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  1. #1
    Challenge Assumptions Pluvious's Avatar
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    What makes a Good Fantasy Novel?

    Ok, we need a little more critical thinking on these boards now that the so many people seem to be posting here.

    I would like to you think makes a good fantasy novel. What aspects of it excite you, prompt tears of joy, or simply arouse appreciation? Do you enjoy epic quests, romance within the story, friendship, great battle scenes, war, tragedy, betrayal, lust, suffering, mind-splitting tension, or what? It might also be benefecial to list the books you found these things you loved in. Below I will give you my examples to show you what I mean.

    First off, I need an original story. This doesn't mean every single part of the book needs to be unique or strange, it just requires imagination and a story that hasn't already been told in the way it is presented. A good example of this is David Farland's "Runelords" series, which deals with unique creatures called "Reevers" and lords who must take power directly from their loyal subjects in order to boost the strength of the few.

    Second, I must have a character or group of characters that I can relate to and admire. Unfortunately for me, this generally equates to characters who have or who have the potential to have great strength or powers. This probably speaks ill of my own character, but nevertheless, its what I like. Examples of this include Rand in Jordan's series (at least initially), Fitzchivalry from the Farseer trilogy, Rache and Colbey from Last of the Renshai, Conan, Gath of Baal (Death-Something series), and Pug and Tomas from the Riftwar series.

    Thirdly, I appreciate a complex plot and some mystery. If its easy to see what is going on, then why the heck do I need the writer anymore? Jordan does this, as of course does George R.R. Martin.

    Fourthly, don't make any character or story mistakes. Basically this means to make certain the characters act the way they should. If some hired killer is luckily defeated by some girl with no skills-and only because she was lucky-I'm skeptical of the author's credibility. There are other examples of this (and better ones), but that is the best I can do for now. From what I have seen George Martin doesn't make any of these mistakes.

    Fifthly, the characters need some depth and believability. It isn't enought to have a character be wise or powerful, I need to know the how's, why's, and when's. It is only after I learn these crucial details that I can begin to appreciate a story and marvel at its depth. Once again Martin is excellent here.

    Sixthly, the author must capture the right mood or tone. Don't be silly when you are about to be killed (at least not most of the time), If the story is about war and death I want a consistent view of characters' grim states of mind, or their cruel lust for carnage if the case may be. Although this isn't always easy to identify, it is easy to identify the odd sensation you get when it happens. You wonder why you aren't quite as interested in the characters as you once were...Authors that have failed in this or other aspects of believability include Feist, Jordan, Goodking, Brooks, amoung others. It is not an easy thing.

    As you can see there are many aspects of fantasy which I find makes a good fantasy novel. Some of them are more important than others-especially the believability-while others like powerful characters just make it that much more fun. No author has yet done everything that I like, but Martin has come the closest.

  2. #2
    A servant of Lord Arioch FitzChivalry's Avatar
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    Well, you already mentioned almost everything, i agree about everything you said, what i would add is a good world building of a world that makes sense, a detailed or at least interesting history is very important to me. Also i find that i usually like books that have big battles and armies clashing more than books that have 6 guys with differnet abilities going to kill a bad guy.
    Because of that the battle descriptions and how real the battle in the books is written is important to me too.
    And again, i agree with you there, Martin comes closest to perfection.
    The last thing that makes the book is the writing style of the author, and here it's harder to put the finger on what exactly i like. Usually i like it more in a cynical smartass tone over long and tedious emotions descriptions, and the best example for that writing style is Roger Zelazny's work.
    Hmm... of course it depends on your mood too.

  3. #3
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    I would have to agree with most of everything above. I would only add a couple of things:

    Honesty--I guess this goes along with believablity of the characters. Is the author being convincing enough with the characters and stories? Do we belive in the characters and are their actions true to the form of their character throughout? Is the author being honest, truthful, and consistent throughout the story? Can the author surprise the reader, while backing up the surprise with "facts" that have been sprinkled out or hinted at in the earlier parts of the story?

    Humanity--again believability. Can we identify with these characters, do we believe them, and are their emotions and actions something that the reader can accept within the fantastic settings? Not necessarily forgive (Thomas Covenant, Kennit in Hobb's Liveship to name 2), but come to understand and belive from the character's point of view? In a good novel the contrast between the fantastic setting/world and the essential humanity of the characters is pretty important--can we see ourselves meeting these characters and interacting with them?

