Words and Terms That Can Kill Your Fantasy Dead

Do you want any more transgender news today? Naaah–let’s talk about fantasy-writing instead.

But first, an antique joke: The debutante’s father says to her, “My dear, there are two words I forbid you to use. One is swell and the other is lousy.” To which the debutante replies, “Of course, papa. And what are the two words?” [laugh break]

Well, if you’re trying to write fantasy, or even historical novels, here are six words, or terms, that you may never use without reminding your audience that they’re only reading some stupid thing that you made up, and they won’t be able to enjoy it by imagining it’s real.

Ms. People living in the Middle Ages did not use this title. In fact, it’s not even as old as I am. Characters inhabiting a fantasy world shouldn’t use it, either. Otherwise the author calls attention to the fact that what you’re reading isn’t real.

Lifestyle. Under no circumstances use this word, either in narrative or dialogue. It strongly hints that the author is a putz. Characters in fantasy stories do not have lifestyles. Can you imagine the damage done to his work, if J.R.R. Tolkien had ever mentioned “the hobbit lifestyle”? Perish the thought.

Gender. This used to be called “sex.” It’s a garbage word used by nitwits. Of course, you might wish to imagine a world in which there really are more than two sexes. If done well, it might even be interesting. But I am not aware that anyone has ever done it well.

Multicultural or Diversity, etc. If you want to talk about “diversity” among the natives of your fictional world, don’t insult the reader’s intelligence  by telling him something like “There is great diversity among the Heathen peoples of Obann.” No, no, no! Describe what these people look like, how they live, what they believe–paint a picture of them. If you really have no idea at all how to do this, you’re better off writing something other than fantasy. Instructions for assembling a chair, perhaps.

Social justice. This term is mere camouflage for liberal politics. Trust libs to give justice a bad name. Never, never, never use your fiction as a soapbox for your politics. Not only will most people hate reading it; before too long, no one will be able to read it because it will have become totally irrelevant.

Self-image, and similar preoccupations. If your fictional hero’s interest and attention is focused on himself, you can be sure your reader’s attention will soon be focused on someone else’s book. Make sure you never stoop to using such a phrase as “So-and-so’s journey of self-discovery.” Discovering the source of the Nile is interesting. Discovering a some fictional character’s self is not. And anyhow, you can write that theme without ever boring the reader by baldly stating it. In other words, don’t talk about it–do it.

Even a really good story can be murdered by the author’s most trifling use of these words and phrases. It’s hard enough to come up with a really good story. Don’t handicap yourself by weighing it down with any of this literary slag.


5 comments on “Words and Terms That Can Kill Your Fantasy Dead

  1. Ah-ha! I think you have hit on something here. That is why the fictional “news” is so boring.

  2. You’ve just called my attention to something that hadn’t occurred to me before with the above list, Lee. Most of us would never notice the absence of these words, but it’s safe to say we would notice as we tripped over them in the story. A very interesting concept – a story is enhanced by what is NOT there as well as what IS! 🙂

  3. Another word not to use: “issues,” in the sense of “personal problems.” Issues are topics for discussion or debate; editions of a periodical; extrusions from orifices or lesions; and, in the singular, offspring.

    Also, “ethnic.” This is a very modern word, but I’ve seen it used in Westerns supposedly set in the 19th century.

    I used to threaten my students with flogging if they used “issues” to refer to anything other than discussion topics, periodicals, or pus. 🙂

    1. I’m pretty sure I’ve used neither of those words in any of my books.
      One of the worst examples ever, which I found in a historical novel about Merlin set in 5th-century Britain:
      “You guys! Ya got a problem with that?”
      I won’t name the author because he has promised not to do that anymore.

  4. “Never, never, never use your fiction as a soapbox for your politics.”

    That’s a mouthful. It seems like a great deal of modern fiction and drama has become infused with political, or politically correct content and I find that to be a deal breaker. When I read fiction, I want to read for relaxation and recreation. Most of what I read is non-fiction and I get far too much in the way of political content from this. Fiction can be serious and thought provoking, but to indulge political showboating, IMO, violates the covenant between author and reader.

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