The Pitfall of Being a Fantasy Writer – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

The Pitfall of Being a Fantasy Writer

Patrick Rothfuss said something that pretty much sums up an issue I’ve been wrestling with for the last few months:

If you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead. Nothing’s off limits. But the endless possibility of the genre is a trap. It’s easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you’re supposed to be doing: telling a good story. Don’t get me wrong, magic is cool. But a nervous mother singing to her child at night while something moves quietly through the dark outside her house? That’s a story. Handled properly, it’s more dramatic than any apocalypse or goblin army could ever be.” ― Patrick Rothfuss

Interesting, isn’t it? We get so focused on the creation of our own world–one that we have total control over–that we often forget to include the important things that make our story worth reading.

I know that I’ve tried to go too “big” with my stories. Instead of focusing the story around the character, the focus is on the plot, the action, the intrigue, the twists and turns, and everything going on in the world. There is so little focused placed on what’s going on inside the character’s head, how he’s feeling, or what he is actually experiencing.

In my opinion, the greatest fantasy stories are NOT the ones with the most epic story lines. A great story line is a big part of making a great novel, but it’s not what really matters. I think that a good fantasy story is made because of a great character.

I wrote a post not too long ago titled “The Story Doesn’t Really Matter“, and what Rothfuss said above definitely serves to illustrate that point for me. After all, his books are quite famous and sell well, but I couldn’t read them simply because I couldn’t connect with the characters.

As you write your story, forget about the action scenes, the plot twists, and the nifty things that you think will make for a great novel. Instead, bring some reality to your fantasy, and tell the story of the character/s that is the focus of your writing.

Get into their heads, and see the world through their eyes. Feel their opinions, prejudices, hates, and loves, and let those things color the world around them. You’ll need to build the world, but add the unique flavors of your characters to that world.  Don’t get so wrapped up in world-building that you fail to bring a touch of reality into it.

A great fantasy world is one that has plenty of reality, which your readers can identify with. It’s not the made-up world that they’ll care about, but it’s what happens to the characters in your book.

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4 Comments

  1. Finally! I hope more catch on to this. I’ve read so much fantasy where horrible things happen to the protagonist…… and that’s it. The writer would keep saying the horrible thing, but it didn’t affect the character in the slightest. Not only does that defy the logic of ‘Show Don’t Tell’, but it’s superficial: no emotion, no psychological trauma, no behavioral changes. You want your readers to believe that these characters are real, not one dimensional words on a page. THAT’S where the story is; not the event alone, but what it did to the character.

    • It’s actually one of the hardest parts of writing, truth be told. It’s easy to describe action scenes, but it’s so much harder to describe feelings and emotions. But that depth is what makes a good story great.

  2. This article reminds me of Robert Jordan’s mega selling Wheel of Time series. It definitely had elements of the fantastic, but most of the story dealt with interactions between the characters and how they felt about their crazy world. One of the things that made me laugh over and over is when one of the three main heroes was wishing they could deal with women like the others…except they all felt the same way, proving the old adage that NO man really “gets” women. I think that he best fantasy stories are the ones that try to keep the fantasy to what is necessary and the rest is kept fairly realistic.

    • I totally agree, Shane. Back in the day of LOTR, things could be much grander and more epic because it was a new genre, but now things have to be done differently. There’s so much out there that the only way to make your story stand out is to make characters that are truly memorable. The only way to do that is to put your reader inside that character’s head and hope they can identify with what they see!

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