PDA

View Full Version : Share tips for making a fantasy novel that doesn't copy LOTR



skitty
September 9th, 2013, 01:47 AM
I've noticed that an insane amount of fantasy novels copy from Tolkien - especially guilty of this is Eragon. So I'm starting a list of tips to avoid making your novel too much like The Lord of the Rings or other works in Middle-earth.

1. Here's a golden rule: AVOID using names and terms that sound similar to Quenya or Sindarin. That's the problem with Eragon - a lot of the names are copied from Tolkien's books, sometimes with the spellings altered. Yes, Aragorn and Luthien sound like cool names, but they are reserved for Tolkien characters.

2. Try to write it so the plot differs from Tolkien. For example, don't have your main character forced to sail west at the end.

3. You can include elves, dwarves, and orcs, but try to differentiate them from the ones in Tolkien's works. Try to observe a general pattern among Tolkien's races and see what you can do differently from him. But it's even better if you leave them out.

4. Avoid "halflings" whenever possible. Anything vaguely resembling hobbits is not a good idea.

5. Do your research on fantasy creatures. Try to see what you can include that Tolkien did not put in his works. For example, he didn't include manticores - those would look cool.

6. While clearly not present in Tolkien's works, a lot of female characters in Tolkien-inspired works are scantily clad while the males are fully covered. Try to avoid this by having both sexes covered (or scanty if you're into that thing).

7. Don't be afraid to include fantasy technology. There's a lot of fantasy works that use technology. Tolkien's works do too, though there isn't much left over in LOTR. (The Silmarillion mentions that the Numenoreans were very advanced - a far cry from Middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring.)

8. Like the above, try looking up time and places besides medieval Europe for inspiration for cultures. Using ancient, early modern, or modern time periods, as well as non-European societies, is a good idea.

9. Don't try to make the characters talk eloquently like Tolkien's. Not everyone can pull it off. (Some people even find the flowery form of English that Tolkien uses to be hard to understand.)

10. Not only try to avoid copying Tolkien, but avoid copying the copies of Tolkien.

If anyone has more tips, feel free to add.

Morkonan
September 10th, 2013, 09:35 PM
11) Write a story that isn't "The Lord of the Rings."

LoTR is an Epic Fantasy that draws heavily on its tour-like approach to Setting. So, here's something you shouldn't do in your Fantasy story if you don't want to fall into the trap.

"Legoloals knelt by the pool and gazed into its depths. The Pool of Lothlorie. Ancient and forgotten by all but the most attentive of Wizards, its power dominated the First Period of the history of this world. Only the most noble of elves and men paid it heed in these dark days. But, in the glorious days of the ancient city of Gondwonalin, pilgrim travelers seeking its wisdom braved the dangers of the Iron Mountains, the Fens of Solitude, the Plains of Forgotten Battles That Nobody Really Knows How To Pronounce and the dangerous Shoe Orc tribes that littered the surrounds and preyed upon any travelers wearing Air Jordans. Legolaoals knelt by history, itself, not even noticing that, hidden just beneath his right toe, there in the mud, lay the magical toothpick Doomshatterer, long lost in Periods past by Brunwald The Overly Verbose. This might weapon was the killer of Glaurfangrim the Malign, last of the Renegade Accountants of Montis Pubis...."

Wherever the Fellowship went, there was history. Tolkien never passed up an opportunity to tell the Reader of the history of any place or any thing in TLotR. In fact, it could be argued that he made up a great deal of fluff just to get the Reader to journey through his rich Setting. Since most everyone enjoyed the journey, not many complaints can be found. You can still use the Tour Guide approach in Fantasy. You just have to avoid a few things. One thing to avoid is deep dwarven mines and another is angelic elvish cities. If you step into those areas, be sure to put your unique stamp on it. You can even use powerful rings, if you wish. (Donaldson did fine job using a ring, which was really more a symbol of power than an item of power.)

Jeko
September 15th, 2013, 09:17 PM
What's wrong with copying LOTR?

My advice: stop thinking about LOTR. If you police your work against another person's story your characters will end up sitting in chairs and not doing anything.

No, wait - Tolkein uses chairs. Get rid of the chairs!

AquaRoxas
November 28th, 2014, 05:56 PM
I must be the only one who hasn't watched LOTR.... I suppose I probably shouldn't, since it seems to hamper the progress of so many authors. I watched the Hobbit though, and I can't say I was too inspired by it. Most of my fantasy works don't include mythological creatures, and instead only have magical spells. That's the only time I incorporate fantasy in my story. I like using Magic in my stories.

John Galt
November 28th, 2014, 07:01 PM
Spelling Tolkien-esque races differently does not make them unique: spelling "orc" as ork, adding an "n" to dwarves/elves (ie dwarvens). You're not fooling anyone.

