Top Ten Tropes in Fantasy Books That Make Me Happy

Just so we’re clear: fantasy books in general make me happy. However, there are just a few tropes and standards that I love a little more than all the others. Things that keep me coming back for more!

1. The “Prince Hector” archetype

I’m sure it has another name, but I associate this with characters like Wilek Hadar, Chaol Westfall, and Torian Ahlen. “Prince Hector” is the dutiful son, usually of nobility, with a strong sense of loyalty and morality. He values his people, his family, and his honor above life and how can you not love everything about that?

2. Redemption Arcs

There is something beautiful in watching characters redeem themselves after being evil. It reassures me that no one is ever too far gone and there is always hope.

3. Magical Beasts

I don’t think I need to explain this one.

4. Outlandish Cultures

While I have been known to rant over logistically/anthropologically implausible societies, I do like meeting new and exciting communities between the pages. It gives us a taste of possibility, of what the world could be like with magic, a certain technology, a curse, etc.

5. Earth Magic

I mention earth magic apart from regular magic because to me, it has its own unique charm. The very idea of tangible unity between oneself and one’s environment has a kind of enchantment. It serves as a reminder of how dependent we are upon the world we live in.

6. Dark Sorcery

Converse to earth magic, dark sorcery in books represents the fearsome side of people, the side we would rather keep hidden. Our destructive and self-serving tendencies. The description itself is pretty darn dark, but I appreciate how it explores such a deep-seated aspect of our humanity.

7. Monogamy

More specifically, lifelong marriages. I mean, the way things are going, this is becoming more fantastical than anything I’ve mentioned so far. The idea that people can fall in love and stay in love forever is just too good to pass up.

8. Chivalry

*swoons*

9. Battles

I love military history in general, so combining that with all the above? Yes, please!

10. Mercy

Tied to redemption is the idea that it’s possible for people who have been wronged to forgive even when the other person isn’t sorry. It is truly a massive part of healing and moving on.

What are some of your favorite things in fantasy books? Or just your favorite genre? Books in general? Let me know in the comments!

Lesser-Known Writers I Love

As a regular reader of indie books, it’s not uncommon for me to fangirl over writers no one I know has ever heard of. Nonetheless, this week I’d like to brag about a few whom I especially adore. So read on for my fangirling and click on the names for their Goodreads bibliographies or websites (depending on what they have).

Enheduanna

It may be odd to start with an author I have never read. This lady was the daughter of the Akkadian king, Sargon I, and the first credited author in recorded history. Living several thousand years ago, I think of her every time I’m watching Downton Abbey and there’s a debate about whether women should be writers.

(Spoiler: They should. Men, too. Seriously, everyone.)

John Marco

I have written one fan letter in my life and it was to this guy. He is amazing. He is underrated. Specializing in military epic fantasy, I enjoy the way he explores both the human and strategic aspects of warfare against the backdrop of wildly imaginative worlds. DID I MENTION HE IS AMAZING?!?!?!

His Tyrants and Kings series dropped into my life right when I was going through some rough stuff later in my parents’ divorce. That trilogy really helped me. I mean, my life was miserable, but at least I didn’t have a semi-immortal druggie with uncomfortably likable assassins out to kill me and my family, right?

Lloyd Alexander

Who says Fantasy books have to be long to be epic? The Prydain Chronicles, based on Welsh mythology, are an imaginative, thrilling quintet and none of the books exceed 250 pages. Disney actually adapted the first book into an animated film, but it didn’t do so great. Nonetheless, the books are great, nay—AWESOME.

Kaitlyn Deann

I have had the honor to know this young lady personally through the magic of the interweb. Her debut novel was far better than my original effort, though we are about the same age. I am continually blown away by the depth and breadth of her stories and I am honored to know her.

Intisar Khanani

The very first eBook I read in entirety was Thorn by this resplendent, brilliant wordsmith. It was she who proved to me that diversity could be written well. Her stories are action-packed, whimsically inventive, but at the same time advocate a value for life that makes me want to hug her to bits.

If someone ever tries to say self-published books aren’t good, I shall pelt them with her entire bibliography.

Tad Williams

This guy’s Shadowmarch quadrilogy holds a special place for me. It was with me through those first few months after my dad filed for divorce. Mr. Williams is high on my list of “must meet someday” and I’m looking forward to reading his backlist.

