How To Lose A Fantasy Reader

I grew up reading fantasy. Beginning with Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain and leading to David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon as well as Tolkein and Bruce Coville and  Robert Jordan (with some Terry Goodkind sprinkled in for good measure), I read my way through thousands of pages, heaps of characters, and a whole lot of good and evil. I can deal with large casts, crazy magic, worlds that span continents, and random talking critters.

But I realised in the last couple days that there is a magical elixir for losing me in the first fifty pages.

Here’s the recipe.

folio 124r

folio 124r (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Heat your burner with a long, incomprehensible prologue.

The longer, the better. Make sure it encompasses an entire vein of philosophy, theology, or intertwined history.

Better yet, throw in another language.

If you really want to give it some punch, pepper every sentence with things the reader will glean from the book itself after a thousand pages or so, just so that someday they’ll go back to it with WTF tattooed on their foreheads.

folio 200r

folio 200r (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next, gather a base of borderline high-style language

Who cares if your book starts in 2005 on a college campus! Make sure your entire cast sounds like Winston Churchill in 1942. Or better yet, go back to the 1800s and stick those word in their mouths. Can not you comprehend what I am saying to you? Even if no one has spoken like that ever, well. That’s almost better.

And if you are making your own world, fill it with odd localisms that none of us will understand.

Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) - 30000 waiting f...

Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) – 30000 waiting for Coldplay (Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

Dump in all these people. At once.

Forget that rule about large casts and introducing them slowly. Throw ’em all in! Preferably within a page or two. Then switch back and forth between referring to them by their first or last names at random intervals, so the readers have to remember twice the number of appellations.

Make sure you dump in another batch or two before you hit the 50 page mark. For spice.

Evil olive oil

Evil olive oil (Photo credit: Cubosh)

Refer to sinister things in a vague manner, preferably in another language.

Oh, you didn’t see the murgendurfer lurking outside the window. *Pointed look at other knowing character* Carry on, then.

Pepper dialogue with stutter-stops so that the twelve protagonists have no idea what’s happening and the reader thinks you’re doing some sort of verbal pantomime. Throw in knowing looks and long stares where appropriate.

Which is everywhere.

English: Lone sheep

English: Lone sheep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Separate one character from the herd.

With any luck, by this point the reader won’t know bugger all about the character. Make sure you lose him or her and make a big deal out of it being his or her fault.

Make sure the reader knows someone’s missing.

English: Sparkler, violent reaction (guy fawke...

English: Sparkler, violent reaction (guy fawkes) Français : Cierge magique pendant la nuit de Guy Fawkes, en Angleterre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bestow random powers on one or more members of the cast.

This works best if they have no idea its coming, and better yet if they make no issue of it whatsoever and accept it without question.

“Sweet, I’m a mage-fighting slug monkey?” *Slimes nearby mage with anti-mage slug slime*

If you follow these simple, step by step instructions, you should be on your way to writing the world’s most confusing fantasy novel. And you’ll do away with pesky things like “readers” who seek to refine your rebel ways into something coherent.

Happy cooking!

What variations on this recipe have you discovered in your journey? Magical McGuffins that mutate to stay relevant? Plotlines that put the ex in deus ex machina? Share in the comments!


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on September 15, 2012, in Salacious Saturday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Sounds like you read to many “D&D Campaign Turn into NaNoWriMo” books of late, eh? 😀

  2. Too many characters always loses me. That’s one reason why I liked Robin Hobb’s Fitzchivalry series. It was so focused on Fitz that I really got into his head and felt for him. I know folks criticize the books for being “emo”, but I didn’t get that feeling at all (though the author does repeat stuff too much).

    • It goes something like this:




      End result 120,000 word books shock full of everything EPIC, except the story.


      • Yep. That’s pretty much what happens. Although I’ve seen it in shorter works too. I think it’s also known as n00b syndrome. To study further, you can chase down my incomplete first epic fantasy manuscript from high school. Haha…eh. *blush*

  3. With that said, I still love GRRM Ice and Fire series. Now there’s a good example of how to do too many characters right.

  4. I’m curious if there was a particular book in your recent readings that spawned a rant such as this. 😛

    • There is, lol, although parts of it came from other series/books. And the one I’m reading actually a bestseller, but it lost me in 20 pages. I’m trying to get through it, but parts of it are making me bang my head into walls.

      If you MUST introduce eight characters in 20 pages, please please please don’t switch back and forth between their first names and surnames when you mention them. GAH.

  5. Just in case someone does slog though the whole book, don’t forget about the mysterious stranger who appears in the last 50 pages to explain away the entire plot…

  6. Brilliant! I have been soundly kicked out of more novels than I can count via each of these methods. The unwieldy prologue is a particular source of loathing and dread, followed closely by the character dump.

    Thanks for cheering up my morning. 🙂

    • So glad you enjoyed it! LOL. I wouldn’t have posted it if I hadn’t done the same thing (et. al) in my first ever attempt at epic fantasy.

      And yet it still happens. In published works. o.O

  7. Hahahaha! Emmie, you crack me up! …And I love laughing. I think I want to read your rant again… I am actually trying to write something like an epic fantasy (It’s more heroic fantasy or high fantasy), but as a YA novel in first person – which negates a lot of those issues (and hopefully makes it more approachable). Actually, I don’t have ANY of those…hmmm…perhaps I need to rethink my strategy! 😉 However, the first draft is already 124K and it’s not done yet.

    Oh, and my *favorite* is when the author spends thousands upon thousands of words describing the rocks and trees and such in excrutiating detail with flowing language that makes you forget what the book was even about when the setting isn’t even important, but fails to give a reader any clue about the ‘key’ to their story – that which if we only knew would make everything make sense – because it’s more mysterious and good to keep the readers guessing…

  8. Don’t forget to lose some characters and plot lines where you must NOT make any comment about their disappearance. They must simply vanish without a trace, never to be thought of again.

  9. All great examples of what not to do. I also love 30 pages of exposition. Where NOTHING happens but we are just getting info dumps of stuff we don’t care about and don’t need to know. That’s a fabulous way to engage the reader. 🙂

  10. Sounds like what Terry Brooks did to the Shannara series when he hit Journey of the Jerle Shannara. Nearly 1500 years of the same level of technology, then suddenly in 150 years, there’s steam-punk flying airships, and NO explanation of how they came to be…just “Yup, we built airships while you were tucked away in Paranor learning to be a druid.” Then, just to be annoying, kill off the only character that’s a hold-over from the last books that adds continuity to the story and shove someone random who was until two pages ago the villain in the Druid’s role.

    *Puts down book and walks away*

  11. I never read either series, though my brother and cousin rave about both of them. I have, however, watched Legend of the Seeker which is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original (well, my brother said so, and he’s read all the books so far). I wasn’t particularly impressed, I must say. For one, what goddamn universe has a single language from whence the names “Darken Rahl” and “Richard” can both occur? Shit, I’m putting more work into making sure that there isn’t too much linguistic overlap in a campaign setting for D&D that I just intend to keep between me and my friends; how can someone possibly think it’s a great idea to give people names like “Richard,” “Darken Rahl,” and “Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander” all in the same book? Aside from a 5 year old, I mean. But I’m also not too fond of the standard “Good vs. Blatanly Evil” plots. As I recall, Darken Rahl doesn’t even have a damn reason for wanting to dominate the world, beyond FOR THE EVULZ. Plankton from SpongeBob Squarepants has better characterization, for fuck’s sake! I’ve also heard that both move at a glacial pace. I have enough shit going on in my life that I don’t want to give up the time to read slow-ass books with horrible misogyny and awful morality plays.

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