Share tips for making a fantasy novel that doesn't copy LOTR


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Thread: Share tips for making a fantasy novel that doesn't copy LOTR

  1. #1

    Exclamation Share tips for making a fantasy novel that doesn't copy LOTR

    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.

  2. #2
    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.)

  3. #3
    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!
    Sleep is for the weak, or sleep is for a week.
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    I write about anime and internet culture at Hidden Content

  4. #4
    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.

  5. #5
    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.
    I'm *always* looking for beta readers for stuff (mostly fantasy). Willing to do trades most of the time. Shoot me a PM.

    And no, I'm not a Rand fan, nor a subscriber to objectivism. I'm also not fictional (to the best of my knowledge), by the way, and neither am I actually John Galt, just so you know.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    ...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.)

  7. #7
    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.
    Sleep is for the weak, or sleep is for a week.
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    I write about anime and internet culture at Hidden Content

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    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.
    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” -Carl Sagan

    Real courage is found, not in the willingness to risk death, but in the willingness to stand, alone if necessary, against the ignorant and disapproving herd. --Jon Roland, 1976

    Have you checked out the Hidden Content

    Founder of the Pantsers United Group and member of the Fantasy Lords Group

    "Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful,
    insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows." - Walt Disney

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Cadence View Post
    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.
    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” -Carl Sagan

    Real courage is found, not in the willingness to risk death, but in the willingness to stand, alone if necessary, against the ignorant and disapproving herd. --Jon Roland, 1976

    Have you checked out the Hidden Content

    Founder of the Pantsers United Group and member of the Fantasy Lords Group

    "Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful,
    insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows." - Walt Disney

  10. #10
    Member SMScoles's Avatar
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    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.

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