Apostrophes in names make children cry.

Fantasy creatures need to make sense, to some degree. EG: if you're going to have giant crabs, you better know that you'd need a specific strength of gravity to produce them. Or having giant insects - the atmosphere would need to be highly oxygenated (far too much for human-esque life).

Absolute evil is outdated, as is absolute good. Doesn't stop you from having a POV character perceiving a king/emperor/whatever as such.

Half-lings are not possible unless the creatures share a common evolutionary ancestor.

Try to come up with legitimate motivations; ie, don't put Women In Refrigerators.

Magic is not a get out of jail free card. Define rules, structures and limitations.
(Read Sanderson's Three Laws)

Nothing happens in isolation; water magic means flushing toilets.

Morkonan
November 30th, 2014, 07:28 PM
...Fantasy creatures need to make sense, to some degree. EG: if you're going to have giant crabs, you better know that you'd need a specific strength of gravity to produce them. Or having giant insects - the atmosphere would need to be highly oxygenated (far too much for human-esque life).

I'd have to disagree with that. As long as there is a consistent "magical" reason for a creature to exist, it can exist. What you're describing is more along the lines of hard science-fiction. That's not a bad thing, though - In a high-fantasy setting, you would likely want to tie-in as many real-world principles as you could with most of your fantasy creations. But, there is certainly a lot of room for plenty of oddball critters because... magic. :)


Absolute evil is outdated, as is absolute good. Doesn't stop you from having a POV character perceiving a king/emperor/whatever as such.

I disagree strongly with this. Fantasy is the only genre where you can credibly have such absolutes. That doesn't mean that you must, it only means that the genre writers, themselves, should be free to explore such fantastic things.


Magic is not a get out of jail free card. Define rules, structures and limitations.

I strongly agree with this and have pushed those principles many times, here. (But, I haven't read Sanderson's "Three Principles.")


Nothing happens in isolation; water magic means flushing toilets.

Again, I strongly agree with this, as well. You can not freeze to death if you can readily summon complacent fire elementals... When a writer misses this and fails to either fully develop their magic system or ignores it, it's usually a sign, in my opinion, that they aren't really paying attention to what fantasy requires of their work.

The best fantasy writers would probably make good accountants. That's the only sort of person that can easily keep up with arcane systems... (Gordon R. Dickson's "The Dragon and the George" series with it "Magic Accounting Office" comes to mind. Many fantasy-humor writers have used that sort of convention.)

Jeko
November 30th, 2014, 07:42 PM
Fantasy creatures need to make sense, to some degree. EG: if you're going to have giant crabs, you better know that you'd need a specific strength of gravity to produce them. Or having giant insects - the atmosphere would need to be highly oxygenated (far too much for human-esque life).

This is just one option; realism. Magic realism, on the other hand, can forgot about this entirely, or even work against it for the author's purpose.

T.S.Bowman
November 30th, 2014, 07:47 PM
Apostrophes in names make children cry.

Not just children.

I told my girlfriend that if she ever sees me put a random apostrophe in the middle of a name to slap me.

Look...all those "tips" are well and good. But what it all comes down to is reader preference. Fantasy is a pretty solid market. To me, that indicates that readers aren't yet sick of Tolkein/LotR style stories.

T.S.Bowman
November 30th, 2014, 07:55 PM
This is just one option; realism. Magic realism, on the other hand, can forgot about this entirely, or even work against it for the author's purpose.

An animated bush, like the one I used in Side Worlds, wouldn't seem to make any sense. But that was kinda the point. I don't really think that, in a Fantasy novel/story, everything has to make sense. It's Fantasy. The only thing you have to do is write well enough to get the reader to suspend their disbelief.

I am probably making a big mistake, but I haven't specifically written out a set of "rules" that the magic in my land has to abide by. There are a couple, but only a couple. And I haven't specifically said so. I allow the readers to figure out the rules since they are pretty simple.

SMScoles
March 21st, 2015, 08:11 PM
One of my larger pet peeves with fantasy novels is when there is a group, a 'fellowship' one might say, of heroes and they have one each of the various races. It always strikes me as rather PC and derivative. It doesn't make it wrong, I usually still enjoy the stories, but it still kind of jabs at me. It seems contrived, usually. For what that's worth.

The Green Shield
May 6th, 2015, 01:42 AM
What's wrong with copying LOTR?

My advice: stop thinking about LOTR. If you police your work against another person's story your characters will end up sitting in chairs and not doing anything.

