As much as I love YA epic fantasy, I have to admit it’s very rarely perfect.
It’s nothing personal, see, it’s just that I know what epic fantasy should be doing since (as queen) I know all the things. And after devouring hundreds of fantasy books every year, spending my youths in Narnia, and sometimes wearing a fluttering magical cape in the darkness — I am most definitely qualified * to talk about what the PERFECT epic fantasy would look like.
I’m going to focus on Young Adult epic fantasy because, mate, it has some holes.
And there’s nothing I like better than perfection (except, perhaps, for a particularly delicious chocolate mud cake) so let’s all sit down and talk about the art of writing the best epic fantasy of them all. **
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* Ha haha HAHAHA HAHHA…okay fine. The only thing I’m “qualified” to do at this point is arrange books in colour-organisation because my First Aid certificate expired so I AIN’T QUALIFIED FOR ANYTHING. Although to be fair, I hate touching people and I am also Slytherin, so please don’t nearly die around me. I’d probably just watch.
** The obvious disclaimer is “this is just my opinion”…and I obviously it is not law. It will be however, probably next year when I rule the world. So I’m just sayin’ you can get used to it now if you want…
MUST BE CONCISE AND TELL THE STORY WITHOUT WAFFLING ALL OVER THE PLACE. ✓
I only have a few fears and they are (1) a world without cake, (2) somebody asking me to eat a lettuce, and (3) really really really loooooooong books. After 500 pages I just think we’ve gone into waffle territory.
And in case the term “waffling” isn’t highly used * what I mean is “extraneous rambling writing that needed to be cut out like yesterday.” Concise !! books !! are !! life !! And books that pay deep attention to not rambling on also have the pleasurable side-effect of having less-info-dumps or tedious dull scenes.
I just die a little inside at super mega-long fantasy books. Because there are ALWAYS some scenes as interesting as a dead cabbage. Also if you’re looking for some place to trim: try that super long TREK THROUGH THE FOREST fantasy’s looooove to do because I swear, if I have to read one more boring roadtrip I will hit someone with my plate.
* IT SHOULD BE. Waffles are a gift to this earth. Unless they’re an excuse for talking to much about boring things.
NO KEYBOARD SMASH NAMES. ✓
Look if I can’t pronounce it or spell it or remember it, there is a 500% chance I WILL NOT TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK. I get the cathartic appreciation of keyboard smashes. By all means! Hit that laptop of yours! Let those keys know you have passion and fury and the alphabet shalt not stand against you!
But don’t turn “AFLJDKSA’JFSKLA” into “Afly’la rin-Doklyunii” into the main character’s name.
Don’t you like your readers??? HAVE MERCY????
Also changing all vowels to “y” doesn’t make the name sound fantastical. It makes the name sound like it just got stabbed in the eye with a spork. I’m just saying Melissa being Mylyssya makes me see the bright white life of death.
NOT INTRODUCE 78 CHARACTERS ALL AT ONCE. ✓
Big casts are fine…IF YOU DON’T INTRODUCE ME TO EVERYONE ALL AT ONCE. You expect me to handle those keyboard smash names, then at LEAST feed me one character at a time. So I may chew my food. Or my people. Or…
Okay I am not a cannibal.
At least not on Tuesdays. *
Oh stop fussing.
I believe starting off a book with 3 characters in the opening scene is quite enough. Possibly four. Preferably two. You need to set tones, personalities, goals, and voices. Don’t hURT yourself. Go slow, dangit Jim. ** You’re telling a story, not a group chat.
* And it’s your LUCKY DAY because it’s Tuesday!! You get to live!!
** BOOM. Star Trek references. I hope you saw the nerdom there. I hope you appreciated I’m putting sci-fi into a post about epic fantasy and probably should be stopped now.
MUST HAVE WORLD BUILDING! WHEREFORE ART THOU, MY LOVE, MY WORLD BUILDING. ✓
This is my #1 complaint with YA epic fantasy, and I have mentioned it a few times. BECAUSE I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT THE PLANET. As long as it’s not my planet. My planet has issues and most of them are to do with humans. Ugh humans.
It is vital to
my life and happiness the good of all epic fantasies if they actually take a second to stop and give us an interesting and clearly defined world. It makes aaall the difference when I can SEE the world. AKA Ketterdam in Six of Crows is so visual for me. But yet take 2 seconds with Truthwitch and see that a tub of yogurt has more culture, mate.
GREAT WAYS TO BUILD CULTURE AND WORLD BUILDING:
- tell me about the economy (if everyone exports, say, chopped wood…you have a lot of visuals and effects to work with right there)
- the history
- who or what they worship + superstitions + myths or legends
- what kind of holidays they celebrate
- the weather
- which leads to what they wear
- the geography
- rules for the magic system
- the FOOD because nothing builds culture like talking about food
KILL SOMEONE OFF. OR MOST OF THEM. ALL OF THEM??? ✓
All I’m saying is that in a HIGH ACTION FANTASY WORLD where everyone is getting stabbed or dying of the flu, people need to get offed. When books start saving and coddling all the favourites…eh.
