Friday, May 9, 2014

Fun Friday 17 ~ What Are The Most Important Aspects Of A Well-Written Fantasy Story

Mulluane | Friday, May 09, 2014 | 19 Comments so far
Guess what time it is? Yep! It is Friday. Time for a quick recap and this week's question. 

So lets start with my week at a glance.

Now on to the question. This week's question is one of those serious ones. But still, it is something I'm curious about and it should still be fun!

So this week's question is:

What are the most important aspects of a well-written fantasy story!


Everybody is different. Some of you may like action over sympathetic characters. For some, worldbuilding is of first importance. For others, if it doesn't have a unique magic system, it is going back into the TBR pile. The interesting part of all this is that those differences often define the reasons why I loved a book and you hated it.

I'll start you off with a sample list, in no particular order. Your mission is to pick as many (or as few) as you want, or add your own, and create your own list in order of importance. If you are so inclined, you can do something like 5 most important and 5 least. I'm just getting the ball rolling. You can determine which direction you want to kick it! 

The Sample List:
  • Pace
  • Secondary World
  • Drama
  • Character development
  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Conflict
  • Romance
  • Unique magic
  • Magic with rules
  • Worldbuilding physical - architecture, landscape, clothing etc.
  • Worldbuilding - social, cultural, economic, religious
  • POV
  • Dialog
  • Satisfying ending
  • Dragons! (and/or other mythical critters)
  • Period (Medieval, Victorian, Pre-history, Modern etc...)

♦ My Answer ~ Top 5 ♦ 

1.) Period. My first pick starts with the TBR pile. The first thing I consider is era. Odd choice maybe but I really hate fantasy with guns. I can tolerate some, like in a good pirate story, but as a rule, guns = back into TBR pile. And no Modern elements! I am trying to escape this world. If I want to read about it, I'll read the news.

2.) Mythical Creatures. If it has Dragons (or any mythical creatures) it is going to be hard to keep my hands off of it. (OMG! Dragons! Swoop! Snatch! Devour!)

OK, What is next.

3.) Characters. Now they aren't a deal breaker. There are plenty of great books where I could have cared less about the cast. But, to win my heart, give me great characters to love -- and hate -- and I can forgive much.

4.) Dialog. You might think this is an odd choice but let me explain. Dialog can be internal and of course it can be external.  Irregardless of type, great dialog makes you feel like you are part of the story. I can't tell you how many books I've put down simply because after 4-5 pages of no dialog at all, I lost interest.

5.) Conflict. The more the better. I want local, global, external and internal conflict. I want cultural, religious, and my favorite, political conflict. And I want layers upon layers of it. Kinda explains my love of Epic Fantasy huh.... 

♦ My Answer ~ 5 least important ♦ 

1.) Pace. While it is possible for pace to be painfully slow, it is one of the things I can easily forgive. As long as the book can keep my interest, I don't care how fast or slow it is. 

2.) Worldbuilding: physical - architecture, landscape, clothing etc. You likely noticed I split worldbuilding into two types. That is because I only really enjoy one of them. Visual descriptions -- for reasons I can't explain -- are lost on me. I may get a vague impression of size or opulence, landscape or season but my "mind's eye" is pretty blind.

3.) POV. I don't have a preference. Any can be done badly. All can be done well.

4.) Magic. Now you'd think magic would be a required aspect but over the years I've read too many books which had either none at all or it was so vague and secondary it barely mattered. And yet... they were definitely fantasy and some were really great books. Though if it does have magic, I'm pretty unforgiving if the magic has no structure and rules.

5.) Romance. I can live with it or without it. I prefer that it not be the main focus but I can deal with it as long as the fantasy elements are extremely strong. As a rule, romance leaves me rolling my eyes and ruins my "suspension of belief." Yes I'm a cynic but most book romances are just too fantastical for me. (Says the woman who has no problem believing in dragons!)

So how about you? What are your preferences?

♦ Answers from Elsewhere ♦

Andrew J. Peters ~ on Facebook

The "Old Bat" poses an interesting question to fantasy readers. For me, it's good characters and an intriguing--and internally consistent--plot. Atmosphere and mood are bonuses.

Don't like this question? Look here "Fun Fridays" and see if there is one you do like! Comments are always welcome, even on older posts.

Mulluane is a 55-year-old proud grandmother of 4, who is passionate about her pets, blogging, traditional fantasy, and tinkering with webdesign. She is obssesively photo shy but she uses an avatar that accurately represents her dreams. ♥ You can also find her on:

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Dragons, Heroes and Wizards


  1. What I like:

    Epic quests to save the world--collecting shiny things not required.