(When I saw he also left a sparkly review for one of John Marco’s books, I went into Fangirl Overdrive.)

Gerald Morris

This gentleman wrote a series of twelve middle-grade novels, each tackling a different Arthurian myth. Have you ever heard of the dung-cart knight? The damsel and the dwarf? Sir Owain and the lioness? Neither had I, but The Squire’s Tales educated me in the most sarcastic, humorous, enjoyable way possible.

I read all twelve books out loud to my brothers and it was a wonderful family bonding experience. (Also with a special place in my heart.)

Who are some of your favorite less-known writers? Ones that no one—not even your bookish friends—has heard of? What’s your favorite thing about them? Tell me in the comments!

Things I hate about books

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My room is 60% books, but there are some things about them I just HATE. Things that grate and annoy and make me want to tear my hair out. I’m sure I could think of more, but this is a starter list.

Love polygons

Pick a guy already! This trope is notorious within Young Adult and Romance, but it’s starting to infect other genres as well. IT MUST STOP. Seriously, it’s a relationship, not ice cream. If you’re conflicted between two, you need to stop sampling one or the other because those are people’s hearts, not Baskin Robins.

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You’ve heard of “love triangles,” now get ready for…”love PENTAGONS!”

Mismatched covers

Just…no. I have several series where the publisher did this mid-series or, worse, end-of-series and it made me want to scream. To this day, it physically hurts me to look at them together.

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I mean…how sick do you have to be to do this?

Differing spine heights

This is done by the same monsters who pulled off the cover style swaps and is no less heinous/agonizing.

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I was appalled when the last two “Shadowmarch” books came in the mail.

Bad writing

Don’t draw me in with a pretty cover, good premise, stellar blurb, then have “flashing eyes” and breaths “she didn’t know she’d been holding” every two pages. Also no willy-nilly “hot” seductions where the characters didn’t even make eye contact until two pages ago. I mean…why??? But seriously, there are a hundred things that could go here, but you all KNOW what I mean.

I was going to put a picture here, but I got rid of the books I thought had bad writing.

 Good writing

Bad writing is like nails on the chalkboard. Good writing is like hooked talons that dig into your chest and tear out your bleeding heart. Beware the feels and beware the life-changing revelations.

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To date, four books have made me cry and two of them are pictured here.

Flaky authors

Authors, don’t go and write two to-die-for books and then write 900+ pages of crap when we KNOW you can do better. Get your act together, damn it.

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Yes, Christopher Paolini, I DID lie to your face when I said I liked the ending.

Cannon fodder characters

You know those characters who show up for like half a scene and are sweet and eerily flawless until they’re gruesomely murdered for nothing other than shock value? I hate that.

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Well…can you deny it?

Cancelled sequels

How DARE set it up for another book and not follow through! Leave me hanging with loose ends and questionable ending. Not cool, man.

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There was “kind of” a resolution, but “kind of” not. Also, I just want another damn book.

Biased publishers

I could rant all day about this one. The thing is, it’s luck of the draw as to which authors get “picked” for promotion by publishers (this applies to the Big Six publishers especially). The vast majority of authors are expected to handle promotion on their own dime. Which means we don’t hear about the vast majority of books published!

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Only fan letter I’ve written in my life was to this guy and the publishers don’t share my enthusiasm. Bastards.

Biased bookstores

The thing is, stores like Barnes and Noble and about 97% of other bookstores (unless specified otherwise) only stock the bestsellers’ list. Seriously. It’s why I stopped going so much (besides being broke).

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Crappy photo, but these are two AMAZING books you won’t find in stores.

What are some of the things you hate about books? Do you relate to any of these? Let me know in the comments!

Things fantasy books (almost always) get wrong about deer

fallow-deer-602253_960_720Hunting is a favorite pastime of various characters in fantasy novels. It was also, of course, a popular sport for the upper crust in medieval times. Because of this, hunts and their quarry have been frequently portrayed in literature and film, for better or for worse. Like hunting in general, which I covered last time, the favorite object of these hunts has been more than a little fictionalized.

For starters, deer are not defenseless Bambis.

Even a lot of hunters believe this one. The truth is, deer can kick (with the front or back), bite (yes, bite), and head butt you into the afterlife even without antlers. They are wickedly strong, even those that look spindly and thin, capable of dragging several times their weight and making grown men beg for mercy. (The only writer I’ve ever seen really explore this was John Marco with his battle-elk. But that was so awesome it almost made up for everyone else.)

deer-1083607_960_720They are not particularly smart.