    Is the world/setting different from ours, yet have some qualities that we can recognize from the "real world," thus identify with and accept as believable?

    Along the lines of originality--there are certain things that we come to expect when we read a fantasy novel; whether it be magic, dragons, political intrigue, etc.--not necessarily all of these things, just some. Can the author take these accepted facets of the genre, and make them new and fresh while keeping within the accepted confines (for lack of a better word) of the genre. The example of Runelords is great, and I will also cite Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams as a series that is literate, entertaining and original while keeping the accepted facets of the genre intact.

    [This message has been edited by FitzFlagg (edited November 21, 2000).]

  4. #4
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    after agreeing with all that was said above, i think that for me the most important thing is the characters, and not only the main characters. the characters have to be well built, meaning that they should be introduced gradually and slowly develop into their full scale, be that a hero or just a squire.
    i think Tolkein was great at that, take for example Sam and the role he eventually had in supporting Frodo. also it is obviouse that i should mention Stephen King who imo is the best character builder.

    also, eventhough i like shortstories too, i am a big fan of epic stories that can make for series( or at least a really thick book) the scope of the story is important to me, it should be BIG with a detailed world and creatures.The author should be able to exploit alll the aspects of the world for the development of the plot.I think that Robert Jordan has done a very good job in this aspect( though i find his characters not to be very developed).

  5. #5
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    Characters, and character interaction. Without that the best plot in the world is wasted. All of my favorite authors and novels have that in common: characters that are well developed and cause me to 'bond' with them; so that I care about what happens to them.


  6. #6
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    I agree with the world building comments. I like to feel like the world has real depth, history and interactions.
    If you are left wishing that the author would expand with appendices or even another book to explain the back history and more information on all the workings of the world, then I think they have succeeded in this. An example would be Janny Wurts's Athera - an amazing world with an interesting history we still don't know enough about (Damn you Janny - hurry up and tell us all the prehistory!!!!!)

  7. #7
    I realize that world-building has already been said, and setting in general. I do have to say that initially this was not as important to me as great characters. The series that changed this for me was Donaldson's Thomas Covenant. A world so vibrant you can taste it. Seeing as the setting itself plays a rather big part in these books, they gave me a better appreciation for the overall world where a fantasy novel is written. I would also like to agree with all the Martin comments. MARTIN IS THE BEST AUTHOR IN THE WORLD AND NO ONE COMES CLOSE BECAUSE I SAID SO. (The previous statement is not meant to start a seperate string on this post, just a little dry humor I threw in. If you are not sure where it is coming from please refer to Age Old Debate topic I posted.)

  8. #8
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    Yeah, the Thomas Covenant books are definitely the subject of great world building, and I would love to see a companion book with all the prehistory of Berek, Loric and Kevin as well as information on all the other lands and races - the Giants, Elohim, Haruchai, Bhraithai(sp??), etc.
    If you're reading Stephen, you know you've made at least 1 sale.

  9. #9
    Ooook... since you lot bagged all the primary criteria (which btw, I definitely agree with), guess I'll have to come up with something more... pragmatic. ^_^

    My little, rather paradoxial criteria for a good fantasy novel is the amount of time it takes for me to finish reading a book, and the amount of time spent in one reading session and between reading sessions.

    Now, I say 'paradoxial' because strangely enough, the novel I'm reading must be a really good read if: (1) I'm spending a considerable amount of time (say a couple of hours at least) in a single, uninterrupted reading session, and (2) hardly a day goes by when I do not have a reading session at least once, sometimes twice, a day. On the other hand, despite consuming the pages at such a greedy rate, I DON'T WANT the story to end! There lies the paradox. Can't get enough of the book, but don't really want to finish it either, since it means saying good-bye to a friend who has grown fond during the time we've spent together.

    When that happens, then I know I've struck gold... ^_^

    IMHO... ^_^

  10. #10
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    There have been rumors that Donaldson may write a Third Chronicles of Covenant--but considering how the second chronicles ended...(don't want to be a hypocrite and say anything more than that)
    WORLD BUILDING WORLD BUILDING

    Good point Sojourn--I feel the same way about a great book, I can't wait to see what happens, yet I don't want it to end.

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