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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fantasy Clichés: The Good, the Bad, and the Published (Part Two)

In the last part of this, I talked about whether or not clichés are bad. Now it's to the discussion of whether or not fantasy clichés have any influence on publishing, in my opinion. My short answer is: well, yes, but...

The "but" is the important part. While it is assumed by some that publishers are on the lookout for the next original fantasy novel, the reality is that they're just looking for well written novels. That's it. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they don't. Publishers don't care if you think that your novel is the most original thing since Tolkien. They've heard the same ego trip before and, at this point, it's a bit stale. It doesn't matter how original you think your novel is, because it's not. Unique, sure, but not original.

And that's the important part. The best fantasy novels, as I mentioned before, aren't ones that are claimed to be original by the author (who is almost always wrong and is almost always writing obviously clichéd fantasy trash); the best fantasy novels are ones written by authors who take clichés and make them their own. Publishers, again, are not concerned with whether or not your fantasy novel is cliché, because it already is by default. What they are concerned about is whether or not your novel is interesting, well-written, and worthy of the paper it may potentially be printed on. If a publisher doesn't think it can sell your work, then it's not going to take it. Period (with rare exception to those small presses that are less interested in sales and more interested in purely unique stories; such places have a tendency to focus their attention on matters of style and the nature of the content than on anything else).

Having said all that, there really is little to be concerned about in regards to clichés. The only time one should be concerned is if their work is a direct ripoff of something already told, or if the clichés are made exceedingly obvious by poor execution. What this means is that you probably shouldn't retell Tolkien's LOTR series and you probably should avoid having Tolkien elves who live forever and act like Spock. Of course, you can still get published with these sorts of things, but I suspect that has more to do with a well-crafted plot than anything else.

There is, of course, a problem with all this. We all have different opinions on what constitutes good execution. A lot of novels that are quite obviously cliché have been published, and quite a few have been rather successful. What does this say about the publishing world? I don't know, to be honest. Those novels sell, so perhaps what it is saying is that publishers are simply following the money. As long as we buy the books, they'll keep making them. So while many fantasy purists and junkies may find the clichéd forms of fantasy to be trash, but such folks aren't necessarily the largest demographic for fantasy. They're the folks who read the stuff that sells well, but not always well enough to get onto the bestsellers list.

Perhaps the question to ask about all this is whether or not fantasy clichés are a good thing in the publishing world. What do you think? Are the more cliché forms of fantasy literature necessarily lesser forms (in the same way that media tie-ins)?

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  1. I would mostly agree with you. I think that alot of people that are reading certain genres look for certain traits in it. Things that are known to move the story in the direction that they bought the book to read about.

    Mythology in fantasy, I believe, can be a cliche as well, but can also make or break a story.

    Well, I'm rambling and not thinking this through to well. I keep seeing the libraries 'Count Down' time for the internet here!

  2. No problem with rambling. I agree, by the way, and feel free to ramble here all you want :P.