I have found the Holy Grail of Fantasy writing; a book I think anyone who wants to write in any of the Fantasy Writing Genres (or even someone who loves to read Fantasy) should own.
It is a book called “The Tough Guide to Fantasyland” by Diana Wynne Jones and it is amazing!
It is structured like a travel guide you might find at tourist stops or in airports. A guide to all of the stops and creatures and things you might see or wish to see on your travels.
“Tough Guide” starts out by asking the reader to imagine that every single fantasy book featuring kings, dragons, quests and magic all takes place in one realm called “Fantasyland” and then it takes you on a “tour” so to speak of Fantasyland. You will never read Fantasy the same way again. Nor will you write it the same way again.
It has recommendations such as where to find a map and features passages such as:
HEROES. These are mythical beings, often selected at birth, to perform amazing deeds of courage, strength and magical mayhem, usually against huge odds. The Rule is that the Hero is always Out There. If you get to meet a so-called Hero, she/he always turns out to be just another human with human failings, who has happened to be in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time, more likely) Tourists, too, may perform amazing deeds and quite normally end up SAVING THE WORLD, but cannot qualify as Heroes because they are not Out There.
LEGENDS are an important source of true information. They always turn out to be far more accurate than HISTORY. Listen and attend carefully if anyone recounts you a Legend. The person telling it may be an old HERBWOMAN, a BARD, a bad KING, one of your COMPANIONS, or just someone in an INN. But no matter how improbable the story, it will always turn out to be the exact truth, and only by following it accurately can you hope to succeed in your QUEST. The Management will never allow anyone to tell you a Legend unless it is going to be important for you to know.
The reason you should read this if you intend on writing Fantasy is for one of two reasons:
1)So you know how to avoid the typical Fantasy tropes present in so many Fantasy novels
2) So you know how to embrace the tropes you want.
Fantasy cliche’s aren’t always a bad thing if they are done well. There are books I’ve read fully wanting the whole Fantasy cliche element. And then there are times when it is wearing on the reader if they feel like they have read this book before.
Tropes are only bad if you are unaware that you are following a formula that has been laid down since Fantasy became a commonly read genre. (Probably around the time of J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”)
So get this book, decide what you are going to embrace and what you want to stay away from and, if nothing else, get a few laughs because “Tough Guide” is scarily accurate.
p.s. It’s Dark Lord Approved so how could you possibly go wrong!