One of the advantages of writing fantasy is the big backdrop to the story – spanning time, space and the furthermost reaches of the imagination. Yet sometimes a story can get lost on a big canvas. So before creating a bold new world, it’s worth bearing in mind some of the pitfalls of writing in the fantasy genre.
1. Description Overload. Beware of overwhelming the reader with too much detail. Although it takes a lot of time to create a new world, remember you’re telling a story – not putting together a documentary. World building is about providing a framework and highlighting the unique qualities of your setting. As the author it’s important you know the intricacies of your creation; but ask yourself, does the reader really need to know?
2. Too Many Characters. Great epic fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, is able to weave together multiple storylines that both draw the reader in and convey a sense of scope. For lovers of this kind of fantasy, the advantage of seeing so many points of view provides depth and perspective. However, as good as Tolkien and Martin undoubtedly are, many people won’t read their stories because they are complicated and it’s hard to invest in so many characters.
3. The Never-ending Story? Does your book have an ending? Or are you stringing it out over 10 instalments? Sure it’s great to have a captive audience. I’ll usually follow a good author through a series, a saga or a decent set of chronicles (there is something comforting about a familiar world and characters). But there comes a time when as a reader you want a resolution. Padding the plot, creating impossible obstacles, or manufacturing new and even more evil enemies, can end up frustrating a reader. Keep the end in sight. Give your reader a bit of a breather at the end of each book. And know when enough is enough.
4. Point of Difference? With all the scope in the world at our disposal, there are still common fantasy elements that tend to be revisited time and time again: Vampires, elves, faeries, dragons, objects of power and prophecy are well recognised within the genre. But as Alec Austin so aptly noted;
A dragon must learn to make a good first impression if it is to do well in this life.
In essence if a reader has encountered hundreds of dragon stories, your dragon will be subject to comparison. So you’d better make it good. Agents are always asking what makes a story unique. If you’re working with fantasy tropes, at least make sure your story has a point of difference.
5. Poor Craftsmanship. I’ve been at ‘literary’ writing courses, where fantasy writing has been considered the poor relative to literature. Don’t believe it. Storytelling is an art form that sells. But it doesn’t matter how imaginative your story is if you can’t tell it well. So ignore the detractors, hone your writing skills and bring the reader along for the ride.
The great thing about a pitfall is – once you’re aware of it, it’s much easier to avoid.
– by Raewyn Hewitt