No, wait - Tolkein uses chairs. Get rid of the chairs!
Sure thing! :D *writes a story where everyone sits with legs crossed on soft pillows and write using scrolls and reed pens with blue ink as they discuss how to build the giant oval-shaped tomb for their goddess-queen*

I think what they're saying is that fantasy should be a literal open-world sandbox for you to do...anything you want because of whatever you want. It shouldn't have to be Tolkien-esque. It doesn't have to be anything remotely like Tolkien. I'm not about to say that you're not allowed to use anything like Tolkien. You're the writer, you write however you choose. That, and I'm just as guilty as everyone else by making a fantasy story that is kind of like Tolkien (with a spice of Avatar: Legend of Korra and Dragonball Z into the mix.) All they're saying is that a fantasy writer shouldn't have to feel like they must mimic Tolkien. They should feel free to do whatever the hell they want.

And yes, I'm willing to accept that sometimes that 'whatever the hell they want' can also mean 'write a book that's Tolkien-esque'. Whatever floats their boat, I'm not going to pitch a hissy fit over it.

cinderblock
May 31st, 2015, 12:29 PM
I disagree strongly with this. Fantasy is the only genre where you can credibly have such absolutes.

Massive blanket statement that pigeonholes the genre into something simple and banal.

Complexity makes interesting and deep characters. Doesn't matter what genre it is.

Always look to elevate the genre. Hell, transcend the genre if you can. Absolutes are boring, predictable, unchallenging to the reader and writer. Don't try to do what everybody else is doing, which is exactly the point this thread was trying to get across.

PhunkyMunky
October 21st, 2015, 11:00 PM
I have been playing with fantasy recently, it certainly is one of my favorite genre's to daydream in. But what I have been writing has mostly or entirely excluded strange beings or magic. Almost as if it were "Real Historical Stuff" but on another planet similar to ours. It's been frustrating and I have chosen one of the simplest ways of doing this story, I think. It's a good thing I'm only doing it for practice! I've nothing yet that I would care to try to publish. Novices and all...

I did place a rule on magic, however. I did so because I was playing about with the idea of including it, and I've not discarded the idea. My only rule was that magic could only be used in protections, like a shield, and for healing. As a consequence, you couldn't take a witch into combat because she was not allowed, by her Order's law, to use magic to protect those who were going to engage in combat against another. Only to protect those innocent and laying injured. I suppose that makes it easy and lazy, but that was how I tried to incorporate magic into my story. I wanted to keep the fantastical to a minimum other than the fact that it took place on a planet that while similar in geology to Earth, was not earth.

LadsandtheClassics
October 21st, 2015, 11:29 PM
A few of my own comments on your tips:

1. Here's a golden rule: AVOID using names and terms that sound similar to Quenya or Sindarin. That's the problem with Eragon - a lot of the names are copied from Tolkien's books, sometimes with the spellings altered. Yes, Aragorn and Luthien sound like cool names, but they are reserved for Tolkien characters.

This, UNLESS you're a linguist like Tolkien and could actually handle it cleverly. Although it's true most people just invent weird names for the hell of it. Also, don't do a Martin like in A Song of Ice and Fire and change the name of something "just cause" (In ASOIAF, instead of hide and seek people play "peek and seek"... Absolutely pointless change).

2. Try to write it so the plot differs from Tolkien. For example, don't have your main character forced to sail west at the end.

This. Epic quests are overdone too.

3. You can include elves, dwarves, and orcs, but try to differentiate them from the ones in Tolkien's works. Try to observe a general pattern among Tolkien's races and see what you can do differently from him. But it's even better if you leave them out.

At this point? Just leave them out completely.

4. Avoid "halflings" whenever possible. Anything vaguely resembling hobbits is not a good idea.

Agreed. Though I do love Hobbits.

5. Do your research on fantasy creatures. Try to see what you can include that Tolkien did not put in his works. For example, he didn't include manticores - those would look cool.

They would LOOK, but you should figure out how it works. Also, inventing your own is always good. It avoids doing something catastrophic like J.K Rowling and just copy pasting stuff from mythologies haphazardly.

6. While clearly not present in Tolkien's works, a lot of female characters in Tolkien-inspired works are scantily clad while the males are fully covered. Try to avoid this by having both sexes covered (or scanty if you're into that thing).

This, unless a good reason is provided (very hot climate or primitive civilization).

7. Don't be afraid to include fantasy technology. There's a lot of fantasy works that use technology. Tolkien's works do too, though there isn't much left over in LOTR. (The Silmarillion mentions that the Numenoreans were very advanced - a far cry from Middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring.)

This, not enough fantasies do.

8. Like the above, try looking up time and places besides medieval Europe for inspiration for cultures. Using ancient, early modern, or modern time periods, as well as non-European societies, is a good idea.

The Romans are very interesting but I've never seen an inspiration of them in fantasies. They truly are fascinating! Three names? Awesome. Ducks as pets? Brilliant. Latin phrases don't have any particular order? Interesting. The Roman penalty for cheating was public rape by the husband? Less cool, but definitely shows how different it is from medieval Europe.

