From the Desk of Del Rey Editor Mike Braff
Like many of you, I consider myself to be an epic fantasy aficionado. Some might see our tastes in the genre as a bit close-minded or even a mite snobbish. Fair enough, but I think that while good epic fantasy can be amazing, the less favorable variety can be terrible; if I’m going to invest significant amounts of time in a fantasy series that sprawls vast periods of time and space, I want it to be awesome all around! To that end I’ve identified several negative tropes that we see far too much in fantasy submissions. While none of these are dealbreakers unto themselves, seeing any one of the below in a submitted manuscript gives me significant pause. Maybe you’ll agree?
The Prophetic Orphan: Raised by an elderly blacksmith/farmer/merchant, your protagonist is actually (spoiler alert!) a prince/princess/mage from an all-but-extinct line of royalty/spellcasters prophesized to save the world. While the whole orphan angle gives the author a good chance to explore themes like identity and family, it often just comes across as lazy and predictable for the reader. “I wonder who the lost mage-king is. Could it be the lowly orphan that appeared the day after the antagonist’s coup nearly 18 years ago?”
The Expository Sewer: Rather than plop your reader into the middle of a vast and complicated fantasy world and let them figure it out as the plot unfolds, we are treated to a long and arduous exposition passage setting the world up in advance. It’s like having to hang out in the sewers for a while before you get to go above ground and look around. Knowing the full history is supposed to make the first glimpse of the world all the more magical, but it actually just comes off as confusing and slow for the reader. Exposition is sometimes necessary, but it should only be limited to relevant information about the developing plot, rather than every single cool detail about the created world.
A’pos’tropheus the De’stroy’er: This one might be a bit more subjective than the rest, but I find that I’m generally very critical of fantasy naming conventions. Whether it is including uncommon letters in the name or breaking it up with apostrophes and n-dashes, we’ve all seen this somewhere or other. Of course you want your characters/world to have unique, identifiable names. Of course you want your proper nouns to enable your reader to place the identified thing within your created world. I get it. But, can we figure out a less cumbersome way to do this? It’s something that is totally subjective, but poor naming can be the roadblock that keeps a reader from getting into the story. This clip from the 2009 movie, “Gentlemen Broncos” hits close to home on this regard.
Now, there are some truly great epic fantasy novels out there that embrace one or more of the above tropes, and still manage to be successful. At the end of the day, it’s all about how the author handles such tropes; do they simply run with something familiar or turn these concepts on their ear? A great book is a great book, after all, and a book can be great even if it includes a bit of the old hat.
Are there any tropes that you’re sick of seeing in fantasy? How about other genres? Let us know so we can avoid them when finding new awesome books for you to read!
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