There are a lot of imitations in this world. Imitation cheese. Imitation crocodile leather boots. Those little imitation wieners wrapped in bacon that get served to you at cocktail parties by some imitation Greek waiter guy named Sven Olafsson. Who goes to cocktail parties anymore, anyway? They’re so 1999 (by the way, if you remove the 1 from 1999 and then flip it over, it becomes 666).
And then there’s epic fantasy. Ever since the demi-god of fantasy, Professor Tolkien himself, set pen to paper and wrote The End, hucksters and literary carpetbaggers have been churning out imitation epic fantasy. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve read it, secreted inside your fifty-pound algebra book in the back of Math class, nodding your head blankly as your teacher droned on about square roots, your eyes slightly crossed as you kept one on him and one eye feverishly reading about how G’wthrullylk’kank of the Mossy Warrior Clan defeated the Dread Sorcerer Galugalug and then won the hand of the fair Princess Florg. The battle lasted a whole chapter, which pretty much means you learned nothing about square roots and never will.
Tolkien has been imitated until the unicorns have come home. Terry Brooks was one of the first, with his Sword of Shannara series. We all know how that ended. Oh, wait, it hasn’t ended yet. He’ll probably be writing the last book during the battle of Armageddon. Basically, everyone from that crusty old curmudgeon of a nihilist George Martin on down to Patrick “Kvothe-boy” Rothfuss and everyone in between have been trying to define themselves by Tolkien, or define themselves away from Tolkien. His shadow stretches long and rules them all and in the darkness binds them.
However, for all you desperately repressed epic fantasy writers out there, huddled in your basements, fear not! I have compiled a helpful list of items that will enable you to write epic fantasies that will avoid being cookie-cutter imitations of The Lord of the Rings. You are saved (but only in a temporal, literary sense)! Just include the following ten items in your writing process and you are well on your way to the New York Times Bestseller List (to get all the way to the List, just buy a copy of the paper, turn to the correct page and…presto!…you’re there).
- Mysterious Magical Items: “One Bling to Rule Them All”
Your story must contain at least one magical item with amazing, awesome power. It cannot be a ring as that will make your book exactly like Tolkien’s books, and you don’t want to be like Tolkien, do you? Maybe your magical item is a sword, or a wand, or a pair of pants. If you choose pants, which would be awesome, then you can name your book Dodo the Farmboy and His Magical Pair of Pants. However, and here’s where a lot of fantasy writers trip up, it is super important that you do not make your magical item an item of fruit, such as an apple, banana, or tomato (yes, tomatoes are technically fruit, due to the fact that the consumable part contains seeds). If you make it a fruit, there is a good chance that a goat will eat it, and then you’ve lost your mysterious, magical item. On the plus side, however, you might then have a mysterious, magical goat, which could be pretty awesome and make lots of livestock farmers want to read your book.
2. Unpronounceable Names, often with Apostrophes: “Are You Choking or is that Your Name?”
Your story must be full of unpronounceable names such as Wuislderdersdorf, Flemzlmooghahahack, or Bob. People who read a lot of fantasy really like names they can’t pronounce. This allows them to whisper the names back and forth to each other in the back row of high school Trigonometry and feel special. Then, the hot girl who sits in front of them will overhear them whispering “Flemzlmooghahahack” to each other, think they’re having an epileptic fit and possibly call 911. Even better yet, if the stars are properly aligned, she might try to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on one of those lucky whisperers if her brain suddenly malfunctions at that second and somehow causes her to hallucinate and see an actual epileptic fit going on. However, if she’s a Darwinist, she might stop and consider the laws of Natural Selection and conclude it’s better to let nature take its course and let them choke and die.
