Fantasy Writing / Novel Cliches

Does the fantasy novel you’re working on avoid the typical writing cliches? Compare your novel against the following Web sites:

Granted, the Web sites are not aesthetically pleasing, but it’s still fun to go through the checklist and see how your fantasy novel matches up.

I guess a question that comes out of all this is: does it really matter if your novel uses some of these cliches? Will that make it any less successful?

21 thoughts on “Fantasy Writing / Novel Cliches”

  1. Hello I paste in the first paragraph of my fantasy novel, can you tell me if the reading sounds right?

    Terrified Jay ran through the thick dark green rainforest, he leaped over large and small pebbles that lay in his path. The woodland has large oak trees that were hidden by mist, so therefore; it prevented him from seeing the top of the trees. The rugged dark forest was infested with little flying creatures that hid themselves when Jay ran past them.

    I wait for your reply
    noel

  2. Noel, I would work on making the sentences more concise by eliminating some of the adjectives. Also, I’d watch the tenses and make sure you stay in the same tense. The first sentence is in the past tense. The second sentence is in the present tense. Things like that. Hope that helps!

  3. Hey, Ioved the fantasy character cliche meter links. Ran some of my own characters thru them, and they were borderline. Was a little bit disheartened, till I ran Harry Potter thru it. Scored 60… so I guess there’s something to be said for cliches!!

  4. Hey Noel, in response to your post. Here’s a few pointers:

    1. Think about action. Would someone jump over pebbles?
    2. Don’t over explain or describe where not neccessary. The word “Rainforest” gives the reader all he needs to know about visualising the location. Also if the mist is ‘hiding’ the tree tops, then we know they can’t be seen.
    3. Watch repetitions. You use the word forest, woodland, trees, and forest in short succession.
    3. Watch yr tenses (as stevent pointed out)
    4. Use joining words to make sentences flow nicely.
    5. When you’ve established the action and the protagonist, you don’t need to re-use his name, or re-set the scene. We know he is called Jay, and we know he is running.

    here’s a quick edit to demonstrate:

    “Terrified, Jay ran through the rainforest, leaping over the rocks that lay in his path. The tops of the trees were shrouded in mist, and all around him, small flying creatures hid themselves as he passed.”

    hope that helps you some!

  5. That’s interesting about Harry Potter’s score. Doesn’t surprise me though. The ideas and characters that make up the story are not original in their own right. The success of the books is due to great marketing, having the right connections, and some luck. Not to take anything away from J.K. Rowling; she is a good writer. But so much of a book’s success depends on the business side of things, not the creative side. That goes for any book. If you hit the market at the right time, when a particular type of book is in demand, your chances of success are greater.

    Your success does depend a great deal on being good at your craft, though. J.K. Rowling would never have gotten to where she is if she couldn’t put words to paper in a way that captures her audience’s imagination. I guess that’s not always the case, though, because I’ve come across some poorly written stuff when browsing in bookstores. Actually — and I’ve never read it, so I can’t speak for myself — I’ve heard from friends that Stephanie Meyer (author of Twilight) is not a great writer, that her stories are very disjointed in style. And she’s a model of great success as a writer. One of my friends attributes her success to complete luck.

  6. I must say I don’t really know much about the reasons for Harry Potter’s success, apart from the fact that the publisher was going to turn it down until his daughter picked it up and read it. But I do think that they’re enormously imaginative, and perfectly pitched for their intended audience. I think that in a way, with any genre fans almost expect certain things, because after all they are the things that help define the genre and develop it’s fanbase. I personally don’t see anything wrong with a character who’comes of age, looks for a magic artefact or seeks revenge for murdered parents etc. The originality comes from the story, world, ideas and the context that they’re weaved into. You’re spot on about right time tho. and interesting that you mention Twilight. What with those, and Potter, Northern lights, and the rise of popularity in the old Dark is rising books etc, urban fantasy is very much the bandwagon of the moment. especially if you’re writing about vampires fighting werewolves who fall in love with humans, who fight vampires.. Shame really innit, but I guess that’s just the way it works with anything, film, music, you name it. A lot of stuff is all about hitting the right market at the right time, and much less to do with quality. Interesting that your friend said Stephanie Meyer is a poor writer. I remember the Times scathing review of Robert Ludlum’s books. They said no matter how popular his books were or how prolific he was, they were still poorly written trash!!

  7. I think such a big part of it for Rowling was hitting the market when children desperately needed a revival for something to read. In school, children have always been made to read the “classics,” and there was a hunger there to read something different, something engaging, something fantastical and entertaining. Rowling delivered, and gave kids a reason to want to read again. For that reason alone, Harry Potter was been a huge success.

    I’ve actually never read any of Ludlum’s stuff. There was a time when I read more of the thriller type books (e.g., John Grisham) but I moved on before I ever picked up anything by Ludlum. Perhaps, I’ll revisit that genre one day, and determine for myself if his stuff is “poorly written trash.” Have you read any of his books? If so, what did you think?

  8. Hey, I’ve actually not read any of his stuff at all, but I did read some excerpts from one of the bourne books in a book about narrative form and editing, and have to say it wasn’t great. They targetted him because of his particular love of applying “ly” words to a lot of his conversation (he said, angrily… etc).

    Just been scanning rest of your site, it’s great by the way! Some really useful blogs on editing and stuff. Also read some of your short stories which were really good. How’s yr novel? Are you just in the process of editing it, or are you doin re-writes?

