Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fantasy

I admit I don't read much fantasy and I may not be the best person to talk about the genre (and I'll probably offend others who write fantasy...but!) Recently I read and critiqued a few fantasy queries and I noticed something:

- Most queries/stories start with a boy or a girl who has some kind of handicap (broken family, orphaned, physically ill, etc.)...
- who has magical powers, whether he or she knows or not
- they're usually taken or led to a magic realm....
- where they're quickly met with the villain(s)....
- and they discover they have special power, or destined to save the magical realm, either via some kind of prophecy or by being thrust into that position
- they must choose to go back to their normal life or fight to save the world

OK, I may have exaggerated a bit, but not too much. After reading about 10 queries that follow a similar arc, I begin to wonder: Is Fantasy really that derivative? And how are the writers supposed to set their manuscript apart? If I were an agent and I read 100 queries that sounded like that (albeit with different names, locations, artifacts and "magical powers"), I'd feel like drowning myself.

I suppose that's the bane of genres, especially if you're on the other side, trying to find something unique and good to publish. How are you going to dig through all those manuscripts when they all sound similar. I assume the same could be said about anything (romance, for example -- all variations of the same "X meets Y and they fall in love against all odds" premise).

I'm not knocking genres. Seriously, I'm not. Obviously these story arcs work. But my question is, how does a writer distinguish himself/herself from the pack, if everyone writes a similar arc?  I suppose the trick is in the details:  the characters, the locations, etc.  The problem is, if you're writing about a magical kingdom and a magical stone, chances are you're competing with 1000 other writers who wrote about magical kingdoms and magical stones, and your risk having the disenchanted agent skimping and saying, "What's new? Next."

It's a tough business, and when you're writing a genre that is full of tropes and conventions, it gets even tougher to set yourself apart. More of the same thing is not necessarily a good thing. It's indeed a tough job to set yourself apart.

3 comments:

Spika said...

I feel very offended, since one of my fantasy stories starts with a disabled boy that turns out is a prodigy with daggers, but their is a whole bunch of character analysis, is a prodigy, and later dies fighting the evil.
:\
It's partially the same, but the disabled? I was surprised to see that, since I thought I was very original having a disabled boy!
Oh well.

K.M. Weiland said...

All genres possess their standard cliches, but fantasy does seem to overflow with them sometimes. Fortunately, however, it's a genre that also offers boundless opportunities for originality. If you hunt for them, you can find some stories that are truly spectacular.

Ray Wong said...

I agree... I guess my point is that we need to fight the urge to follow the "formula" and come up with something that is original... also, think about the agent who sift through piles of queries that have similar arcs; it makes "standing out" more difficult.