Yesterday was a strange day. It rained thoroughly and steadily. It thundered, it winded, it stayed blessedly far below 100 degrees (where it'd been hovering for the previous far too many days). So we celebrated as Newmans are wont to celebrate stormy weather... by going to Borders.
(And a side note about what happened when we went to Borders: on the front table, the new book by 9/11-widow-insulting harpy Ann Coulter was prominently displayed. A woman was actually thumbing through this foul volume. I said to Fisher as we passed, loudishly I suppose, "I don't know why they have to mess up the front of the store with this crap." Fisher told me a few seconds later, "Mama, when you said that, that lady said 'But I like it!' " God, I can't wait to get out of this misbegotten town.)
The last several times we went to the bookstore, something weird happened: I didn't purchase a damn thing. So yesterday, I sorta kinda made up for it by picking up not one, but three fantasy novels: First Betrayal by Patricia Bray, Raven's Shadow by Patricia Briggs and Medalon by Jennifer Fallon (all of whose work I've read & enjoyed before). But in the process of picking out these three, there were many (O, many, dear reader) which I picked up, then put down again promptly. And having just re-read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, the reasons why I decided against these books were perhaps more sharply delineated than usual in my mind.
So in the interests of Improving the State of the Genre (ha ha) and Expressing My Cranky Self (indeed!), I hereby present to you this list of
Reasons to Put a (Fantasy) Book Back on the Shelf
- The blurb on the back makes any reference to Saving the World with the assistance of a Magic(k)al Widget.
- The title contains the words Sword, Ring, Crown, Blade (if you mean "sword," say "sword," dammit), King, Lord, Dark or Fate. Even if your novel is about the Lord Blade of Ring-land and his beloved Sword Crown battling the Dark King of Fate... puh-leeze, think of something else to call the book. You ain't no Tolkien, and you probably ain't no George R.R. Martin either. And they are the only ones who can reliably get away with trotting out these overused words.
- Any of the characters have names of four syllables or more. "Camaleiya" is OK as a summons uttered by Kira in the Dark Crystal. It is not OK as a name that recurs on Every. Freakin'. Page.
- Any of the characters have apostrophes in their names. This may be forgivable if someone is named something like D'Artagnan or L'Amour... but F'ri'saille is right out.
- Any of the characters' names have weird unnatural combinations of letters unlike those any found in any earthly tongue. It doesn't sound mystical or Elvish, you twerp... it sounds as though some drunkard has been pounding on a keyboard. Take this Sfiglathiearhnel and shove it.
- In one paragraph, one character "gasps" something; and in the next paragraph, another character "grunts" something. Is this a suspenseful chapter, or a low-rent Vivid orgy?
- In the same vein... characters repeatedly "respond," "demand," "deny" or "wonder" their dialogue. You get ONE of these per chapter, and even that's pushing it, buddy. They can "say" things. They can occasionally "ask." And, since I'm an Anne of Green Gables fan, they can "ejaculate" if they must. But THAT'S IT.
- That means no "hissing!" And for God's sake, no "smiling" your words! Go ahead, try it; it's freakin' biologically impossible.
- Adjectives are like Tribbles. They must be stomped and squished before they breed. Admittedly, they are kinda cute, and you might want to keep one or two around... but they must be separated at all times by vast gulfs of nouns and verbs.
- Adverbs are like cockroaches. They must be stomped and squished... and they are not cute, and you must not keep them around... for otherwise, for every one you see, there will be thousands more lurking stealthily, menacingly and defilingly behind every door.
- The book features a red-haired heroine.
- The book features a green-eyed heroine.
- Do you know how rare the above-mentioned genetic traits are? What's wrong with brown hair, brown eyes and brownish skin... as is proudly sported by probably more than 80% of the world's population? Or if you've gotta go with the Christmas colors theme... how about a red-eyed, green-haired heroine? Maybe she's a pot-smoking (or excessively tearful) backstroke champion.
- Faux-Elizabethan dialogue. And/or lofty, elevated speech. When Shakespeare did it, people actually talked like that (and if you'll pay attention, you'll see that only his nobly-born characters talk that way). When you do it, it sounds Stupid. And False. There will be no hie-ing, no forsoothing and only the very minimum of indeeding.
- Do you have people from two geographically disparate countries? Then they probably don't speak each other's language. Especially if one of them is a simple farm boy (who's really the bastard son of the Mighty King Rencesfrew) and the other is an illiterate but admirably stacked barmaid from a remote village. They CANNOT TALK TO EACH OTHER.
- On the same note: one can only say so much with "signs" and "pantomime." Maybe you can indicate that you want something to eat. Without the mutual understanding of a language such as ASL, you cannot indicate that you are a monk from the remote northern province of Foofle with an important message regarding the current whereabouts of the One True King.
- Honestly, do you really believe that monarchy is a valid, appropriate and laudable form of government? Dude, that's just creepy. Can't you think of something that doesn't involve "outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society?" Try having "supreme executive power derive from a mandate from the masses" instead. Or at least, stop pretending that kings (at least the True-Born, non-usurper type) are holy and good and have the Lowly Peasants' best interests at heart. History shows us that kings are more likely to turn Lowly Peasants into tufted footstools than into members of their advisory councils.
- Please, please, please... don't let your doughty adventurers cross a mountain range in two days. On horseback. In the dead of winter. Without large sacks of fodder for their mounts. Or a pre-assembled collection of firewood.
- The word is "Magic." Not "Magick." Not "Majik." If you're a practicing Wiccan, you can call your spellcasting ceremonies anything you like. But if you're writing a book, please do us all a favor and leave off the extraneous "k."
- For God's sake, leave out the poetry. Leave out the children's nursery rhymes that oh-so-cleverly conceal the secret to defeating the Dark Sword Lord. Leave out the mysterious prophetic verses that could not possibly mystify any thinking person for longer than about four seconds. Leave out the Ancient Rimes of Woe that preface every chapter.
Thank you for your attention, and happy writing/publishing! Tomorrow I will list a few fantasy novels that cleverly manage to sidestep all these pitfalls and produce a Slamming Good Read instead. Won't that be nice?
Update: well, it wasn't "tomorrow" (is that such a surprise?), but I did get around to the list of fantasy books that don't suck.