Running and jumping are pretty much the extent of a deer’s strong suits. Though Arthurian lore and much resulting fantasy fiction often imbues deer (particularly stags) with oracular/prophetic qualities, they actually tend to be pretty dumb. They often have trouble getting out of any enclosure they can’t jump, which is problematic if they get stuck in your yard. (And you can’t try chasing them out unless you want to get trampled.) Really, brains are not their forte.

They don’t strictly go solo or in Mommy and Me pairs.

Deer can be spotted on their own or in herds of females with their young or in “bachelor groups” or with a buck and a bunch of does—really, there are a lot of different combos you can have. Yet most the time on TV and in books, I see they turn up either solo or as a doe and fawn.

hirsch-899116_960_720Deer don’t always have huge freaking antlers.

This one could be tied into my second point up there. In reality, only the matured males have those gorgeous racks you see over fireplaces and turned into chandeliers. As a general rule, a buck’s antlers have one new prong each year, so a yearling will have just one prong (hence the nickname “spike”), a two-year old will have two, and so on. This means that most deer (considering predators and such) probably will only have a few prongs. (Bucks also lose their antlers after the autumn mating season, which is something else fantasy writers seem to forget.)

As someone who grew up with a running commentary of “in real life, they…” I can be a bit picky. (Thanks a lot, Dad.) Still I don’t see any harm in shedding light on the matter. The right dose of reality breathes life into fiction!

Things fantasy books (almost always) get wrong about hunting

I think it is a safe assumption that many fantasy writers have never been hunting in real life. Really, why sit in a stuffy deer blind with no AC or toilet for hours on end when you could be reading books and sipping tea in your favorite armchair?

When it comes to hunt scenes, most people don’t notice the common inaccuracies because they are pretty consistently incorporated across TV and books. However, if someone is looking to appease the tiny demographic of fantasy-reading hunters, these are the things I’ve noticed books most frequently get wrong about hunting.

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And why would you WANT to kill this magnificent giant? I mean, look at him. By the laws of natural selection, he should live a nice, long life and the chance to have lots of equally pretty babies.

Game regularly comes in the size of midsize automobiles.

In truth, wild animals tend to be on the small side. The average wild boar, for example, will probably more resemble the dimensions of a Golden Retriever versus his overfed, domesticated cousin. (Unless a petty Greek deity is involved.)

Rabbits, pheasants, and other game are also pretty small, so just one of these is most likely not going to feed your group of five daring adventurers—unless they’re omnivorous pixies.

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Things get notoriously messy when it comes to bagging birds. It’s the feathers. Feathers everywhere.

Insta-death.

It is one of the more icky realities, but the clean, tidy kills we get on TV and in books are more than a little censored. In reality, animals pretty much never die straightaway, especially if you’re using a bow and arrow. Even if shot perfectly through the heart, animals are still capable of running several hundred yards before collapsing and in some cases can continue thrashing for several minutes.

More than a little disturbing, but true.

Stalking vs. Lying in Wait

Writers really like having their characters go gallivanting off into the woods to stalk their prey instead of setting up a perch and waiting for unsuspecting prey to come along. But moving through the forest “unseen and unheard” is hard. Very hard. Actual hunter-gatherer peoples spend years and years learning to stalk effectively and it’s still not easy. Even the best hunters come home empty-handed quite often.

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Wild bacon seeds can be plentiful at the right time of year, especially in areas with few natural predators, but even these brazen little piggies can be hard to pinpoint.

The forest is a 24/7 buffet.

One thing that bothers me is characters going off on hunts at random times of day, but nature is not your neighborhood Walgreens. Most animals only come out at dawn or dusk and hide for the rest of the day. Sure, you could theoretically go track them down, but it would take a long time and you’d have to basically be a freaking ninja as mentioned earlier.

In short, hunting is not nearly as glamorous or easy as we fantasy writers tend to make it sound. It’s icky and laborious and you’re probably better off just packing lots of lembas bread.

Things you DO NOT need to be a “good” character

It’s probably a bad idea to watch a movie with me. When I watch movies, I tend to criticize the character development and the writers’ standardized methods of relaying a character’s “strength.” I do it with books, too, there’s just usually no one around to hear me griping at my Kindle. There are five things that especially bug me, hence I have decided to whine about them in a blog post accompanied by Taylor Swift GIF’s because everyone likes Taylor Swift.

