Category Archives: Fantasy Criticism

‘How Not to Write a Fantasy’ (2013)

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I was not entirely successful in disguising the identity of this author. Oh, well. His errors are still good ones to avoid.

This is a challenging world, and we need our brains in working order. So don’t anesthetize them with bad fantasy. There’s more than enough of that available.

That business with really stupid and incompetent villains always gets my dander up. I mean, sure, evil people can be stupid–but if they were quite as stupid as they’re depicted in one of this guy’s fantasy novels, they’d be no threat to anyone at all.

‘Not Only Dumb, But Evil’ (2015)

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I really do hate those jumpin’, spinnin’ kicks

I’m afraid a lot of the contemporary Young Adults fiction that I read isn’t fit to line a bird cage.

Some of this is just dumb adults cleverly (in their own minds) writing down to young readers. But there’s also stuff out there that’s downright toxic.

Then again, there’s fiction written for adults that’s even worse. You wouldn’t think that would even be possible, but a lot of authors manage it.

The thing to remember is: The fiction we consume in such great quantities is a passive form of self-education. So be careful of what you teach yourself.

‘Stop the Lousy Writing, Please!’ (2015)

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If there’s one thing that’s hard to bear, it’s reading page after page of forced sarcasm and dopey slang in a fantasy novel. Not that it would be all that great in any other kind of novel; but fantasy seems especially prone to it.

Much of this can be blamed on dim-witted adults who think they’re cleverly writing down to teenagers. By “teenager” they mean someone with the intelligence of a radiator hose. They’ve been watching too much television and way too many movies.

It’s hard to beat plain English as a means of communication.

I wish some of these writers would try it sometime.


‘Where Do My Characters Come From?’ (2016)

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Abgayle graces the cover of The Throne

Let’s face it. Half the fun of writing fiction is coming up with characters. But where do those characters come from?

Some of them, I dream of. I dreamed of Gurun and put her in The Last Banquet. Other characters come in because there’s a job in the plot that must be filled.

But however you come by them, write your characters as if they were real persons–not just stage props to make your protagonist look good. Using “minor” characters as props for the hero is as good a way as I know to write a book that sucks.

Look at it this way: are you a minor character?

‘Literary Crimes’ (2015)

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I read a lot of fantasy, and a lot of it is poop. That’s usually because it’s full of literary crimes.

The Know-It-All Elf and The Invincible Female Warrior–what would certain writers do for characters, if they didn’t have these worn-out cliches to fall back on?

Then there’s crazy dialogue. There’s only one thing worse than long passages of speech written in what the author images to be dialect. That’s long passages of speech in which the author wanders in and out of dialect.

The mystery of it all! We wouldn’t know these cliches for cliches if they weren’t crammed into books that actually got published–thousands of ’em.

‘How to Write a Fantasy Novel’ (2010)

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This piece appeared in Chalcedon’s print magazine in 2010, shortly after Bell Mountain was published. I’ve had a lot of practice writing fantasy novels, since then.

There’s still a great unmet need for Christian fantasy, especially for Young Adult readers.

My books would appreciate some company!


‘Not-So-Minor Characters’ (2015)

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Chock-full of really cool characters–my books

Just about the most annoying books you can read are those in which the hero is obviously a stand-in for the writer himself, and the other characters are only there to make him look good. Oh, fap!

If you’re going to do that, you might as well go into politics, where it’s expected. Capitol Hill always has room for one more fat-head.

Highly recommended: the Inspector Ghote novels, by H.R.F. Keating. You can learn a lot from these–or just kick back and enjoy them.

‘In Defense of Plain English’ (2016)

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Holy cow, is this stressful! You should see what they’ve done to my blog this morning. If it looks normal at your end–well, I wish it’d look normal here.

Anyway–remember when I had to read and review all those books by “Abner Doubleday,” aka Brian Godawa? The fantasies set in the world before the Flood, which featured everyone using 21st century slang.

Hint to aspiring writers: Plain English is just about always suitable for whatever purpose you have in mind. There are some famous authors who love to write in dialect, and subject their readers to whole pages of blah-blah at a time. I have never enjoyed those books.

‘How to Write Good’ (2015)

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Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Especially if you review Young Adults books.

I wonder how hard editors have to work to get some of this stuff in shape to be published. I asked my editor, once (she’s now the editorial director for a major New York publishing house) how, when she was so hard on me, and so demanding of excellence, she could have let a certain book slip into print. She answered, “You didn’t see it the way it was when we got it. I won’t even try to describe what was wrong with it.”


‘Four Outrageous Fantasies’

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You don’t have to be a fantasy writer to cook up really daft stuff. In fact, the “real” word is awash in fantasy.

Of course, any time you start drifting toward “Man is basically good, it’s only our institutions that need tweaking,” you begin to take leave of sanity.

Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so.

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