All of these names, however, can be greatly increased in literary value if you just sprinkle in apostrophes like you sprinkle cheese on a tortilla, shortly before transforming it into a tasty quesadilla. Wuislderdersdorf magically becomes W’ui’sl’der’der’sdorf, which is totally awesome. Flemzlmooghahahack mysteriously becomes F’lem’z’lmoog’hah’ahack. You’ll notice in that one how the intonation completely changes for the better and becomes more mysterious and awesome. Bob incredibly becomes B’o’b, which almost automatically guarantees massive sales. You can’t go wrong with apostrophes. Apostrophes are the rocket-propelled grenades of fantasy names.
3. Beautiful Princesses with no Regard for Social Class Structures: “Love in the Time of Cholera”
Your story must have a minimum of at least one beautiful princess who has no regard for social class structures. Even though she’s been raised in an environment of great wealth, refinement, perfect hygiene and haute couture, she must be the fantasy equivalent of a 1960s hippie in outlook. She doesn’t want to marry the handsome, wealthy prince from the kingdom next door. She wants the uncouth, dirty farmboy as her mate (see Number 5). Heck, she’s longing to marry the farmboy even if he’s oozing with cholera or leprosy and has really bad teeth. The beautiful princess must also be willful, headstrong, stubborn, and have long, flowing hair that streams out in the wind as she rides her fast horse around the countryside. She frequently gets into arguments with her dense parents who simply do not understand that needs to express herself through various acts of rebellion (such as falling in love with farmboys).
If you’re really edgy and writing for an “adult” audience, you can frequently have the princess engage in premarital relationships of the physical sort. However, she will never contract herpes or the human papilloma virus, due to the fact that she is an amazingly awesome princess. In fact, no one in your story should contract such things as that would not be awesome.
4. Elves: “Grandma, How Pointy Your Ears Are!”
Your story must contain lots of elves. The elves must be incredibly handsome and beautiful, dress in tights, and be frequently described with adjectives such as languid, elegant, and metrosexual. The elves must be a lot wiser than everyone else, spout poetry at the drop of a hat, and prance around in those aforementioned tights. Also, the elves must say mysterious things like “The fates of Men rises on the wind like the setting sun setting in the east…east, east, where my heart doth dwelleth, like the wind blowing, blowing–this doth blow.” Also, and this is super important, elves must never be flatulent or burp.
5. Farmboys Who Save the World: “Egad, Someone Smells Like Manure in Here”
Your story must have a hero who is a poor, uneducated farmboy who is secretly destined to save the world. In addition, this dumb farmboy must somehow instantly become an amazing swordsman or wizard with mad skills or skillz (depending on your view of the English language). This amazing swordsmanship or wizarding skills must be learned in one chapter or about three days time. The farmboy then must save the world, marry the beautiful princes (see Number 3), and then become king.
Also, if you really want to make your farmboy even cooler and more amazing, you should make him actually not be the genetic child of the kind, dimwitted farmer and farmer wife who raised him. Even better yet, make the farmboy THINK they’re his parents, but then he discovers later that they aren’t, that they found him as a baby under a bush or in a hole or in a bag of moldy potatoes. People will read that and say to themselves, “Wow! I always knew there was something different about that farmboy! Now I know!”
6. Dragons and Vampires: “Flames and Sparkles and Other Things”
Your story must have some dragons or vampires in it in order to satisfy all the dragon or vampire-lovers out there. The dragons can be were-dragons or wizard-dragons or just plain old dragons. If you choose to have vampires instead, you must make them really cool, dress them in awesomely tailored, tight leather clothing, and make them ultra-fashionable. Everyone will secretly wish they were cool like your vampires. Now, listen, I’m going to let you in on something really amazing (almost as amazing as investing in gold before the price of gold skyrocketed). If you’re really smart, you’ll have not just dragons, but dragons AND vampires. No one has thought of this yet, but you can be the first. It will be awesome. Here’s an even better secret: in addition to having dragons and vampires in your story, include werewolves too! No one has ever thought of that either. This trio combination is even harder to think of then the duo combination of dragons and zombies, so if you do this, you will be more than awesome. You will be SUPER awesome!
