Rules I Will Follow If I Ever Write High Fantasy

I am a writer. More or less. Probably less at this point. But for argument’s sake, I am a writer, primarily of Speculative Fiction. I have entertained ideas of Cyberpunk, Space Opera, Urban Fantasy, even the odd genre bender. And I have pondered High Fantasy. It can be a beautiful genre. It builds off of themes from myth and legend that have stood through hundreds of years of oral tradition. It exploits something fundamental to the human psyche. And it’s arguably the most bloody cliche’d genre out there. This is not the first list on the topic of what not to do in Fantasy, but it is mine. So without further ado, here are sixty things which I will NOT do, in the event that I ever write a High Fantasy novel.

(Note: in the event of Parody, throw most of these out the nearest window. Just try not to hit anyone with them.)

Rules for My High Fantasy:

  1. I will not strictly conform to the Hero’s Journey. I’m writing my own damn book, Campbell can eat me.
  2. It will not be about a predestined battle between good and evil divine forces. In fact blatant good and evil will not exist on that level in this world, heroes shall be flawed and villains shall have good points, the audience will still be smart enough to tell which is which.
  3. The religion and mythology of my world will not be based all but exclusively on Judeo-Christian with some Norse and (Christianized) Celtic concepts. Monotheism won’t even come into it: even in the real world that only cropped up like three times out of hundreds.
  4. The setting will not be based on Medieval Europe. That type of Feudalism will be used scarcely, if at all; there will be no vast, vaguely romanesque fallen empire everything exists in the shadow of; the map will not feature peninsular land on the east and sea on the west; and the wooded countryside will not be littered with little villages that all have inns for no conceivable reason given their expected traffic.
  5. Groups of characters will not be easily identifiable as the standard structure of a roleplaying-game ‘party.’
  6. No characters will be transported into the setting from the “real” world.
  7. Humanity will not be wholly or mostly caucasian.
  8. No one will secretly, unbeknownst to them, be royalty. I’m not an expert but I’m fairly certain that’s not how royalty generally works.
  9. Prophesies will be kept to the bare minimum. (or alternatively be proliferous enough to qualify as spam) “Chosen Ones” will be expunged entirely.
  10. My dwarves (or equivalent, I’ll avoid using the term “dwarves”) will not basically be four-foot, universally bearded Scottish stereotypes with economically unsound lusts for gold and fetishes for hammers, axes, and other weapons which would be virtually useless against a much more nimble opponent with far longer reach. Nor will they be Jewish.
  11. My elves (same deal about the naming) will not be stuffy but universally beneficent paragons of beauty and virtue. They will not all be tall and fair and slender, nor will they all wield bows.
  12. Whatever I have akin to orcs (definitely not using that name) will not be universally evil and vicious with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  13. Similarly, troll like figures will not all be big dumb cannibalistic brutes. I would do well to explore the variety presented across Scandinavian folklore, as well as other myths.
  14. Neither wolves, rats, spiders, crows, dragons, nor any other animal will be treated as servants or manifestations of evil.
  15. In general, no one race or species will be all anything. Each will have a range of cultures and ideologies, and vary from person to person and area to area. Variety is the spice of life.
  16. I will bother to consider evolutionary forces when defining the phenotypic traits of races and cultures in specific environments. (e.g. pale, redheaded desert-dwelling nomads are exceedingly unlikely)
  17. All races, cultures, and general geographic areas (barring justified exceptions) will have roughly equal numbers of males and females. Shockingly, both are needed for reproduction.
  18. Not all women will fall neatly into the categories of ugly old crone, dowdy housewife, or the pinnacle of human beauty (described in depth over several paragraphs). Female characters will be well rounded with both physical and character flaws.
  19. Female characters will not all be constantly preoccupied with their physical appearance, or romantically obsessed with any of the male characters for no sensical reason.
  20. No female characters will exist solely to be kidnapped so some hero can rescue her.
  21. The hero will not be rewarded for his efforts with the willing love of a previously totally uninterested woman.
  22. Female characters and in fact all characters who are given a significant amount of screen time will play some actual role in driving the story and making plot-relevant decisions. I will not fail the sexy lamp test.
  23. I will do my very best not to include blatantly sexist or racist assumptions or implications in the worldbuilding of my story
  24. “Barbarian” will not be a proudly worn ethnic and/or professional title, nor will any other term or phrase traditionally meaning “foreigner.”
  25. A village blacksmith will not be able to forge weapons which would require tools and expertise he would have no way of gaining outside a notable guild. If he could do such things he’d be wasting his time making horseshoes and farming equipment for 50 people.
