I’m often asked for advice on writing fantasy, so I thought a few suggestions might be helpful. Here are some pitfalls you should try to avoid.
Don’t bombard your readers with outlandish names. If you write a sentence like this, you’re asking for trouble: “Froobish the Saffronesian dismounted in front of the Temple of Quor and prayed a silent prayer to Poogle-Mo-Pooble that he would find High Priestess Botchygaloop in a forgiving mood.” Oh, I can imagine your objections. “No way, man! Lord Dunsany always wrote like that! So did Clark Ashton Smith–and what about all those crazy monikers J.R.R. Tolkien came up with? He had a character named Legolas, for cryin’ out loud!”
Yes, part of the fun of fantasy is making up the names. All I’m saying is, don’t overdo it. Besides which, great artists like Dunsany, Smith, and Tolkien can get away with things that the rest of us can’t.
Don’t even think about using a fantasy novel to act our your own personal wish-fulfillment drama. Readers can almost always sniff this out, and they always find it odious. People get a laugh out of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” but they wouldn’t enjoy novels written by Walter Mitty about himself. Always remember how tedious it was, years ago, to listen to the biggest B.S. artist in your dorm bragging about his imaginary amorous exploits: and don’t write like that.
Never, never resort to cliches lifted from our pitifully lame popular culture. For one thing, it reminds your audience that they’re just reading a story somebody wrote, and it defeats their search for a respite from the world. Don’t offer them escapist literature in which you, the writer, block off their escape. It also indicates to the reader that you just aren’t very imaginative.
Unless you’re writing a unique fantasy set in our own world of here and now, the following words and phrases must never appear in your tale: diversity; self-esteem; gender; social justice; wellness; anger management and conflict resolution; erectile dysfunction; culture; inclusiveness; this or that “community”; lifestyle; socio-economic status; anything or anyone described as “spiritual”… I could list quite a few more, but the exercise is beginning to upset my stomach.
Don’t try to re-invent the English language. It’s gotten along fine without you since the says of Geoffrey Chaucer, and it doesn’t need your innovations now. Avoid those random archaisms–the odd “thee” or “thou” or “smote” dropped into the text for no particular reason. Shun the temptation to invent new and creative names for things like swords, armor, chairs, soup, etc. In short, don’t set up barriers between the reader and the story.
There’s much more that could be said; but for now, I open this forum to suggestions from the readers.