A temper

Tempers are not awesome. It is one thing to have righteous anger over injustice or cruelty, but quite another to overreact and resort to violence. Writers moved away from this one for a while, but I’ve noticed it coming back—mainly in female characters because men and women should be held to different moral standards (not).

A long list of ex-lovers

Some of my favorite characters of all time are, shall we say, romantically prolific, but the fact remains that being desired and/or sexually active are not the hallmarks of a strong persona! It’s okay to not have a significant other or regular one-night stands, but you wouldn’t know it by the way mainstream media handles it. Tay❤️

Modern literature and film seem to think it makes a character interesting, relying on sex as a plot device rather than using something crazy, like a storyline. There are plenty of shows I could list where if the writers weren’t allowed to incorporate sex involving the main characters, they would run out of material in about two episodes.

A tragic backstory

Tragic backstories are about as common as mud. I have used them quite often myself, but lacking some horror in your past does not make you any less of a character or your input to the story any less valid. Despite this, characters without tragedy in their pasts are usually portrayed as the naive innocent that gets killed first or gruesomely victimized, but that’s just a sign of lazy writing.

A set of fighting skills

I prefer for my own characters to have fighting skills (because fight scenes allow my inner ninja to play), but they aren’t necessary to a solid character—male or female. I wish I could find more portrayals where it’s okay to not be a warrior, but it’s been becoming rarer, especially in fantasy books.

A postmodern mindset

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It may sound like a contradiction to some, but it actually is possible for one to believe in traditional gender roles without being sexist. It’s also possible to firmly believe in one’s own religion as the sole truth without hating others and I could go on. However, the characters who are more traditional in their views are generally cast in a negative manner, which is a travesty, because it is an incomplete picture of what real people with similar opinions are actually like.

And that wraps up my rant for the month, but there’s plenty more where that came from. 😉

(As a side note, if you guys can think of any fantasy books that defy these tropes, I’d really like to hear about them.)

Writing Update and Other News: May 2015

Me seated before my laptop, listening to my writing music before writing.

Me seated before my laptop, listening to my writing music before writing.

Boo! Elisabeth here. I really need to stop making a habit of dropping off the face of the earth, but that’s what happens when a book release runs smack into midterms piled on top of a car accident (more on that in a moment) and then finals. But despite all that, I am still writing. Lord, yes, I’m writing.

On the Argetallam Saga front, we just had a wildly successful Facebook party to celebrate the re-release of The Key of Amatahns. It was a complete blast and I’d like to thank everyone again for showing up and hanging out with us. The Secrets of the Vanmnars is undergoing editing and cover design and should be making it’s big splash in the next few months. Yea!

My seven newest adoptive children.

My seven newest adoptive children.

The day before the big party, I went book shop hopping (it’s like bar hopping, but far more awesome) and brought home these new friends. Upon finding them, my middle brother proceeded to pick them up one at a time and read the final lines out loud. Since he values his life, he quickly stopped, but is almost excited as I am for when I’ve finished them and can tell him all about what happened.

That Epic Fantasy Romance quintet I’ve been (not-so) covertly working on is now at five books and I’m writing the last in the series. It seems I am a sucker for assassins and princes and demons and all that. I just can’t stop. At this rate, I’ll be working on the planned spinoff series before I graduate. (For better or for worse.)

I highly recommend "The Jackal of Nar" by John Marco to anyone seeking the emotional equivalent of a wood chipper.

I highly recommend “The Jackal of Nar” by John Marco to anyone seeking the emotional equivalent of a wood chipper.

Speaking of school, I was on my way to it just over a week ago when my half-ton truck argued with physics and physics won. Long story short, my baby has been totaled and I did cry, but no sentient beings incurred harm in the accident, so that’s the good news. I also have finals starting today, so that’s some bad (terrifying) news, but I have lots of writing and a good (gut-wrenching) book to get me through it.

I’ll be heading up to the Olympic Peninsula this week to visit relatives and I’ll hopefully finish the last book in that assassin series and get back to editing The Secrets of the Vanmars. Or the third Fanged Princess novella or maybe drafting the later books in those series. But it will be related to them, I know that, so good news for all you fans! As for me, I love Amira, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Haddie and Janir!