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What makes a fantasy good for you?

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What is it about a good fantasy book that makes it a good fantasy book?

What do you like to see from a blurb or a first page to convince you to buy the book?
#1 - October 25, 2013, 01:56 AM

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One thing that makes it "good" for me is that it feels immediate (that's a personal taste issue--I don't care for books that keep reminding me that I'm reading a book) and also, that it feels fresh and unique (ie no Robert Jordan/Tolkein lookalikes). I need to believe in the world but more importantly, I need to relate to the characters. Basically, it's the same kind of thing that makes any book good. :)

(And I find it ironic that the spell checker on a writing board doesn't recognize the word "Tolkein." :) )
#2 - October 25, 2013, 05:09 AM

Here's a few thoughts I've had lately:

1. The world needs to make sense and not take too long to explain. It's okay if it is complicated, and the world is revealed as the story goes along--but I shouldn't have to spend time bogged down in telling description or time super confused about what just happened. It's okay if I am curious about what just happened, and it keeps me reading until I understand the mechanic or implication. But I shouldn't have to re-read paragraphs multiple times trying to understand.

2. The world should have rules and limits that the characters have to work within. Nothing spoils a book more (for me) than the main character--or the main villain--having an unexplained power that is the key solution or problem. I want to be able to trace the roots of a solution/problem back through the book, even if it surprises me at the end. And I want to feel like the main character has overcome authentic odds and earned their ending. (Deus ex machina is a similar issue--I want the main character to solve the problem, not someone or something else.)

3. I love a "different" fantasy world, but I want the story to be about so much more than the world it's set in. I want the main character to have friendships that feel real, to have family relationship dynamics that ring true, to have some very human desires that hang them up and drive them forward. I want to feel like the stakes of the story matter, and that the stakes would ring true in just about any world. I'm not going to care very much if it's a story about a water nymph who really wants to win the ice crown and be queen--unless she wants that power because her best friend was in line for the throne but something tragic happened to prevent her from getting the spot, unless she wants to be queen to be like (or unlike) her mother, unless she wants the only thing that will let her protect her river from encroaching pollution and she'll reluctantly be queen if that's what it takes...
#3 - October 25, 2013, 09:30 AM

That's a very good answer HDWestlund
I'm a fantasy reader and writer. My main character lacked depth the first time around, so with this revision I'm improving her relate-ability.

As for picking a fantasy book, it's all about the world to me. I enjoy falling into unknown worlds where anything can happen.
I agree that all rules should apply to everyone and I've worked hard in my own work to spell out the rules so they won't be broken.

I'm in love with the Fablehaven series, Inkheart series and and Incarceron. All these worlds were different but held true to the promises made.

#4 - October 25, 2013, 07:46 PM

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Actually, I would ditto all that Harold said. Flawless world building is critical. Nothing will pull a reader out of the story than a world that has glitches.

And unique! I don't want to see the same old same old. I want to read about magic and a world that has a feeling of freshness. Fantasy has been around a long time but that doesn't mean it has to be too familiar.

For middle grades, I think humor can take you a long way. I think that's one of the reasons Rick Riordan is so popular. He just gets that age's humor. He also uses the myths in a way that a kid can identify with.

For YA, your world building needs to be more sophisticated but also reach issues and the needs of teens today.

And for me personally, I don't mind a little romance thrown in there too! :-)
#5 - October 26, 2013, 05:52 AM
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Coming back to this thread again, I do think a solid, believable world is vital. But I've also given up on a lot of books and mss where the world! oh, the WORLD! is so developed, but the characters...aren't real. I think that's actually a big stumbling block when writing fantasy--forgetting that the coolest worldbuilding ever won't compensate for a lack of real characters with real, hard problems. And that's why good fantasy is so satisfying, you know? Because that author has made us believe in that world, want to be there--and put us in the eyes and hearts of a character we can love and believe in, too.
#6 - October 26, 2013, 06:20 AM

Olmue, I think you just succinctly summarized what I was trying to say. Perfect. :)

Holly
#7 - October 26, 2013, 07:42 AM

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I'm with Christy on World Building. A good fantasy must suspend the reader's disbelief and pull the reader into the world. Fantasy is about magic, or using magic to deal with the conflicts a character faces. As pointed out, it has to have limits, and a fresh magic system is a plus. I would also add that it should have resonance. It must resonate with what the reader knows in the real world. That's how fantasy writers ground their readers to their stories. It has to have a tie with the reader's experience or knowledge to connect, whether you chose to use characters dealing with real, hard problems as Olmue noted or borrow from humanity's history. I believe that's why many of us borrow from mythology and fairy tales.
#8 - October 26, 2013, 07:56 PM
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Storyjuggler, I'm gonna have to disagree with you! Fantasy isn't about magic. Science fiction poses a "what if?" question to our world. It's a slight change to the world we live in, an alteration in one rule or idea to see where that takes us within what is otherwise our universe. Fantasy, on the other hand, is a world that could not possibly exist in our universe, no matter what. That's why I'd argue that Star Trek is sci-fi, but Star Wars is fantasy. It just happens to be set in space.

So often times, fantasy includes magic, because of the nature of fantasy - things happen that would never happen in our world, no matter what, and a lot of that's chalked up to "magic" (Star Wars included), but fantasy can exist without it. George RR Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series is pretty damn light on magic for a fantasy. It's in there, but it's not as prevalent as in, say, Harry Potter.