  9. One of the major things I’ve learned in writing is not to use modifying adverbs to describe the way a person is saying something (he said, angrily). The reader should infer from the context and characters the tone in which a person is speaking. It’s amazing that many prolific authors like Ludlum would use this technique. Also, a writer should stick to using the word “said.” It becomes annoying as a reader when authors begin to use words like “he commented” or “she declared” or “he exclaimed.” I’m okay with using the word “asked” but I try to stick to using only those two words: “said” and “asked.”

    Thanks for the positive feedback on my site and short stories. As for my novel, I have a test group reading it right now, and I wanted them to be done about a month ago, but most of them are procrastinating. One person has finished, and another is about half-way through. Once I get feedback from them, I will begin my 4th revision. I hope to start back on it by the end of August, first of September.

    After I finished my 3rd revision about a year ago, I felt I needed to get some people to read it for me, because if I started in on a 4th revision then, I probably would have been less willing to change story lines, characters, etc. There are areas of my novel I still want to change, but I’m interested to see what my test group thinks, and if they notice the same things I do.

    Hopefully, I can get the revisions back from them by the end of next month, and I can begin work on my next draft. First order of business is to edit the first chapter and throw on excerpt of it up on my site under the “My Writing” section. Even then, that first chapter is subject to change, but it will give some people an idea of where the novel is going and the overall feel of it. I plan to have the excerpt available sometime this fall.

    What about yourself? Working on any writing projects?

  10. Quite scary submitting a novel for test audience! I can imagine that being the time when you really learn the most about it! I’ve been writing something on and off for a few years now, but think I’m STILL gettin comfortable with it all. Avoiding those amateur mistakes is hard. Loads of great advice on yr site tho, I’ve read some of this stuff in professional editing books, and on courses etc. The number of times I edit something and think “Show and tell, you idiot!!!” Writing is great fun tho. Nothing quite as satisfying and immersive.

  11. Thanks for the positive feedback. Glad you enjoy my site. A lot of my knowledge comes from talking with other authors, reading books on writing, courses from college, etc., and of course reading. I read all the time, almost exclusively in the genre(s) in which I write.

    Best of luck with your writing! Do you have a Web site where I can follow your updates?

  12. Hey, no I don’t have a website unfortunately. I tend to do what you do, which is let a select few people read chapters as I write and edit them. Really useful, especially when you have people from different backgrounds and stuff. Academic people sort out all your literary mistakes, and amateur writing errors, and others let you know whether the story and characters are working!

    Funnily enough I’ve just started reading the last harry potter, and so far I have to say that I don’t think it’s particularly well written. Lots of repetitive words (she uses the word ‘handsome’ to decribe things about three or four times in the same scene) and she seems to totally neglect descriptions of her characters beyond some real one line basic detail. Also I think occasional words she uses are way beyond her target reading group (or at least the group I assumed the books were aimed at). Very interesting stuff.. I really ought to read more to be honest.

  13. I don’t read a lot of middle-grade fantasy (e.g., Harry Potter), but I am reading and reviewing this book called Bran Hambric by Kaleb Nation. Sourcebooks, the publisher of Bran Hambric, periodically asks me to review books for them and post the review to my site around the release date of the book.

    For not having read much middle-grade fantasy, I actually like Bran Hambric. The story revolves around magic and some other common fantasy elements, but it’s set in modern day instead of the typical “medieval” type setting. The characters are entertaining, and it reads really quickly. Maybe I would get into Harry Potter after all.

    As for the descriptions of characters, I know one school of thought is that you should never describe your characters beyond a basic set of details. This allows the reader’s imagination to take over and form the characters how they would see them, not as the writer sees them. This technique makes the reader feel more involved. But, like anything in literature, that subject is open for debate and is often subjective.

  14. Sounds like a good book! another kind of urban fantasu then? Will have to watch out for it. Must be nice to get to read some new stuff from a publisher. Yeah, really not overly impressed with Rowling’s writing. She’s incredibly repetitive, and even in the few chapters seems to execute an awful lot of creative writing no-nos..

    Yeah Characters is an interesting one isn’t it. For me, as a reader, I like a decent enough description to visualise the basics the way the writer intended, (size, shape, face, hair) but allow my imagination to fill in the detailed gaps. (I often have a tendency to pick actors for book roles which can be quite cool)

    It never needs to be much (as you say). Sometimes even some well placed metaphors or whatever. But I get incredibly annoyed when I’m not given any detail about a character other than a name, and maybe ‘wore a robe’, because there’s nothing more annoying than picturing a character in your mind as tall, pale with short blond hair, to suddenly learn that they have long dark hair, and a beard – three chapters on!!

    I think in fairness, Rowling relies a lot on previous readers. All the characters are obviously well established, so I guess she doesn’t feel the need to describe them as a matter of course. The story’s great though, can’t fault her on that score!! You should def check one out tho, I’d like to know what you think of her writing. I was actually really surprised by it.

  15. “For me, as a reader, I like a decent enough description to visualise the basics the way the writer intended, (size, shape, face, hair) but allow my imagination to fill in the detailed gaps.”

    I agree with you on that account. For example, I think George R.R. Martin gives a good amount of detail on what his characters look like, but you don’t get bogged down in reading it. The descriptions flow naturally with the story, and you really don’t even notice them, and then without knowing it, you have a clear picture of what that character looks like in your mind.

    That makes sense about Rowling and her characters being well-established. As the author, it wouldn’t be necessary at that point to give much description. I’ve heard from others that Robert Jordan, in the later Wheel of Time books, overly describes scenes and it bogs down the story. Since I haven’t read the later books, I’ll have to take their word for it.

  16. yeah I’ve not read his later novels, probably explains why they’re so enormous tho!! I always loved the opening of the Eye of the World, thought it was beautifully described and throughly immersive. Couldn’t stick with that whole series tho, not enough free hours in my life!

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