Formulaic Fantasy

I wrote most of a post yesterday but scrapped it because I wasn’t entirely happy with it. It was about the upcoming NaNoWriMo and my plans for it. I am trying my hand at Sci-Fi and with, when it is finished, publish it somewhere for people to read as, yes, my 50,000+ novel is going to be a fan fiction. I am treating it as some fun to get me back into writing after several failed attempts to write a fantasy novel. I mentioned within that fantasy is my favourite genre but I read very little of it, and I think I now know why.

When planning a novel you realise just how formulaic writing is, but I find that no genre wears its formula on its sleeve quite as much as fantasy does. I did a post in the past about The Hero’s Journey which details how the general rising-action of legends and stories generally goes. It defies genre but I find that it is most obvious in fantasy.

I’ve heard the argument that every fantasy book is trying to be Lord of the Rings, but I disagree. While there are many that ape all or some of its ideas, a significant portion of fantasy books want to be considered on their own terms but, because Lord of the Rings is so well known, the comparisons are laughably easy to make. It’s because of this that I think Game of Thrones has done so well as it bares almost nothing in common with standard fantasy tropes.

I consume most of my fantasy through video games now. There is an incredibly drought of good fantasy films coming out and so those who want fantasy outside of literature have to turn to video games but, thankfully, there’s plenty on offer. World of Warcraft is the most fantasy-esque game you can get but there’s so much variety in the genre. Dota 2, Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma, Monster Hunter, Dragon Age, etc. Each offer things that are very unique to players and I personally think that it’s the best way to consumer fantasy.

I’ll explain. The reason why my book couldn’t get off the ground despite numerous attempted starts was mainly because I couldn’t get that sense of bigger powers being at play. In Game of Thrones you get that sense that there’s a lot more going on than just what is happening to the characters and I think that video games, despite the fact that they centre around the player, do that an awful lot better than most other mediums. In World of Warcraft, to go for the easiest example, you are keenly aware that there are literally thousands of people online all of the time. The world teems with life and you are constantly battling new enemies. While I have detailed how I think that WoW’s story is convoluted and half the time you don’t know who or what you’re fighting, let alone why, it does get across just how epic the scale of things are.

The problem also lies in the audience for fantasy. I like elves and dwarves, magic and dragons, but not to the point where I want to read everything about them or memorise the names of every bizarre character an author introduces. Sometimes I want something nice and straightforward but, if your an author, you want to make sure people understand the work you put into something and I’m sure a lot of readers love that. I sympathise with the authors as well. Finishing a piece of long-form fiction is quite the achievement and to actually get it into the hands of other people to read is even more. Dumbing something down for the masses is something that I don’t think any industry should do, especially not literature, but when something is so well recognised then putting little personal flares on it won’t mask how generic it is and that’s why I just can’t commit to writing fantasy.

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