Rinkworks warns the following:
Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too. The problem is that most of this “great, original fantasy” is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we’re sick of it, so we’ve compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering “yes” to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once.
The problem is … I answered yes more than once.
4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme bad guy?
Well, it’s about three young characters, two who “come of age” and one who just figures out what his damage is, spanks his inner moppet and gets on with it, all three of whom have roles to play in the defeat of the dark god Yllel, and his sourcerous servant Kane.
12. Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel?
Yes, Aeldred is dithering and occasionally confused, but he is the exception and considerably younger than most of the magickal movers and shakers in my novel. Plus, he’s not even close to being a main character.
21. How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?
That would be Aislinn, actually and she’s not torn so much between the two peoples as derided and feared by both because she is the first child born of a Tellurin (my version of humans) and an eleph (my version of elves). She’s actually going to be pivotal in uniting the two peoples.
39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
Actually, all of the above. I’ve changed the names slightly and given them different origins. My orcs are called okante and are peaceful tribes-people who generally live in harmony with the Tellurin tribes of the north. They’re only drawn in as villains because Yllel tricks them into soul-slavery. My elves, as mentioned above, are called eleph and they come from a different world. One of my gods tries to do something good, but ends up tearing a hole in the world and sucking half the population of Elphindar into Tellurin before the gap can be closed. The eleph are not pleased. Dwarves are called dwergen, and are the children of the elemental Gods of earth and fire. Rather than halflings, I have gnomes I call dwergini and they are the children of earth and air. Neither race is terribly differentiated from their fantastic forefathers, but they’re certainly not dour and I try not to make them overtly stereotypical.
Enough of the justification, but I can tell you that I was not a little disconcerted by saying yes even those four times.
Then, in January, Author Salon posted this for the benefit of the Fantasy and YA Fantasy peer groups, two of the more active in the AS fold: http://www.authorsalon.com/page/general/fantasytropes/
Again, I shook in my metaphorical boots because my story is fairly littered with orcs, trolls (which I call krean), ogres (the gunden), etc. Will renaming be sufficient? It’s not like any of them play a significant role, but they are there in their standard and stereotypical glory.
I started questioning the value of my novel in a serious and neurotic way. Then I sat back and tried to put things into perspective. My story is not “about” any of these tropes, save perhaps for my protagonists coming of age, finding power, and defeating the big bad. Renaming will likely be sufficient in most cases. I don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.
I almost failed another one
AS says it wants thick-skinned writers. Though I do tend to take some criticism more to heart, or react poorly to some of their advice (largely because I think that it’s being posted because someone has looked at my work and though poorly of it, even though I “know” I’m not that important to anyone), I’m learning to understand being thick-skinned in the same way I understand being courageous. Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid; being brave means that you act despite your fear and try not to let it limit you. I’m taking the same, long view of being thick-skinned. It doesn’t mean that my confidence isn’t shaken; it means that even when it is, I get my shit together and soldier on.
Then Rachelle Gardner posted this in March:
It’s good to know that agents feel the same way us writers do sometimes 🙂
Writing well is the best revenge 🙂
Then I came across a very helpful blog post:
I’ve always aspired to be transgressive; sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not so much. I think ultimately, I have to focus on writing the best novel I can, so that when I do break the rules, I’ll be forgiven. It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission, right? It’s such a relief to know that I can write my way out of the corner I seem to be getting scrunched into.
Coming up on Writerly Goodness
In future posts, I want to get a bit into the background of the novel, stuff that won’t necessarily be in it, but all of the window dressing I developed so that my world would work fairly consistently. Stuff like cosmology, the historical timeline leading up to the novel, religion, the way magic works, my various peoples and their origins (in more detail than above), naming conventions, and some of the unique things about Tellurin. In other words, I’m going to write about world-building. Have any interest in that?
What are your feelings about tropes and their use/overuse? Would you fail Rinkworks’ test? What about the Author Salon article? Does it give you pause?
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Until next week!