7. Food: “I’ve Run out of Twinkies”
In order to properly write your story, you must stock up on a sufficient supply of awesome and delicious food to power your brain through all the long hours of feverishly writing. Our team of investigatory nutritionists and highly-trained scientists recommend the following food supplies, sufficient to write one epic fantasy of 80,000 words: three hundred Twinkies (buy the imitation Russian brand Tvinkie, now that Hostess is bankrupt; it’s just as good and creamy, even if it does have a slight aftertaste of borscht), ten pounds of Slim Jims, three dozen 32-oz bags of Cheetos, fifty gallons of Mountain Dew, ten pounds of Skittles, fifty-seven Pepperoni Hot Pockets, and twelve cans of Cheez-Whiz. This supply of nutritious and vitamin-enhanced food will keep your brain buzzing along and will result in an awesome story (though you will definitely die of a coronary about a week after the final edit; statistically, however, most writers sell better posthumously, so that’s good).
8. Magical Magic: “Abracadabra!”
Your story must contain magic of a magical nature. This sounds difficult, but I will explain it carefully so that your story will be amazing.You need to have at least one super magical character (a human or maybe something awesome like an elf) who is called a wizard or a mage or priest who can do magic. That’s the important part. Have them stare mysteriously into crystal balls or into murky bowls of water (they can drink the water later if they’re thirsty, which would be kind of of a plug for recycling, which is really cool and trendy) and then they could see things happening in the future. Or, have them shoot lightning or fireballs from their fingertips (lighting should cause more damage than fireballs unless the fireballs are really huge).
9. Wickedly Evil Villains who are Sinister and Also Evil: “I’m Eeee-vil!”
Your story must contain a super wicked villain who is also totally evil. This is important. A lot of epic fantasy writers forget about this part and just have some 2% lowfat villain who is only kind of evil, or maybe he’s only evil because he had a hard upbringing or because George Martin just felt like it. That doesn’t cut it. Your villain needs to be the Michael Jordan of evil. He needs to be the Camembert of evil, not just the Velveeta of evil. When your villain holds the world hostage, he doesn’t just want 1 million gold pieces. He wants 10 million gold pieces!
Another important thing is that your villain needs to say really evil things every once in a while. I will give you some excellent examples which you can either either cut and paste into your story or use to inspire your own brain. Here are the excellent examples:
- “Chop off his head!”
- “Burn down almost the entire village!”
- “If you do that again, I’m going to_______!” (you can fill in the blank with awesome things like: “invade”, “cast a wicked spell”, or “ask the UN to write you a stern letter.”)
The last thing you need to remember is that villains need to have a wicked laugh. They can’t just laugh like normal people. They need to really laugh. Hahahahahahahaha! That’s a minimum length laugh for a villain. If you go shorter than that, people will not take your villain seriously.
10. Totally Awesome Covers: “I Don’t Know What That Thing Is, but I Could Stare at It for Hours…”
Your story must have a totally awesome cover. If it doesn’t have an awesome cover, you shouldn’t even bother writing the story. Just forget about it. Your cover must have an amazing swordsman on it who is probably a farmboy with an incredible physique and mad sword-fighting skills. The cover must also have a super gorgeous girl on it who is probably the princess who is in love with the farmboy, even though he smells like goat manure. In addition, your cover must have some vampires who are looking soulfully around, as well as a dragon and maybe some werewolves who look like Calvin Klein underwear models. Also, of course, your cover must have your title on it.
Well, if you can persevere with your writing and incorporate all ten of my amazing suggestions, I guarantee you’ll have an awesome epic fantasy story when you’re done that is not a cookie-cutter imitation of Tolkien’s books. You might lose heart, because writing these kinds of stories is not easy. Just keep on writing, one Slim Jim at a time. Remember, though, if it isn’t awesome, who’s going to read it?