Friday, June 22, 2012

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

This is just something cool I found that I think can be helpful when you're writing a children's book.

The page is called The Fantasy Novelist's Exam and it's at a site called RinkWorks. That's an entertainment site that seems to focus on creating parodies of popular literature, movies, etc. The Exam is a list of 75 "yes or no" questions to see if your new fantasy novel is worth writing. If you answer "yes" to any question -- yes, that's any question -- they say you should immediate can the novel and move on to something else.

There are a few things in the list that I don't think are the kiss of death. For example:
4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
That's just a variation of the Hero's Journey, which is a standard framework for stories -- not just fantasy, but virtually any type of story. Since Christopher Vogler wrote his book The Writer's Journey, many if not most movies are based on the Hero's Journey. Here's a page that gives you a pretty good overview of what the Hero's Journey is. As you can see, you can make almost any story fit this outline.

That's all the Hero's Journey is, an outline that you can use or not use as you desire. It ends up on the Exam because it's so easy to do it badly. But that doesn't mean you can't use it effectively.

I got a good laugh out of the following two questions:
18. Would "a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword" aptly describe any of your female characters?

19. Would "a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan" aptly describe any of your female characters?
Unless I miss my guess, that eliminates most female characters except those who can neither fight nor cook and therefore just stand around and scream for help. In a fantasy novel most women are either wives or warriors, since your typical feudal setting doesn't provide the occupational smorgasbord available to modern women.

Archetypes -- some people call them stereotypes, although I'm not sure the two are quite the same thing -- are a useful "shorthand" for all writers, but especially when you write children's stories and don't have as many pages to explain things.

So I wouldn't throw out my stories just because the story contains "a clumsy cooking wench" or any similar character mentioned on the Exam. However, most of the Exam includes commonsense things that you may not know because you aren't as familiar with fantasy as you think. Here are a few selected examples:
38. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named "Tim Umber" and "Belthusalanthalus al'Grinsok"? These names indicate characters with very different backgrounds, which is much more likely to happen in a larger city than a small village.

46. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls? Think beyond inns here. If your characters started an inn, they must have had reasons besides hosting brawls. That goes for anything in your story -- it needs a practical reason to exist beyond just being a convenient plot device.

54. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs? According to Wikipedia's article on gold bars, the largest gold bar in existence is roughly 18x9x6.5 inches. That's not very big, is it? It would slide easily into many backpacks. Well, not easily -- that bar weighs 250 kg (551 lbs). You might not want your heroes to run away (or even crawl away) while carrying a bag of gold!

58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar? Scimitars have seriously curved blades. You don't stab anything with them, you slice.

64. Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man? Forget Hollywood movies. In real life people are pretty easy to kill.

65. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an "on the road" meal? If you think about this one, you'll realize that the classic story Stone Soup makes much more sense if the soldiers need most of the day to make the soup.
These are commonsense considerations for your characters, even if you don't have to deal with them everyday. Little things like this can make your story either memorable or laughable.

So take a quick look at The Fantasy Novelist's Exam. You'll probably get a good laugh, and maybe learn to avoid a few writing pitfalls along the way.

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