I want to panic okay? I want to be invested and care and be gnashing my teeth in hopeless desperation as people DIE.
I’m also a Slytherin and INTJ. It’s hard to tell.
SHOULD NOT RELY 100% ON OUR SOCIETY’S RULES, PREJUDICES, AND HISTORY. ✓
YOU’RE A FANASY. USE YOUR GOD GIVEN IMAGINATION.
I AM SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS I NEEDED TO YELL, OKAY? OKAY. I’M GOOD NOW. I’M DONE.
But seriously, I am so sick of reading about sexist epic fantasy worlds. Or worlds where there are the SAME rules and prejudices as our world. I mean why??? Why? How come we can have dragons, magical swords, prophecies, and telekinesis — but like LOL @ me for thinking we could have something other than a patriarchy or racism or homophobia. It’s ridiculous, okay?
I want to read a book where women DON’T have to prove themselves because no one has ever thought they couldn’t do something. I mean why would they??? What basis does this random fantasy society have for sexism?
And that goes for all types of diversity that our society squashes or is terrified of.
I CAME HERE TO FANTASY TO EXPERIENCE SOMETHING OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD.
IF INFLUENCED BY REAL-LIFE CULTURES…DON’T APPROPRIATE. ✓
I don’t feel really qualified to talk about this one in depth…but it is important and needs to be said! I think “influence” and “appropriation” are different! But if you want to base your fantasy world on a pre-existing society that you don’t belong to — you need to a heck of a lot of research, talk to many people of that culture, and be very very careful.
It’s always disheartening to read, say, an Indian inspired fantasy and then to go onto Goodreads and see actual Indian reviewers saying “Well, if this isn’t super offensive…”
But the tricky part comes with: Okay so it’s FANTASY and not supposed to be 100% like the original…but where’s the line?
Hence I shall leave this one HERE. And we can all weep and then seek out advice from intelligent humans. Or google. Or, like, send pigeon to the stars. Be creative. Ask someone who knows.
AT LEAST 93 DRAGONS ON EVERY PAGE. ✓
I’m confused if a book is “fantasy” and has no dragons in it. Then it’s not FANTASY IS IT???? IT’S JUST A BUNDLED PAPERBACK TOME OF LIES. I hope you enjoy watching me cry like this.
Also dragons are usually the biggest “cliche” of fantasy and I NEVER SEE THEM AROUND!????? My dragon-shelf on Goodreads has like 14 books on it.
Fail me, world, why don’t you.
FANTASY FOOD. ALL OF IT. PROBABLY DOUBLE AS MUCH AS YOU THINK YOU NEED. ✓
Like I said, this is an A+ way to build a fantasy society’s culture! Plus it’s super interesting. You want to give me an infodump on what your army is doing? At least make them be having a freaking meal while they’re at it. They can chat about tactics to crawl over some dull mountain and I can be sitting there going, “YES, LET’S BRING OUT THE ROAST APPLES AND PECAN TRUFFLES WITH HONEY SAUCE RESTING IN A PLATE OF DELISH.”
No, don’t tell me to go read a cookbook. #rude
I’d just read cookbooks if they had more explosions and dragons in them too.
SAIL AWAY UPON THE BONNY SHIP OF DAWN FROM ALL TEDIOUS CLICHES. ✓
I think the reason epic fantasy cliches keep running RIOT IN THE STREETS is because everyone is just hanging out to make me cry. I mean, for goodness sakes, it’s not that hard to twist cliches?!? Let the dragon eat everyone and marry the princess. It’s NOT that hard. And the trouble with the super super tedious cliches is that the send a book from “ooh this is intriguing” to “omg I’ve read this so many times I know it better than my own middle name”.
SMALL LIST OF FANTASY CLICHES THAT NEED TO #NOPE:
- the chosen one
- oooh the protagonist has special powers and is a spweshul snowflake
- crazy mentor with bitter backstory who is secretly a smoosh
- trying to win the princess’ hand
- long roadtrip to find a magical locket / sword / book / teaspoon / bird cage / lasagna dish
- dreams…prophecies in dreams particularly
- prologues to show you what Evil That Does Not Sleep is doing..and to be honest, I always want to sleep
- scrawny orphan is like the king or wizard or shapeshifting pot-plant or something
- telepathic twins
- girls pretending to be boys for adventure
- instantly epic with weapons despite having seen them for only 34 seconds
- evil’s only motivation is to be evil
- really really really dumb adults so the fantastically rebellious children can do whatever
- siblings who don’t try to kill each other…because I mean. Realism please.
And the thing with cliches is they CAN be done right! Or differently! Or interestingly! I mean, A Gathering of Shadows (aka one of my favourite fantasy books…although it is Adult and not YA) has a WIZARD TOURNAMENT. Cliche? Yes. Written super well? Also yes. So don’t discount cliches, just make sure you’re doing them YOUR way.
Or should we say my way. Because we’ve established that’s the only way that matters. *
* I’m also ridiculously humble. I KNOW. People mention this all the time.