As an aspiring fantasy writer, it is my pleasure and duty to read a metric fuckton. Most of the time, it really is a pleasure. “Wow! Inspiration! What a satisfying read! Look what they did with that sentence there! Amazing!”
Sometimes, it’s definitely more of a duty. Particularly when I feel obliged to finish a fantasy novel, because it’s not enough to just delete it and move on. I’ve got to figure out why the novel pisses me off, articulate it, and make damn sure I don’t commit the same offenses in my own stories.
In any case, I’ve suffered for my art, so let me climb up on this here soap box in order to tell you all about it at great length.
First, can it with the mopey, ‘plain’, heroines with secret Inner Beauty. This type pretty much exclusively dwells on her own shortcomings, particularly as they relate to the oh-so handsome hero.
I have depression and anxiety. I’m hard on myself. But even in my worst times, I’m not non-stop running an inner monologue about how ugly I am and how my Designated Love Interest can’t possibly see anything in me. Here is a random sampling of other, neutral thoughts that come to me in dark times: “I need water.” “Here I am, having an existential crisis, and christ on a crutch, that asshole won’t fucking stop skyping his girlfriend.” “Man, that was a satisfying dump.” “Argh, someone is wrong on the internet.” “I’m thoroughly enjoying this egg tart.”
If even I can’t manage a solid, exclusive half-hour of self-pity and/or body obsession, I sure as hell don’t want to read about a heroine doing that for an entire novel.
Second, don’t mistake a persistent physical habit in response to nervousness, annoyance, etc, as actual characterization.
I just finished a book with two viewpoint female characters, whose eyes we see from for 90% of the time. During every goddamned scene with them, one (a princess) would be twirling a lock of her hair, the other (a spy/assassin) would be sucking on her lower lip. Most scenes? More than once. This especially annoys me as these habits didn’t even make much sense in the context of the characters. Would a princess of a rigid imperial court really proceed to twirl, twirl, twirl that damned lock immediately after kowtowing to her imperial father, in front of all his courtiers? Would an assassin/spy really indulge in constant lip-sucking, even while on the job? (Not that she really made sense in that profession anyway, given that she was of a race rare enough to be immediately be remarked upon by everyone she met.)
Stop. Just stop. It’s lazy. Readers have been making fun of it for literally decades now, what with all the braid tugging in Wheel of Time. If you really must, particularly if we’re not to believe that the character has some sort of compulsive disorder, please balance it with someone saying, “Don’t do that. It’s annoying.”
Third, for now, stop the sturm und drang when the poor heroine learns she must – horrors! – undergo an arranged marriage! Look, undergoing a formal marriage ceremony primarily motivated by love has, for a large chunk of recorded history, been the exception, not the rule. Especially for female royalty. Especially for female royalty that weren’t top of the heap. (Even then, most of them had to make do with lovers or favorites.) Your lovelorn heroine might sigh a little that she’s obliged to marry some lord or another, but she’s probably not going to see it as a heartbreaking sacrifice she must make for her country. It’s what she’s been raised to expect. Hell, such would be the case for most princes too. I can only think of a few kings who married for True Love and in practically all of those cases, the drama llama was loosed into the unsuspecting realm.
I’m reading Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson right now. You know one thing I’ve found refreshing about it? (MINOR SPOILER, WRITTEN AS VAGUELY AS POSSIBLE) Someone finds out they’ve been fixed up with someone else, and their response is glee, because the opportunities offered by the match are readily apparent. Because yeah.
Follow my writing advice and your books will be better.
I will rant more later.