I have all these ideas related to the transition that I’d like to write about before the inauguration, thoughts on the outgoing president and his successor, yet my mind constantly wanders to other topics, my interests in world history, my love for the theater and cinema and my own proposed fantasy epic.
I’ve recently begun a pretty good fantasy novel, Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, the first book of his Sword of Truth series, which I’ve been trying to read while doing cardio. Though a good read, it has some of the flaws I find in much contemporary fantasy fiction.
He seems to be better than most as it appears (and note I say appears as I’ve only just begun it) he has an idea where he’s going with this story, having set up the main conflict which will define his “epic.” All too many authors seems to just start writing, with the conflict emerging well into the story, thus compromising narrative flow*.
To be sure, when reading Tolkien’s The Return of the Shadow: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part One, I realized he didn’t have much idea where he was going when he first sat down to write a sequel to The Hobbit. However, once he figured out where the story was headed, he totally revised the chapters penned before he had defined (given Tolkien’s ideas of creation, “discovered” might be a better word here) the quest and the conflict.
Would it that other fantasy fiction writers followed his lead. But, perhaps, the nature of the publishing business today makes that task difficult. Many writers seem to publish volumes in a particular series before completing the epic.
That may well be one reason I’m waiting to start writing mine (time constraints being another problem). I want to know how it ends before I start writing in earnest. I read somewhere that shortly after beginning writing the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling wrote out the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, what would become the last book in the series. That’s one reason, I believe, the story resonated so well with readers.
She told that story so well that it helped me overcome one objection I had early on to the books: too much magic. It seems that all too many fantasy books have way too much magic. But, what worked well for Rowling seems to make other series seem contrived and corny.
Where they have too much magic, they have too little history. They only have a sketchy outline of what took place before their adventure started. (By contrast, Tolkien had whole appendices dedicated to his realm as well as numerous accounts which were published posthumously.)
And then there’s the problem of names, invented words which sound flat and bland. Tolkien used his rich knowledge of language to create believable names. I’ve been trying to address the problem for my books by referring to my Irish-English Dictionary for some and consulting my Anglo-Saxon dictionary for others.
So to sum up, my big problems with most fantasy fiction (even in books which I enjoy)
- Narrative flow lacking because author didn’t know where he was going when he started writing, wasn’t clear what the quest would be and what conflicts would arise.
- Too much magic
- Too little history
- Lame names.
*Not entirely sure, “narrative flow” is what I mean. In the interest of posting the piece, I’ll let it stand, but may revise it, should an expression which better describes what I mean emerge.