter

@Someguy If I remember right… the Greeks spoke Latin…

Speculative Edge Writing
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Speculative Edge Writing

This post brought a smile to my face. My St. Jar Jar never smile upon us.

Dahyna Och
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Dahyna Och

You’ve forgotten the love interest! She must always be strong willed and smart, but fawns over the naive hero and does stupid things to get herself into trouble, thus ensuring he can save her later on. Which makes her panties melt. Or some such rot.
 
A great list.

Samuel Z Jones
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Samuel Z Jones

PS: Antonio, I too, in my spare time, like playing with swords. “Write what you know”, so if one is going to write sword-fights, one really ought to know something about sword-fighting.

Antonio del Drago
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Antonio del Drago

Samuel Jones,

Yes, I found that actually learning how to use swords (the right way) has enabled me to write much better combat sequences.  Knowing how something really works makes a significant difference when you are describing it.

Samuel Z Jones
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Samuel Z Jones

Great article, and great thread. Sidekicks… I keep running people who read my stuff and insist on trying to cast the sidekick as light relief. She’s a vicious killer. Likewise, they keep trying to downgrade the heroine into a blushing bimbo, suggesting that she be made “nicer”. It’s not just shitty writers to blame here; it’s shitty execs feeding shitty readers loads of shitty Fantasy, so that writing shit becomes the standard. Eragon, anyone?

Greydi_of_Pax
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Greydi_of_Pax

1)  Remember that sidekick characters are just there solely to make the main hero of the story look awesome.  When you introduce the sidekick you must viciously try to pound home the idea that the main character is more awesome and the sidekick is just a sidekick.  Otherwise you risk giving the sidekick some depth and intrigue, some mystery, and the readers end up connecting with and loving him more than your main character.  This is unacceptable.  If this should happen then in the second novel you can 1) leave the sidekick out for most if not all of the story, 2) make the sidekick the new champion of the main villain, or 3) all of the above.
2)  Every character who is a “good guy” must love your main character, the hero.  No exceptions.  If they don’t at first then somewhere along the story your main character should save their life, defeat them in a duel, or in some other fashion “prove themselves” to gain not only the rebellious good guy’s support but turn them into an all out sycophantic minion of the main character.  Any character who dares stand up to hero of your story and cannot be dissuaded from not liking him must be punished for their insolence, because anyone who does not love and cannot be made to love the main hero of the story is automatically a villain, right?  Right.

Antonio del Drago
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Antonio del Drago

@Dathaniel:disqus

Nice ones!  It’s especially true about the sidekick being ineffectual.  When writing shitty fantasy, a sidekick should exist primarily for comic relief. 

R Cox
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R Cox

The sidekick should act as comic relief until the end when it is revealed that the sidekick is the real hero in disguise and that his antic capering and cowardly bumbling in fight scenes is what actually won the battles.

A.E. Marling
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A.E. Marling

Invent a new expletive, such as “What the thrall!” Then be so enamored with your own creativity that you use that exact phrase a hundred times in your book. When an upset reader stalks you and begins bludgeoning you with a sock filled with batteries, they’re sure to chant the selfsame expletive.

Antonio del Drago
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Antonio del Drago

@twitter-167796615:disqus
I love it!!  🙂

Wrrohk
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Wrrohk

*allowing these characters to evolve into people

Wrrohk
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Wrrohk

One important difference to make, though, is the difference between employing an archetype and playing to a stereotype.  Fantasy writing has employed various archetypes throughout the years…the old wizard, the grizzled warrior, the comical rogue…the problem lies in never allowing these characters into people.  When they become the same old tired cliche’ that we’ve all seen a thousand times, that’s when it becomes dangerous.  However, if said old wizard is intersting, vivid, believable…that chanes things slightly.  Suddenly, people can relate to that person, understand them, and accept them as an actual person instead of a figment of the author’s imagination.  Also, I have to disagree with Anony’s earlier comment relating to the Sword of Truth novels.  I know that there are a lot of people that are not fan’s of Goodkind’s writing, but cliched characters and predictable plots are not really a problem with him (with some argument being possible for the first novel).  If anything, I would think that there is more of an argument possible for the use of deus ex machina, although his fixes never really defy the reality of the world so much as define it further.  However, that’s just me. 

Antonio del Drago
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Antonio del Drago

Wrrohk,

Yes, archetypes can be fabulous if done well.  The key is to take them in new and unexpected directions.

Edgemaker
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Edgemaker

Thats definitely good, I like the fact that, the Reader can use their imagination, and exercise their creativity a little bit more. 

Edgemaker
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Edgemaker

Been thinking about this since I read it when it came to my email. I was thinking about the third thing, the describe everything bad idea. In one sense I think this is good, but here is where I was thinking about this. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his books with an amazing amount of detail to the point that it came to be the reference book for the movies that they made. I credit Tolkien with being the Father of Modern Fantasy Literature. He has done an outstanding Job of laying the foundation for modern fantasy literature. On the other hand I see Paolini with his “Inheritance” circle and I find that he has diverted from the sotry plot so many times its frustrating, and it is a definite attempt to create a world that would rival others…. it was an “A for effort try,” but it wont compare and it has become sub parr. So all in all My comment is: is writing detailed fantasy better like Tolkien’s extent or is it better to let the reader imagine things?

Antonio del Drago
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Antonio del Drago

@Warmaster,
 
I like the way that Tolkien pulled this off.  Yes, he spent a lot of time on description, but he never went overboard.  He still left a great deal to the imagination.  Unfortunately, some later fantasy authors have gone way too far in sketching out their world for readers.  Personally, I would prefer to error on the side of imagination, and say too little rather than too much.

Someguy
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Someguy

Deus ex machina is actually Latin. Good article though.

Antonio del Drago
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Antonio del Drago

@Someguy,

Thanks for the compliment. 

Regarding “Deus ex machina,” yes, you are correct that the phrase is Latin.  What I meant, though, was that the ancient Greeks developed this plot device, which was used in their plays.  But yeah, they would have called it something else.  🙂

Anony
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Anony

Sword of Truth anyone? Especially on points 1 and 2.

Antonio del Drago
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Antonio del Drago

Thanks everyone for the comments.  And yes, Bets, you can never underestimate the power of good old fashioned shitty writing.  😉

Trayvian James
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Trayvian James

I absolutely love this article.

betsdavies
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betsdavies

Nice top five.  I feel, however, you left out sheer shitty writing.  So many fantasy, and other genres, I’ve picked up a book with a great plot, cool characters, great world, but the author SIMPLY cannot write!  Not just long descriptions, but awkward and cliched.  The overuse of “seems” “I thought” and other lame nothing words that make things passive.  bizarre, essentially meaningless adjectives and certainly as many adverbs as you possibly can fit in.

Johnny Cosmo
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Johnny Cosmo

I love these comical list-style articles, though I wish there were some examples to flesh out the points! Not that I can’t think of any myself, but it’d have made me more involved whilst reading.

Nice job though.

Drake Davenport
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Drake Davenport

With every point he made, I kept thinking of Eragon. While I greatly like the book. it is a bit cliche.

Sarah M.
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Sarah M.

After reading this, I think I love you. ^_^

Philip Overby
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Philip Overby

This was hilarious.  I think every new writer should read this and they can find that they too can write shitty fantasy!

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