9. Don't try to make the characters talk eloquently like Tolkien's. Not everyone can pull it off. (Some people even find the flowery form of English that Tolkien uses to be hard to understand.)

Tolkien's writing was quite dated when LOTR came out. Definitely move with the times.

10. Not only try to avoid copying Tolkien, but avoid copying the copies of Tolkien.

Minu
November 20th, 2015, 02:44 AM
I've noticed that an insane amount of fantasy novels copy from Tolkien - especially guilty of this is Eragon. So I'm starting a list of tips to avoid making your novel too much like The Lord of the Rings or other works in Middle-earth.

1. Here's a golden rule: AVOID using names and terms that sound similar to Quenya or Sindarin. That's the problem with Eragon - a lot of the names are copied from Tolkien's books, sometimes with the spellings altered. Yes, Aragorn and Luthien sound like cool names, but they are reserved for Tolkien characters.

Against what many seem to believe Tolkien didn't pull the elfish language from his backside. It's based on Welsh. Old Welsh, Old Irish, and even Old English have similar sounding context in their words to the "alien" elfish.


2. Try to write it so the plot differs from Tolkien. For example, don't have your main character forced to sail west at the end.

Journey to the West is a historical Chinese story. Ironically it is called that not because of the western travel but because the characters don't have life handed to them silver-platter style, they actually have to fight and suffer. If you want characters that prance around with roses in their hair, indeed, following the hardship of LOTR is not for you.


3. You can include elves, dwarves, and orcs, but try to differentiate them from the ones in Tolkien's works. Try to observe a general pattern among Tolkien's races and see what you can do differently from him. But it's even better if you leave them out.

Tolkien's elves are the odd things, they aren't true elves. Both the word dwarf and orc/ogre are far older than you seem to think.


4. Avoid "halflings" whenever possible. Anything vaguely resembling hobbits is not a good idea.

Again you seem to be under the impression - like with dwarves, orcs & elves - that Tolkien invented halfings, he didn't. The concept has been around for a very long time.


5. Do your research on fantasy creatures. Try to see what you can include that Tolkien did not put in his works. For example, he didn't include manticores - those would look cool.

Indeed. That'd include knowing the history of halfings, orcs, dwarves and elves. And though Tolkien did not use manticores they have been used in World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, and Harry Potter to name some well known usage of such creatures.


6. While clearly not present in Tolkien's works, a lot of female characters in Tolkien-inspired works are scantily clad while the males are fully covered. Try to avoid this by having both sexes covered (or scanty if you're into that thing).

... Scantily clad. Interesting. Were they supposed to be in robotic battle-suits? That was the view of his era and works perfectly with the theme of LOTR.


7. Don't be afraid to include fantasy technology. There's a lot of fantasy works that use technology. Tolkien's works do too, though there isn't much left over in LOTR. (The Silmarillion mentions that the Numenoreans were very advanced - a far cry from Middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring.)

As like the "scantily clad" women Tolkien wrote his world perfectly for the theme and era. Would spaceships have worked better?


8. Like the above, try looking up time and places besides medieval Europe for inspiration for cultures. Using ancient, early modern, or modern time periods, as well as non-European societies, is a good idea.

How interesting seeing as that's exactly what Tolkien did. His "scantily clad" women and lack of "fantasy technology" worked wonders for the medieval theme of the LOTR era.


9. Don't try to make the characters talk eloquently like Tolkien's. Not everyone can pull it off. (Some people even find the flowery form of English that Tolkien uses to be hard to understand.)

He wrote in a different era than now. I'd take one LOTR over a hundred books written nowadays even with his "flowery English".


10. Not only try to avoid copying Tolkien, but avoid copying the copies of Tolkien.

Interesting Seeing as how WOW - D & D - Dragonlance - the books by Feist - Elder Scrolls, etc., etc., etc. all have some tie to Tolkien. Have a Tolkien / LOTR "feel" however vague, and have done very, very well.

If anyone has more tips, feel free to add.

The only thing I support is the writing of Tolkien, as indeed, few people nowadays have even a fraction of the talent he possessed.

LazarettoKiddo
June 15th, 2016, 07:36 PM
The biggest pet peeve I have of "LOTR light" stories is a lack of internal worldbuilding. Often times, dwarves and elves exist with little reason as to WHY they exist, they just do. Tolkien took great lengths to explain the origins of all of the races in his stories. Explaining where they are on the biological evolutionary tree is handy, even if it's only mentioned briefly (say there's a common ancestor among humans, elves, or dwarves, maybe in climates with more trees that ancestor became more limber and tall whereas in harsher climates they became denser and stronger).