    Minstrels/music, especially if this is how magic is cast

    Happy endings

    Rich amounts of lore (i.e. folktales) and culture

    What I don't like that much:

    Romance--Granted, it can be done well, but more often than not, it's done badly

    Dystopian worlds

    Firearms/cars/etc. alongside dragons--now, if you have a very good reason why these are there, I'll tolerate it.

    1. Interesting though I could have guessed about the musicality. I can't carry a tune in a bucket but I'm still impressed at what McCaffrey and Brooks did with music. Right there with you on the Romance!

      Thanks for your input :>)

    2. Granted, music is a bit harder to do right in literature because it is meant to be heard--but more fantasy authors need to step up to the plate and try it!

    3. Not sure about happy endings. too many vampire books around. I suppose that's horror though. still not sure about happy endings though. Tolkien's Silmarillion is a great book but very miserable in many ways.

  2. I'll have to do a full answer tomorrow, but I can tell you the biggest deal-breaker is a lack of well-developed relationships. Everything else is more negotiable, including other forms of character development, but there need to be at least a few well-developed relationships. They can be friendly or prickly, romantic or platonic, harmonious or fraught with competition and even antagonism, but they've got to be there. {Smile}

    I hope you weren't too surprised, given last week's answer. {wink, Smile}


    1. lol, the thought did cross my mind but I'm waiting on the long version :>)

    2. Okay, I hope this is the long version, but I'll have to see how far I get. {Smile, wink}

      I already mentioned that well-developed relationships are primary with me. To get me thinking fondly enough of a series get me to get the next book - especially if I have to wait until it's out - I need to remember one or more relationships fondly enough to want to know what happens next to those characters. However, there are other traits that can get me thru the book I'm reading, with a positive impression at the time. {Smile}

      Character development is important. I want multi-faceted characters who aren't good at everything, so some of their problems really make them struggle. Also, make the reasons the characters struggle seem reasonable, not just dashed together and slapped in like an emergency bandage. (A classic example of a bandage-problem is Kryptonite in Superman: the substance can't even exist as originally introduced, let alone have that much effect on one fellow, and that little on everyone around him when they can interbreed.) I also want the facets to fit together as a whole, or else have a good reason why they don't by the end. {Smile}

      Seamless world development. If pieces of the world that sit next to each other don't fit together, I can suddenly become acutely aware that I'm reading a story set in an invented world and featuring invented characters. That can make it hard to keep reading, tho well-enough developed reationships will keep me going.

      Geographic seams bother me somewhat. If a hot land abuts an ice flow, or a rainforest abuts a dry desert, I want at least strong hints that there's a good reason why by the end of the story in my hand. If they're going to leave the Big Reveal until book 3, at least tell me it's coming by the end of book 1, and remind me it's coming in book 2. Or else make some relationships interesting enough to convince me to let it slide. {lop-sided but amused smile}

      Cultural seams bother me even more. I have a bachelor's in Anthropology where I mostly chose courses in cultural anthropology. So parking Oriental countries right next to Occidental ones, or upper-latitude countries next to near-equatorial ones really gets to me.

      Progression is also important. I'm not nearly as sensitive to this as my father, but I do like a sense of progression. I like feeling at the end of each scene that I'm closer to something than I was at the beginning. I don't necessarily need to know what I'm closer to, but I like to feel I've made progress. Pacing can be slow or quick, but there should be some movement. {Smile}

      That's what I've thought of so far. if I think of anything else important, I'll let you know later. {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    3. Now you've gone and taught me something! I never thought about how well the mosaic of a story needed to fit together. Cultural or geographical. I do know I've noted and let slide inconsistencies. I take the mental stance of it is the author's world -- he/she can make up rules as they go along.

      But it is a matter of personal taste. In your case you are acutely aware of illogical worldbuilding, and annoyed by it. This tells me that maybe I shouldn't ignore inconsistent worldbuilding and even if it doesn't bother me, make a note of it in my review.

      Thanks for a great answer!

    4. You're welcome. {SMILE}

      I like your term, "mosaic." Yes, the mosaic needs to fit together. Inconsistencies can work, but they need to be explained so they fit into the overall pattern. That doesn't mean filling a notebook or a file full of explanations that never make it into the story, nor does it mean doing all the explaining after the big battle at the very end of the last story in the series. Thanks to my willingness to help friends, I've seen both more than once, and if I hadn't been trying to help a friend, I often wouldn't have made it far enough to see it. {wry look}

      It can mean giving the reader a brief comment not too long after the initial introduction that assures them that this isn't just a bad job of patchwork. That there is a reason, one that might be revealed more later. 1 or two sentences is fine if you can keep it that short, but they need to be there for me. {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    5. Good point, Anne. A great background is required. that was Tolkien's masterpiece that he kept hinting at a far greater tale in the history of his world. Balrogs and dragons of course.

