Expectations: Follow and Avoid Them


Fantasy and other genre fictions have certain expected tropes that normally occur.  Dreams show the future, farm boys grow up to be heroes, prophecies lead ways to light the darkest hour, the slumbering dark lord awakens, etc.  Although there is a familiar and almost nostalgic quality to when fantasy follows these well-worn paths, long time readers are sick of them.  Many readers are fine with these qualities being in the first few novels they read, but eventually it can push them out of reading the genre for they become lazy writing crutches.  Once a line has been crossed from “this is familiar” to “this is a rip off” readers often do not want to continue to read from those writers.

At the same time, if all of it is new, with nothing known or familiar it can be alienating to the reader too.  There are adventurous readers that enjoy these types of stories, but a vast middle of your audience like a balance between comforting familiar tropes and explorative original ideas.  One of the best ways to walk this line is to give them some familiar elements, then utterly destroy what they expect to happen after that.

This can be done either by throwing in familiar things then making everything else original, or you can also make those familiar aspects cloak original twists.  For example the story can start off with a farm boy who has strange dreams of confronting an evil Dark Lord in his past lives.  The novel can then make it seem that like many fantasy novels before it the farm boy is the prophesied one who will destroy the Dark Lord!  Then of course, you can eventually reveal the farm boy WAS the Dark Lord in the past life, and he is about to be reborn in his power to destroy the world. Once that revelation occurs you could take the story anywhere from companions of the farm boy now having to defeat him, to the farm boy determined to find ways to never become what he once was. This is an example of taking a familiar element and using that to cloak original twists.

A variation of that is to have the familiar trope carry through for the character, but then having the consequences for it happening not be what you expect, especially if the consequences are more realistic.  This sort of technique is used by people like George RR Martin all the time.  Sansa dreams of being a pretty princess betrothed to her king and learns the hard way that it may not be the dream she actually wanted.  Another King marries for love, and his kingdom and army are destroyed because of it.

One of the earlier mentioned techniques was to put in some familiar things in your novel, but have other parts be original.  Your hero is not a farm boy, but a trained merchant duelist, who since birth has been taught to defend the honor of her House.  She fights not to save the world from evil, but for better contracts for her Family.  Then one day in the marketplace she notices a group of people following her. And that they are in fact people she has killed in the past.  After  a long chase and fight scene she remembers seeing the symbol emblazoned into her undead opponents heads, it was the symbol of a dark god of death.  She is now determined to read the ancient prophecies to see what could be happening here, and how it ties into her family.  This takes some familiar tropes (fighting supernatural forces, prophecies, dead gods rising again, sword fighting main character) but adds original elements to keep in new (merchant duelist, prefers to fight for money not honor, has no manifest destiny as a “chosen one” etc.)

Hopefully this advice can help you to keep your novel familiar enough to interest fans of the genre but creative enough to make them want to keep reading.  Like almost all good writing, the real key seems to be striking a balance between extremes.

I notice recent polls have not been as popular, so I am skipping the polls for at least one blog.

World Info and Book Update:

The second book is moving slower.  The upcoming move and associated activities is cutting into writing time heavily, but it is still occurring.  The good news is another edit (3rd major) of Fall of House Nemeni is done which will be the Barnes and Noble version, and I will probably post it for Kindle too, but mainly for newer readers.

For World information, I wanted to talk about duels.  Typically duels only occur for nobles.  I have spoken of weapons before, and the dueling sword is worn by most nobles at all times outside of their houses.  Matters of honor are important, and a duel is the best way to often resolve them.  However, your Station in your House matters to.  The Head of a House is considered to be of such high Honor that they can ignore challenges to those that are not Heads of other Houses.  The Head of a House is just assumed to be right, and can have insults from members of Houses lower than them killed in the streets when insulted.  Of course the Head of the House who owns the person you killed might take this as an insult, which could lead to d a duel, but there should be no immediate reprisal from murdering one of lower Station.

The stories have small guilds and merchants also use dueling to resolve issues and even pirates are said to use duels to pick their Captains,.  Whether or not those stories are true might depend on the specific guild, or pirate crew involved.

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About mdkenning

E-book clockpunk fantasy author View all posts by mdkenning

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