  26. There will be no thieves’ or assassins’ guilds, leagues, or unions. Criminals will refrain from collective bargaining altogether.
  27. Magic will not be synonymous with theurgy, nor will it be inherently evil. You will not have a limited number of spells you can store in your head at any given time.
  28. Magic will not be organized in such a way as to be optimized solely for combat purposes, reminiscent of D&D.
  29. Magic will not be only occasionally used despite being the most useful thing in the setting which could easily be put towards growing crops, maintaining infrastructure, healing the sick and other day to day functions of society.
  30. Wizard power levels will not be made so extreme that I have to keep removing the characters from the main story just to keep from breaking the plot.
  31. Any schools of magic will not be indistinguishable from glorified boarding schools and/or modern colleges. And so help me it will not be the main setting.
  32. Attractiveness in wizards of either gender will not have a direct or inverse correlation to evilness.
  33. Wizards and other characters will not pointlessly withhold information that would be inherently valuable to their allies for no good reason.
  34. Deities will not be reincarnated in human form. If they do, it will be less Jesus and more Rama or Cu Chulainn: They’re not here to give sage advice, they’re here to fuck shit up.
  35. Deities will not be distant figures who have no apparent effect on lowly mortals. Think greek myth. They’re more interesting that way.
  36. Given that this is a world where magic and deities have an overt effect on reality, holy wars will not be fought on the premise that your enemy’s god does not exist, and yours is the “One True God” (which would be stupid).
  37. Not to be redundant but there will be no god of evil. Gods may be tricksterish, apathetic to humanity, and even cruel, but all will have benefits.
  38. Gods will not be created by people believing in them. Fairies will not die from hearing you don’t believe in them. It’s a decent premise but regrettably I am not Terry Pratchett.
  39. The language that governs magic will not be so vastly overcomplicated that it could never actually function as a language.
  40. The language used by my main characters will not be exactly the same as English which somehow has evolved to be identical to our own despite none of its root languages existing in favor of gibberish I make up a few nouns in.
  41. Puns and wordplay will not still work despite the language of the characters being implied not to be English.
  42. I will not go out of my way to pointlessly depict every detail of my characters’ walk or ride between two actually plot relevant points, especially when nothing actually significant happens that couldn’t be summarized in a sentence.
  43. I will not go into great detail to introduce characters who will end up playing no roll in the plot of the book.
  44. I will not go into paragraphs at a time about a single character’s wardrobe.
  45. Magic artifacts adversely affecting a character’s behavior will be more or less immediately recognized as such by their close friends, and will not be tolerated by them.
  46. Character names will not be slightly modified names of roughly corresponding characters from Arthurian literature or other bodies of Myth.
  47. Names will not be six syllables long and have apostrophes in nonsensical places.
  48. Nothing, nothing in my world will be named anything “of Doom.”
  49. I will not vastly underestimate the strength of plate armor. I will in fact remember that plate armor was invented specifically in defense against firearms making the existence of the former in the total absence of the latter unlikely.
  50. I will not vastly underestimate the weight of gold.
  51. I will not vastly overestimate the weight of swords.
  52. Sword fights will not consist of characters merrily bashing their broadswords against each other as though they were rapiers, unless they both happen to have magic swords that wouldn’t be dulled or outright broken by that.
  53. People without explicit regenerative abilities will not be able to continue fighting at peak strength even after stabbed and slashed repeatedly, generally mutilated, and shot through the chest with an arrow.
  54. Neither humans nor horses or any other animal will be able to continue to run or fight or perform any other physical activity for hours or days at a time without wearing out or downright collapsing or dying from exhaustion.
  55. The narrative will not focus exclusively on either lowly peasant farmers or luxuriously corrupt nobles. Merchants and craftsmen play a vital role in any society.
  56. I will not abruptly introduce beings or forces with no previous mention or foreshadowing whatsoever.
  57. “Plot convenient coincidences” will not be an explicit aspect of the world building.
  58. The story will function on its own and no parts of it will still be completely nonsensical by the time the book is over. Especially not the damned prologue.
  59. The book won’t be 600 damned pages long. If it is, and there’s no filler to cut, the plot’s probably too complex to follow anyway.
  60. I. Will. Not. Rip. Off. Tolkien.

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