Throwback Post: These Are Not Rules of Fantasy

I’m drawing out a popular post from July 4, 2014.  I’m still standing by this, but a year hasn’t even passed.  As usual, I don’t edit these when I put them back up for another look.  I might be doing this more because I’m tired and my brain can’t think of anything else to talk about.  Feel free to do this for your own genre or writing style or whatever.

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A big headache for genre writing is that nearly every reader has their own set of rules about how that genre should work.  They have their favorite authors and all others get compared to those ‘elite’.  Any deviation is met with disagreement or outright rage because god forbid you have two fantasy authors who take different approaches to the genre.  So I’m going to have a little fun here and go over a few rules that have been hurled my way over the years:

  1. YOU HAVE TO KILL CHARACTERS-  No I don’t.  Just because you have a disturbing blood lust doesn’t mean I have to give you a body count.  We can’t all write ‘Game of Thrones’, which is actually a rarity in terms of death.  8 of the 9 Fellowship members survived Lord of the Rings.  Drizzt is still kicking around since the 1980’s.  Conan is still alive.  Percy Jackson, Will Treaty, the Pevensie Children, Harry Potter, and so many others make it through their stories.  Just because the popular series is all about characters not being safe from the author’s reaping doesn’t mean every author has to fall into line.  Besides, I find it’s a lot more interesting to torment my characters and have them continue walking on until they are forever changed instead of saying ‘time for you to become worm food’.
  2. TOO MUCH/NOT ENOUGH SEX-  Make up your mind, people!  When did we start thinking that graphic sex was part of fantasy?  Well, one person said April 17, 2011 is when this occurred.  This is a really silly thing to get on an author’s case about since every person has their own thoughts on the matter.  For example, I don’t feel comfortable writing a graphic sex scene.  I’ll do the making out and the afterglow, but I’ll never go into detail about the act.  Some people say this goes too far and makes it erotica.  Others say it doesn’t go far enough.  Either way, the author and both sides of this coin are right.  Just like death, there’s no rule about how much sex should or should not be in fantasy.  So stop getting angry about it.
  3. A WIZARD DID IT IS NOT AN EXPLANATION- ‘A wizard did it’ is a comical response toward somebody asking too much about something that requires a level of disbelief.  Massive dragons flying, fireball spells, flying cities, and a lot of the fantastical aspects of the genre come under scrutiny for being unrealistic.  Try and really wrap your head around that one.  People want there to be plausible, real world explanations for magic and monsters.  Most times it’s not even everything that confuses them, but one or two aspects.  Flinging lightning bolts in battle is good.  Waterfalls that run up instead of down is a travesty.  Goblins and elves are cool.  Dragons wouldn’t be able to fly on those kinds of wings.  Sometimes you simply have to release your inner child and go with it instead of tearing the magic out of the story. (Clarification Edit) And, Authors, this does not mean go wild with the crazy.  Consistency and sense within the world is still important.  At the very least, you can have an explanation to hand out to the question even if you can’t find a clear place in the book to explain it.  Seriously, who stops a fight with a troll to explain their regenerative powers or why they’re as flammable as gasoline?
  4. THAT IS SO CLICHE!-  Fantasy has a lot of standard creatures, so using any of them can bring on this ‘rule’.  Elves get this more than anything because they always tend to be the pretty, snobby blondes.  Because of this mentality, you have a lot of authors avoiding monsters and magic races altogether.  Those who continue get derided for not bringing in anything fresh.  Well, this is a flimsy argument.  Humans, swords, armor, battle, politics, religions, magic, and just about everything in the genre can be pointed at as a cliche.  I think this stems from people having their favorite books and hating everything that doesn’t match those stories.  For example, early on I had someone telling me that dragons are so cliche in fantasy and said I should write something like ‘Game of Thrones’.  I pointed out that there are dragons in there and they promptly claimed that it was ‘different’.  If it flies like a dragon, has scales like a dragon, and people scream ‘look out for the dragon!’ then it’s a FUCKING DRAGON!
  5. THE THIEF SHOULD BE SUSPICIOUS-  This is a strange one because it is promoting a cliche under the guise of the author missing an opportunity.  Now, a thief that is worth his skills wouldn’t be suspicious unless the author wants to make it obvious.  In that case, the reader either groans at the lack of suspense or keeps wondering if it’s a trick.  Either way, a thief doesn’t have to be distrustful and on the verge of betraying everyone.  Variety in character types is a good thing, readers and authors.
  6. THE FEMALE HERO CANNOT ACCEPT HELP-  This is a minor one, but it bugs me a lot.  If you have a female hero then you get praise for as long as they remain independent and never need any help from a male hero.  The moment she is saved or protected, you get people complaining about ‘damsel in distress’ syndrome.  God help you if you have her cry.  I’m all for strong female characters and those are something I strive for, but there is a limit for both genders.  Some days it feels like you can’t have any character cry because they’re either a ‘wimpy guy’ or an ‘emotional woman’.  Bullshit!  People cry when upset and they need help when in trouble.  There is no rule that says you can’t have a strong female character getting saved when she’s being overpowered.  It’s realistic and the same goes for a strong male character.  Heck, take a look at Luke and Nyx in ‘Legends of Windemere’.  They’ve saved each other countless times, but for some reason Luke helping Nyx is seen as weakening her character.  If that is true then Nyx helping Luke should weaken his character, but people see that as ‘girl power’.  And people wonder why so many fantasy books have all male casts.

