Saturday, 19 July 2014

Top 10 Pet Peeves of Epic Fantasy

I've always been a fan of fantasy, but I've also always been very particular about certain aspects of the genre, especially the great sweeping epics. I've read many enjoyable books set in amazing worlds that have made me feel like I'm really there, but having said that, there are other books that I've not touched or left unfinished because of their cliched staleness.

So here's a list of my Top 10 Pet Peeves in Epic Fantasy! Remember, this is entirely subjective, so feel free to disagree.

10.  Resetting Time



This is when seasons, days, calendars and how time passes in these fantasy world are totally re-written. I'm not naive enough to think that all fantasy worlds are calibrated to Earth's setting of a 24hr day and 365 days per year, but there are ways to write about this without going over the top by having someone (or worse, write in an appendix) explain how time is measured. There's already so much we have to suspend our disbelief for- don't make my brain overload by having to calculate how many 'tides' have passed. And don't be even lazier and tell me that the protagonist is 'twelve summers old'.

9. Prophecies




I dislike these not only because they're so overused, but also because they usually tend to cause a hundred plot holes to open at once. Suddenly the easiest way of resolving the plot isn't possible anymore, and the Dark Lord is untouchable save for the hero, blah blah...

Not to mention they're just so uninteresting. Even when you can play loosely with the exact wording, they add nothing to the story, other than for some old crone to go 'I told you so' at the end.

8. Fantasy racism



One thing I really can't stand is the hierarchy of the races in epic fantasy. Aloof elves who know everything and think themselves above it all, the comic relief/ extremely loyal and hard workers the dwarves, the scheming goblins, and poor, pathetic, WEAK mankind at the bottom. Much of this comes from Tolkein, but it's not entirely his fault. He'd lived through two World Wars and had seen the horrible cruelty humans are capable of, and that got reflected in his books (much as his critics love to argue over this). But as Tolkein laid the new blueprint for epic fantasy, his imitators haven't strayed from this, and it's getting old.

At the same time, you hardly ever seen any ethnic characters, either. They're all Caucasian, perhaps with an odd accent here and there, and anything darker skinned tends to be on the side of evil. Make things interesting, add some variety within the races!

7. Fetch quests



I know, I've put this here when I am totally guilty of committing the same sin, but don't worry, I hate myself for it just as much! I am trying desperately to get out of this habit, but it's really hard because fetch quests do make writing so much easier. I mean, you get to mention all those places on that map you spent ages designing, you get to explore new environments and recruit all the valued team members, and it lets you drag the story out, too.

But it's very, very old, and very, very predictable. We need to move on (myself very heavily included) and try newer narrative styles.

6. Calling a horse a flight-foot (and other esoteric nonsense)


(image copyright Sam Dogra)

I hate pretentious naming in fantasy, particularly for animals. By all means have unique and interesting creatures, but don't try and get all fancy by giving them unpronounceable names. If it has four legs and is a domesticated mode of transport, it's a horse, not a 'darkling trotter' or whatever you want me to call it. And if it thrives in the night and drinks blood, it's a vampire, not a 'shadow stealer'. Similarly for names of mountain ranges, forests etc- don't start shoving unnecessary apostrophes in there!

5. Black and white morality



A lot of epic fantasy falls into this trap. I mean, there's always a DARK Lord, right? And his army of minions (all horrible abominations) etc. And while some stories will play with side characters, the true heart of the story remains a good vs. evil conflict. A very unbalanced one, too, as often the bad guy is evil just because he's evil, and the one with the tragic backstory is the anti-hero.

Booooring! Blur the lines a little, please. Maybe even play with our expectations and let us find out the 'good' side isn't good after all...

4. No technological progression/ stale settings



Medieval is the popular age in which most epic fantasies are set...and that's where they stay! We never see any hint of progression in any field, never mind if there's advanced magic. You'll have soldiers who can wield fire with their hands, but nobody will have thought about basic sewage planning or explore the potential of a flushing toilet.

Even if you look at our own history, technology progression has been extremely speedy, with more advances taking place in the last 100 years than the last 1000, so you can't even say it's not realistic to show progress! At least give me hints of what people are trying to do; humans are creative and innovative, don't shut them down because 'magic' is already there.

3. WAAARR! And Politics.



This is probably one of the most subjective items on this list (I mean they all are, but this even more so). I'm really NOT a big fan of the whole story getting geared towards, and climaxing in, a huge battle of two enormous armies. Going back to the good vs. evil thing, I just find this incredibly dull. Most of the time we know the good will win, and I don't really care which of your favourite characters dies for the cause, because the outcome is the same.

Even worse than this is when there are chapters and chapters of boring political discussion leading up to it as well, where the voice of reason is drowned for sake of glory and conquest. I don't mind a little of it- it's important, of course, and adds tension- but when it becomes a main focus I lose interest fast. I don't care about how intricate the back-stabbing system of your court is; just make the point you need to and move on!

2. Gender Stereotypes



Epic fantasy is really bad at this. Always a male hero and love interest who isn't a character in their own right but is just there so we know the hero HAS a love interest, or, if she's a 'strong female', her only reason to exist is to fail miserably so the hero can look good saving her. Ladies tend to be sparse in number, and if there is more than one lady it's usually to fuel a pointless love triangle, and they're not going to do anything except talk about said potential love interests.

Even the political savvy ladies are evil queens, everything is over-sexualized (even the 'virgin' character who needs to remain pure for her powers to work- where's the male mage where this rule applies?), every woman who's not the princess/ talented magician is a wench or old crone...yawn, yawn, yawn!

Write me a character first who happens to be a woman, not the other way around. Don't make her play second fiddle to the hero, either; make her stand on her own and support him/ her. There will be gender expectations in fantasy society, of course, but don't let that stop the women being people first.

1. Orphaned protagonist/ Chosen Ones



This one HAD to top the list! I am so sick of Chosen Ones! Always orphaned, always stumbling into their heritage from humble origins, always following the same stale single path of destiny...eugh, it drives me insane! They're always so average, they have no personality or qualities that let them stand on their own outside the Chosen One role, and they hold story immunity until the end.

By all means, Chosen One arcs can work, but can we please stop repeating the same tropes everyone's been using for like the last 2000 years? Can they have parents for once? Can they be aware that they still posses free will? Pretty please? Tales of Symphonia did it right, you can to!


So, that's my list. What are you major pains in epic fantasy? Let me know!

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