Fantasy Noun Stew

I love a good fantasy story. When beta reading fantasy stories, all the beginning writers want to do the same things: 1) talk about the weather 2) throw in all these strange names, items, plants, and places at once.

Think about it this way: what if J.K. Rowling  had started Harry’s adventure at Hogwarts with him learning all these fancy spells by name and listing them in class? That would have been extremely tedious and boring; we didn’t learn each spell all at once, or even all the characters at once. We met characters and learned spells as Harry did, as he needed them, as they became important to the plot, not all in a few chapters.

It is my belief, from experience on either side of the fantasy story, that writers want to build their fantasy world quickly as to dive into the story faster, so they unintentionally clog their story’s beginning with exposition, backstory, and useless information about the world and it’s people, plants, political reasoning, and spice trade before they introduce the main character or the plot’s essential problem.

A rule of writing fiction – get to the plot. While your flowery prose about the weather may seem important to you, the weather doesn’t matter until it’s strange or in some way connected. Don’t waste precious page space in the first chapter talking about the hills or the sunlight on the hills and the river.

A recent story I read in a workshop (I can’t use specifics. Ethics.) and the main character woke up at the beginning of the first chapter and then without cause, proceed to ponder his dead mother and her strange heritage, and then conveniently think about her mysterious watch-on-a-chain and how he didn’t know anything about his origin. Because that’s what we all think about as soon as we wake up in the morning. That tactic is what I (and others) call spoon-fed exposition. It’s important to the story, so it’s shoved into the beginning, and spoon-fed to the reader. Those types of details are better sprinkled as the become important – unless his dead mother is important to him getting dressed in the morning, those details don’t belong there.

Now – I use “telling” exposition for crucial details here and there, because it is easier to summarized than to show – like in a sequel, it’s easier to tell the reader that Harry’s a wizard and he goes to Hogwarts rather than to keep it a big secret and wait until he gets to school to let the reader know. But that’s a show/tell speech and for another time.

But the point of this entire blog post was to talk about Fantasy Noun Stew: when too many foreign (made-up) fantasy words are thrown at the reader to fast without a clear definition. It’s like reading a Dr. Seuss book without pictures, but none of the words rhyme, and sometimes don’t even look pronounceable.

  1. Keep your fantasy words pronounceable.
  2. Spread them out as they become important. I don’t care about each individual plant and animal’s weird fantasy name.
  3. Don’t try and be super-creative by calling normal things strange things: a deer is a deer is a deer.
  4. Fantasy stories need a level of our reality in them so that readers in our reality came relate to the characters, their problems, and the world they occupy.
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