Beyond 1,000 words here, so I’ll stop the rant.  This went longer than expected because I was having fun.  The key point here is that everyone has their own preferences and thoughts on a genre.  You just have to accept that not everyone will agree with how you think a book should be written.  Also, I may pick on ‘Game of Thrones’ a lot, but it’s only because I tend to get 90% of my flack from those fans.  Early on, people were even telling me to change my books to match ‘Game of Thrones’.  So that’s where most of the comparisons aimed at ‘Legends of Windemere’ comes from even though the two series are extremely different from each other.

Any ‘rules’ that I missed and you want to bring up?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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37 Responses to Throwback Post: These Are Not Rules of Fantasy

  1. Nitpickers suck – they’re maybe reading the wrong books for them. Piers Anthony sometimes went overboard for me with the gratuitous bonking – I can’t write that stuff either although I still love all his books – but dragons, elves and exploding trolls are all good for my reading. I’ve got a strong female in my Shadow People and got a critique about that in a review – she isn’t totally rock hard though and still needs and gets lots of help from the guys.


    • For some reason, I think Piers Anthony had characters repeatedly hitting each other on the head now. I think an issue really does come up when you spend most of your time on one genre. You become jaded whether you realize it or not, so you can fall into being overly critical while a new person to the genre will enjoy what they’re reading.


      • He mixed fantasy with robotics – which was weird in a cool way. I did love his Incarnations of Immortality which was pure fantasy though, and I’ve been searching for one of his books about a spacefaring dentist that I read ages ago for yonks without success now. His books probably don’t rank near as high as yours so I’m guessing staying on your Windemere path is perfect. Do you ever feel tempted to start something different?


      • I get tempted to hit up on other stories in Windemere like the vampires, my globe-trotting thief, and the ‘fool’. Yet I keep coming back to Legends since I want to give them their tale first. I feel like I owe it to them.

        I do have some technology turning up in Windemere due to the gnomes. Book 8 has that flying city too. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to believe that future Windemere will be a Magi-Tech world.

        I think Piers Anthony ranks much higher than me. He’s been in this for a while and has longevity, which I still have to prove.


  2. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    What you thought you knew may not be correct 😀


  3. Jaq says:

    Great rant. As a Fantasy writer myself, I’m in complete agreement with every point, especially the last one. Well, I might hedge on “Awizard did it…” 😉


  4. Trey Willis says:

    I’m going to start slipping “A Wizard did it” into non-fantasy stories when I don’t feel like explaining myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ” Seriously, who stops a fight with a troll to explain their regenerative powers or why they’re as flammable as gasoline?”
    So funny. If a book is consistent within the piece, readers will believe. (dragons! Again, so right!)


  6. Jade Reyner says:

    I missed this first time around and as I don’t write fantasy, then I can’t offer anything useful 😉 except to say that, as you have pointed out, each genre has its own way of being. None of these are set in stone though and I personally, think it’s quite fun to challenge them. 😊


  7. I guess I’m not smart enough to know the rules of thriller fiction so I can’t comment on that genre. As far as fantasy is concerned I’m too new to know the rules. I think the wizard did it is a great reason why.


  8. Another annoying “rule” of fantasy: It has to be set in Ye Olde Medieval Tymes; the culture must be feudal and must contain -recognizable- analogs to -every- aspect of European Medieval politics and religion. (Urban fantasy, of course, is the accepted exception to this “rule,” but it isn’t urban fantasy unless it has lots and lots of sex scenes — one for every three chapters is a good guideline.)


  9. kford2007 says:

    Reblogged this on The Dreamweaver's Cottage and commented:
    Rules are made to be broken – loved this blog on what one should or shouldn’t do when writing fantasy.


  10. kford2007 says:

    I loved this piece!! So glad I found it. As a YA fantasy author, I’m happy to find that others believe rules are meant to be broken. After all, it’s our stories. Why shouldn’t we break the rules to tell it like we want. Awesome post. Thank you.


  11. noelleg44 says:

    Loved your poke at the rules, especially the too much sex/not enough sex. It’s darn hard to write a sex scene and I like leaving things to the imagination.
    This sort of reminded me of: There’s no crying in baseball! Yeah, right.


  12. mgill0627 says:

    Break the rules. Break them soundly. Break the well. Understand them and break them anyway. That’s how you become the next rule maker.


  13. This post is just as much fun the second time around.


  14. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    I have never written fantasy but here is Charles Yallowitz with thoughts on the ‘rules’ or not….


  15. Rules, smules. Bend them. Break them. Twist them. Toss them out the window. As long as the story is well written, I can enjoy it. Bring on the dragons!


  16. Ryan M. Church says:

    As long as you keep it consistent, The Rule Police can suck it. Just watching Prime Time Dramas they break with consistency. I have no problem with puny winged Dragons in a story. But they can knock off the shows where the straight character falls in love with a gay character only to switch back to being straight and a total homophobe to boot. No one’s choice of lovers boomerangs like that, With logic like that of course Elves and Orcs are real. Can’t you see the Trolls surrounding us. Quick who’s got the magic carpet so we can escape.


    • I don’t really watch the Prime Time Dramas. Is that a real plot line that a show did? Sounds clumsy and strained.


      • Ryan M. Church says:

        It’s pretty close to how it plays out, and quite a few shows try to one up themselves with that kind of inconsistent characterization, switching it up each season. Either some writers seem to think it makes great drama, or they just produce the plots some exec tells them to. I enjoy the storytelling for as long as it lasts, but, it eventually becomes absurd. But, when you watch or read anything with an editor’s eye, all things become a class on what works and what doesn’t.


      • You’re probably right with the one upping themselves. Eventually you do something that you can’t really top, so you have to find another way to get attention. Kind of like if you repeatedly kill off main characters. Eventually, the act loses its impact and you have to change direction.


  17. Ryan M. Church says:

    Reblogged this on The Way of the Storyteller:.


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