I only say this because often my favorite fantasies are light on magic, or where magic takes a back seat. Maybe that's because there's just too many potential holes in the system. The very idea of magic is that it can't be explained properly, and that makes things complicated. You'll bore me if you spend your time explaining how magic in your world works, but if you don't, it's too easily made into a deus ex machina, as someone mentioned. Personally, I prefer when reality is "stretched," and, ideally, the word "magic" is never even used.
#9 - November 10, 2013, 06:49 AM
The Voyages of the Merry Mariner - newly launched MG fantasy/adventure series!

I agree with mmrempen about the fantasy not being all about magic. I am a bit of a reluctant fantasy reader. I only just starting reading fantasy as an adult, but I am partial to more magical realism type fantasy, where the world is real, but something is a little off or different. Fairy tales was my entry point to reading fantasy. I also love some history with my fantasy, like Marissa Doyle's novels.

#10 - November 11, 2013, 07:33 PM
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I still haven't decided if its right to call the book I'm writing fantasy.  Basically the only fantastical thing I have is that I have 'people' that are a quarter of an inch tall. Other than the massive change in perspective it's the real world.

Funny enough there is a ton of world building to get through to explain how things work at that size.  And I foolishly didn't include a Hermione type character in the first book to use as an info dumping machine.  So its all done through the characters experiences or memories.
#11 - November 11, 2013, 09:10 PM
« Last Edit: November 11, 2013, 09:13 PM by MichaelBlackbourn »

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Michael, I looked through your Cindercast stuff the other day and I thought it was a great idea. At that size, the beach becomes an alien universe. As a kid I spent hours poking around in tidepools...there's so much to see down there!

Anyway that's the kind of fantasy that I like. I think it is fantasy, in the way that "The Littles" is a fantasy. Doesn't need wizards and wands.
#12 - November 12, 2013, 12:32 AM
The Voyages of the Merry Mariner - newly launched MG fantasy/adventure series!

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mmrempen, you make an excellent point about magical elements in fantasy. Now you've got me curious what you'd consider to be SciFi/Fantasy?  :spock
#13 - November 12, 2013, 06:48 AM

The beach really is alien at that scale.  I'm hoping kids that didn't grow up next to a beach will take away an appreciation for the amazing variety of life you can find living there.
#14 - November 12, 2013, 07:55 AM

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Michael - maybe that's why I did have that appreciation, since I grew up in the desert in New Mexico! Doesn't really compare as far as variety of teeming life forms goes.

Pinski - I never heard of sci-fi/fantasy before, I guess it's what people call space fantasy? I still think that's fantasy. Like Flash Gordon. Or is it fantasy with robots? Like ... Borg of the Rings? Thank you, I'll be here all week.
#15 - November 13, 2013, 05:34 PM
The Voyages of the Merry Mariner - newly launched MG fantasy/adventure series!

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 :lol5, Borg of the Rings.  :dr I think I see what you're saying, mmrempen. There's pure SciFi and then there's Fantasy, which can have SciFi elements?

Dr. Who comes to my mind when I think SciFi/Fantasy, which you would probably just put under Fantasy.  :spock
#16 - November 13, 2013, 06:10 PM

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Hilary, I've heard Stars Wars referred to as "Space Opera" which is a wonderfully evocative term...not sure Dr. Who would fall under that term, though, since I think it signifies a sort of high fantasy story line wrapped in high tech clothing.
#17 - November 14, 2013, 01:39 PM
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A "high fantasy story line wrapped in high tech clothing". Oh, that's good, Marissa.  :trenchcoat
#18 - November 14, 2013, 01:44 PM

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RevellWriting originally asked what in the blurb makes you want to read a book. I remember seeing GRACELING advertised in the Harcourt (I think it was) adult catalog and being absolutely smitten by the description of the character and her situation, and by the gorgeous cover. Made it so I couldn't wait to get the book---which did not disappoint, when it was finally published. For me, the characters come first, but their place in their world has to be utterly convincing, too (i.e., the world-building).
#19 - November 15, 2013, 06:31 PM

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Good point, Rab. Cover art has a lot to do with it. A lot of fantasy titles have really generic art with elves and a forest and a castle in the background somewhere. Fabulously talented illustration, just not good marketing. And cover art is nothing if not marketing!
#20 - November 18, 2013, 03:54 PM
The Voyages of the Merry Mariner - newly launched MG fantasy/adventure series!

Allow me to reiterate what others have said: Worldbuilding!

Create your story in an awesome world, and I'm yours from cover to cover!
#21 - November 18, 2013, 04:02 PM

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Character and voice do it for me in fantasy. And I agree with HDWestlund's points, too. Also, I look for books with an optimistic feel. Bleak fantasy is miserable.
#22 - January 04, 2014, 02:17 AM

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For fantasy characters, it's important to me that if the character is not human, that character's actions, goals and beliefs are intrinsic to the type of being it is. It can't just be a human in reptilian skin. Same for their magical powers; the power needs to be a true part of who that character is.
#23 - January 04, 2014, 09:51 AM
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A good fantasy needs to have all of the features of any good fiction - interesting characters, strong voice, imaginative story, and a world I want to live in for several hours. But, for my reading pleasure, I'll probably enjoy it a bit more if there is some magic involved!
#24 - January 12, 2014, 11:42 AM

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I want to read Borg of the Rings. That cracked me up. I love fantasy of all kinds. It doesn't have to have magic, but I like magic, even in small doses and it must be an intrinsic part of the world. Good characters in trouble in a fascinating world, and dragons are always good, but not necessary. I love a good adventure and fantasy usually fits that bill with magic and out of this world situations, creatures, and characters. Make me care about your character, large or small, magic or not, and I'm yours.
#25 - January 12, 2014, 12:34 PM
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