By which I mean what is it that makes a fantasy novel badly written? Why is this the case? And who among the known authors has committed these sins?
Predictable plots and characters. When you can tell by chapter 2 the paths of all the major characters, that’s a bad sign.
Wish fulfillment, farm boy chosen ones, and the rampant misogyny and Dilbertarian politics shoe-horned in by bitter nerds who need to broaden their horizons.
Putting the power before the person is a big one. I don’t care what they can do if I don’t care about them. This includes villains!
There are so many cliches inherent to the genre that it can be very easy to simply fall into a mess of old tropes and churn out a total disaster.
Focusing too much on the world itself and not enough on the characters. It can be very tempting to really just focus on a world and go off on tangents that build up universe rules and provide great bits of history, but if it doesn’t contribute to a character’s arc or forward the plot, it doesn’t really have much purpose.
I agree. If there’s too much back story or world-building instead of something happening in terms of the plot or character–and particularly if that happens as an infodump rather than as a natural part of the story–then I tend to want to stop reading. That can happen in any genre, of course, but I’ve come across it in fantasy more often than in other genres.
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In my mind, a badly written novel is a badly written novel, regardless of genre (unbelievable/stereotypical characters, bad dialog, terrible/predictable plot).
With fantasy, you have the additional challenge of building a world and ensuring that the rules of that universe stay consistent. You don’t want to state that flying is empirically impossible and then introduce a flying character a few books/chapters later without addressing why the impossible is now possible. (not a great example, but the best I could come up with off the top of my head)
The worst fantasy that I’ve read was probably the early books of Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Cycle. It was based on a pen and paper RPG and feels like it. (it’s fun to play as all powerful characters, less fun to read about them). I enjoyed them when I was a teenager, but they don’t hold up compared to some of the good stuff.
There’s also cases where the author seems to just give up. Piers Anthony’s Xanth series started with a fairly good fantasy novel (A Spell For Chameleon) and has degenerated into a series of puns submitted by his readers strung together with a shoestring plot.
Anything with a campbellian chosen one…
When I go into a bookshop and look at the books on the Fantasy shelves, I am amused to acknowledge that many of them would not have been written if it were not for The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, which really was “like lightning from a clear sky”, as C.S. Lewis put it, when it was first published in 1954, for there was nothing else like it at the time. Now, here in 2015, there are too many books that try to be like it, but never will. There is Magician by Raymond E. Feist, for example. I was drawn to it in the bookshop because it said The International Bestseller on its front cover. While I was reading it, I was not impressed. It did not seem to have come from true inspiration, rather it was an attempt by its author to write an epic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings, complete with maps of imaginary lands at the front of the book, which seemed but poor shadows of Middle-earth, and dwarves spelt in the plural of dwarf as J.R.R. Tolkien used in his book, smoking pipes, so much, I was almost choked when reading one page by the pipe smoke. I cannot remember the story of Magician, but I can remember each stage of the story of The Lord of the Rings. At the moment, I am reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman, which is good, well written, and obviously stems from the author’s own imagination. Little, Big by John Crowley and Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Andersen are other examples of well written, original fantasy novels. In every kind of book, there are those that are badly written and do not stem from true inspiration. There are many poor science fiction novels, for example. I have noticed that many young writers are writing what are known as “paranormal romances”, which seem to be written not from true inspiration, but because their authors liked the “Twilight” books and films. An authentic, original book is what I like to read, not one that exists only as an imitation of another.
Thank you, American Writers Exposed, I am glad you liked my comment. Your blog is interesting, so I now follow it. Best wishes from Merrie England.
Predictable story, bad dialogue, or a slipping between a character designed language/look (if in as different time/reality) to ours.
Stereotypes need to be avoided. Putting in things just because they’re related to the fantasy genre doesn’t always work; a fantasy story needs its own rules and regulations, and if it’s overloaded with everything related to the fantasy genre, it’s a lot more difficult to keep all of those aspects of the world consistent.
It’s those stereotypes and tropes that define a subgenre of fantasy though.
But when it’s overdone, it just gets boring. Even in high fantasy, you don’t need to put everything in, and in the case of subgenres, there are only a few things that need to be included so it’s obvious that it is a certain subgenre and not just generic fantasy.
Not if you love it!
I have no easy answers to this question, but it is a very good question. On one level I suppose, if you please your readers then there is no sin, but for me I think fantasy writing must have something of that quality of speculative fiction about it, it must, like good sci fi, ask interesting questions about the human condition and not rely merely on attempted magical and exotic location.
Hmmm, anyway, here’s another point to consider: why monsters? Are monsters just people in disguise? Should, to paraphrase a classic article about tabletop rpgs, monsters have feelings too? I think they probably should have feelings too, or at the very least their own clear motivation.
Cookie-cutter stories with very predictable lines of everything the story the dialogue everything’s predictable. And there’s also the stereotypical stories where you know that he was going to end up with who at the end might not know how but you know that’s the ending to cum so there’s no real punch for it. stories that are made just to sell books where the cover provides more material than the interior. covers that are SOL spectacular that it’s just the cover itself oversells what’s inside where you can tell the author spend more time on the cover than the story
I could have also added, copy-cat work and predictability… yawn!
Usually, for me, its bad, cheap, silly, childish dialogue along with pointless action, or talk when action is called for, that makes me close the book and return it to the dealer (I buy from trade-in for credits places). The very worse fantasy fiction I’ve ever read was Eddings “The Redemption of Althalus.” Sub-moron level write, followed closely by the second book of “The Prince of Nothing” series by R. Scott Bakker. I was almost shocked at how quickly the story deteriorated from the first book which held a bit of promise. Since then I’ve gone back to reading Sci-Fi. At least here I know what to expect and I can tell from the first dozen pages if it’s going somewhere, or not. And I know my favourite authors.
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