Let’s imagine that this posted on Wednesday this week, shall we? Just to keep up the illusion that we’re doing something on a schedule.
Illusions, magic, swords, and quests, fantasy is a broad range of fiction, but I’m going to limit our discussion today to old-school sword and sorcery style fantasy. Urban fantasy is a different topic to be dealt with on a different day.
There’s been a resurgence in what we used to call sword & sorcery in my day. Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, fantasy is back with a vengeance. It died for a little bit in the nineties, but it never went away. It mutated into vampire novels and urban settings with elves, and a bit of steampunk veneer for spice, but there were still stories about knights and wizards hiding in the corners.
I was lucky enough that my mother read to me for ages. We started with Lord of the Rings and The Black Cauldron series; then went on to hit the Spellsinger series and The Circle of Light. When we finished those we swam into the comedic fantasies of Myth, INC and A Malady of Magicks.
I have loved fantasy from when I was a kid, and even now I love nothing more than being able to lose myself in the depths of a good fantasy novel. Build me a world with consistent magical laws, throw in a dragon for good measure, and give me a party to follow and I am ready to follow.
However, I am also old school enough to tell you this: writing up your old D&D adventures? That’s not going to sell unless you happen to be the folks on Critical Role. I’m not saying that people should ignore simple quests. If they’re done right, a quest is a traditional tale told well. If they’re done wrong, it’s the Dungeons and Dragons movie with Jeremy Irons chewing on the set. (Bless him for that though. It made the rest of it less painful.)
If you want to stand out in the fantasy genre, tell me the story from a different angle. Heroes are a dime a dozen, give me a female priestess like in Martha Wells The Wheel of the Infinite. Or maybe you could build up a new society from a long-con like in Mistborn by Brian Sanderson. (Okay, so this post wants to digress into a “read these awesome stories” post, so deep breath and let’s press on.)
The elements a fantasy story needs: some form of magic, a McGuffin to pursue, compelling characters to root for, and some fighting and/or diplomacy in the way of the pursuit.
What it does not need: an all-white all-male formulaic cast, slavery, or to be set in a European forest.
Build the setting. Build the rules of the world. Give me characters that have actual motivation. Remember, fantasy is the setting, characters make the story.
And go read some awesome books:
The Wheel of the Infinite – Martha Wells
The Hawk & Fisher Series – Simon R. Green
Mistborn – Brian Sanderson
And whatever people suggest in the comments below. 🙂