    6. One thing I like about Tolkien is his history gives the hints I need to keep things from bothering me. Neither plate tectonics nor volcanism explain a range of mountains shaped like a box complete with right angles. However, Gandalf and Elrond hint that those mountains were involved in battle involving great magic. That explains the mountains' boxy outline well enough to calm down the "that's not right" niggle so it doesn't pull me out of the story. {Smile}


  3. Thought-provoking question! I like it!
    Let's see...

    Most important:

    * Character development: even in a plot-oriented story, characters are what drive it forward. IMHO there is no story without one or more well-rounded characters that grow over time - or even that de-evolve, why not? That's just as interesting...

    * Conflict: IMHO that's what moves things along. There can be no story without conflict - not necessarily an all-out war or a threat from some Dark Entity: it can be a conflict of wills, or even a character's inner conflict.

    * Dialog: as in dialog that carries forward the two items I mentioned above, i.e. meaningful, story-expanding dialog, or character-building dialog.

    * World-building (social, cultural, economic, religious): for me that's the backbone of a good story, because the world in which it takes place becomes another character, often dictating the choices of the people inhabiting it.

    Not important (and/or disliked)

    * Romance: I like some good romance in a story, but it's not necessary to carry me forward. And I'm not interested in cookie-cutter romance or the star-crossed-lovers trope taken to the limits (the limits of my endurance, that is... *eg*)

    * Info-dumps: that's something that more often than not makes me close a book and forget about it. I understand how an author might have dreamed of a world that he/she built with care and love over the course of time but... is it really, really necessary to bury me under an avalanche of information, all packed up in the first few chapters? I love to explore a world - or a series of characters - in the course of time, to discover them in bits and pieces, and even to have to work for it, to make some guesses on my own. If you want to have me run screaming in the opposite direction, just try and spoon-feed me, and see what happens...

    * Weird-sounding names: yes, granted, a fantasy world needs fantasy names but when I run into a series of names like Um'kin'ouk, Oldechist or Eundoendy (I just copied these from a fantasy name generator online, for the record), my brain refuses to go on...

    1. I KNEW there was a reason why we clicked. Well other than you actually think my jokes are funny. I went down your list going sorta, yep, yep, yep, yep, sorta --deep breath--

      I agree on the long names but they aren't a deal breaker. In most cases I know this word means this person, place or thing but I never try to pronounce it. But... if the word is too long and similar to the ones you gave as an example, it takes me alot longer to memorize and associate. I've often wondered if I'm just weird or other people handle names like I do.

      Great answer as always! Thanks!

    2. I figured out a couple of short-cuts with long and/or difficult names, I guess out of self-defense.

      If the name is simply long, I've found that remembering the first few letters, the last few letters, and about how long they are is usually sufficient. So the Hawaiian goddess Hi'iakaikepoli'opele can become Hi'i...pele, perhaps with the extra mental note about how long it is. Most other Hawaiian characters who have long names don't have ones that start with "Hi'i" and end with "pele."

      If the problem is not so much length as sameness, cut out the sameness. I went to an opera where two of the main characters were Siegfried and Sieglied, and we learned that the next in the series would feature Siegmund. My theater partner was horridly confused until I suggested that we just acknowledge that "Sieg" is the family prefix, and just cut it off. So we talked about 'Fried, 'Lied, and 'Mund. Despite the first two still being similar, concentrating on the difference still made them easier to keep apart. {GRIN}


  4. A fantasy tale needs to build up to some epic battle. The tale shouldn't be obvious - no simple solutions to destroy the build up. It needs to have an air of mystery, unknown and fear. Reading a good example at the moment - Michael Sullivan's books.

    1. I read and reviewed Michael's very first book back in this blog's infancy. Before he got picked up by big publishing. I absolutely loved it. I really really need to put him on my wishlist.

      As far as it having an aura of dark mystery, suspense, tension and battle, you are describing true Epic Fantasy. A more general label of Fantasy can include happy endings, and battles that are more internal than external. Still needs fear though, personal, local or global. Characters need something to fight for. Could be a boyfriend or could be a kingdom. There has to be something to lose and something to gain.

    2. Hey. I'm fighting for no boyfriend!! I think that may need a rethink, Mulluane :) Now gold...that's a different story, and perhaps a princess.

    3. That was a tongue-in-cheek reference to one of my favorite quotes:

      “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing
      what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it
      is to have a boyfriend.”
      ― Stephen King

      And sorry I didn't do one of these this week. I think my muse died. I've got a severe case of writer's block.


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