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Thread: Simple things that a lot of Fantasy Writers get wrong in their books....

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW RobertEvert's Avatar
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    Simple things that a lot of Fantasy Writers get wrong in their books....

    Do you ever notice simple things that are wrong in a lot of fantasy books?

    For instance, it seems that, in many fantasies, characters are able to hunt, kill, skin, and cook a dinner out of their quarry all in a blink of an eye...when in reality it takes a good while to de-bone an animal, let alone cook the meat into a stew.

    Another one that bothers me is how easy characters can ride a horse at full gallop for hours on end, as if the horse never gets tired and the character's ass never hurts!

    Any others?
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    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    I think this was true a few decades ago (though while it's often said I can never recall any books where it actually happened. Anyway, stew doesn't take THAT long if you do it right), but modern books seem to have caught up and don't make the same mistakes I forget seeing.

    There's a whole test about it somewhere (i can't recall where, I'm sure some one can)




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    Lagrangian LOG's Avatar
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    Whacking swords together, armor being made of lead, etc.

    The first thing that came to mind though was systems of magic. To me, magic that works according to laid out rules has taken a large step away from magic, and become more about science. I prefer the kind of magic you get in The Last Unicorn. There may be stuff you can and can't do, but systems or explanations of how it all works aren't things I usually enjoy.
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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bergen View Post
    For instance, it seems that, in many fantasies, characters are able to hunt, kill, skin, and cook a dinner out of their quarry all in a blink of an eye...when in reality it takes a good while to de-bone an animal, let alone cook the meat into a stew.
    I watched a guy on TV last night debone a chicken, duck and a turkey under 10 minutes. All of them. He'd gotten the duck and chicken done in just over 3 minutes.

    My uncle could clean a deer carcass in less than 20 minutes. Butchering it took under an hour (without using power tools).

    If someone knows what they're doing, it doesn't take that long at all.

    Another one that bothers me is how easy characters can ride a horse at full gallop for hours on end, as if the horse never gets tired and the character's ass never hurts!
    Again, if you're used to it, your backside doesn't get sore because you know how to ride for hours.

    Do you ever notice simple things that are wrong in a lot of fantasy books?
    Thing is, most of us aren't used to it, so we default to what we can do, and what we can do doesn't make a whit of difference to what characters can do.

    And, honestly, if I do start noticing such things, there's more things wrong with the story I'm reading than these kinds of details. If I'm truly entranced by the book I'm reading, I'm so caught up in it that none of these kinds of details matter.

    Besides, it's Fantasy. Who's to say that Fantasy horses can't gallop all day without tiring?
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    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    I don't see anything wrong with Fantasy or SF novels.

    Bergen, you're more or less complaining about the content of the story, not related to SFF at all. You can have a historical novel with the same examples you stated. Oh, and you skip the boring parts. No reader wants to read about a character preparing a meal. We just want them to finish eating so they can entertain us.
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    here and there again fadeaccompli's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LOG View Post
    The first thing that came to mind though was systems of magic. To me, magic that works according to laid out rules has taken a large step away from magic, and become more about science. I prefer the kind of magic you get in The Last Unicorn. There may be stuff you can and can't do, but systems or explanations of how it all works aren't things I usually enjoy.
    Are we talking about things which are done in a way that doesn't jibe with reality, or are we talking about things we dislike? Because it seems to me those are very different conversations, and I am a little reluctant to volunteer one if it's going to be assumed to be both.

    (And I assume we're not even going into things like "dragons can fly despite being really large!" Fantasy has many a genre convention that involves things which aren't factually accurate; that's why it's fantasy.)

    ...or possibly I should just wave vaguely in the direction of the Tough Guide to Fantasyland and be done with it. They have a great deal to say about Stew and Horses in there.

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    Cadence of Her Last Breath Ms_Sassypants's Avatar
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    I thought when writing books you can't go into details about every single thing... especially the character's bowel movements! Imagine the hero pissing or take a shit every chapter. That would totally kill the fantasy!

    I guess the same goes for preparing dinner in the jungle. You don't want to know how the traveller skins the rabbit, rips out its intestines and roast it upside down in the fire, do you?

    Also, I took a horse stable management course - was curious as you - about horses' need to rest. Apparently, horses do not rest as much as humans. The Instructor went on to say horses are active 23 hours in a day - so galloping from Chapter One to Chapter 20 is ok for the animal... the human's ass however... is another story!

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    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    They may not need rest but they still get exhausted. A fit horse and a human athlete travel about the same speed over long distances. Horses can only outpace us at sprint distance and they don't gallop for hours on end.

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    The T is for Trying to Stop Lurking M.T.Logue's Avatar
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    This one time, I actually looked up different horse breeds, how long/far they could run without tiring, etc. etc. to see which one could feasibly get my characters from A to B. I eventually decided to just go with "Magical Fantasy Land Horse" and assume the reader would be okay that I just skipped over pages and pages of laborious detail just for accuracy's sake.

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    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    Well, galloping a horse for too long can kill it, so 23 hours a day of that level of activity definitely isn't believable. And horses do need to sleep, eat, and drink.

    I remember one story where the heroes slept in their saddles because, y'know, a horse wouldn't need to sleep too. Ever. And it wouldn't get stroppy or bite you in the nads if you tried to make it, either.

    Nor would any horse known to man stop walking and start eating grass if the human riding it just nodded off for an extended period of time. You plug your destination into the GPS and the horse keeps going, right?

    Yeah, that book had issues beyond the self-driving Google-car horses. I seem to recall a demon with "switchblade" claws was in it too. Gee, where in pseudo-Europe are they making switchblades, given the people in the fields are still cutting their wheat with scythes? Interesting word choice, author. I'm now picturing that demon-hero fight accompanied by the music from West Side Story.
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    figuring it all out rockhazard's Avatar
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    <RANT>One of L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Recluce novels goes on and on and on about blacksmithing. He does it in a scene, as opposed to exposition, which does little to blunt the trauma. Many pages. Really. And if it had any relevance to the story, I couldn't see it, because I started skipping. A lot. It nearly ruined the book for me, which sucked, because I'd already invested so much time and attention in the previous Recluce novels. I think we can all agree that while this sort of thing is a trap any writer can fall into, the worldsmithing that often attends speculative fiction attracts this sort of literary quagmire more than most genres. Don't let your research occlude the story.</RANT>

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    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    I don't need to hear about the animal being de-boned, but I would prefer some level of realism in the non-fantastic parts of the story.

    Even a Robert Jordan "I used magic so the horse could keep going, but oh that still might kill it."



    Also, I've ridden horses. Horses raised by a friend of mine who breeds, trains, sells, and has their horses ridden in shows. They start eating grass about 10 minutes into a trail ride, much less with the rider sleeping in their saddle for a 23 hour run.

    Now, if the horses are used to being ridden in a group with each other, and the lead horse of the group is being controlled by an active rider, then you can probably have some of the people tie themselves into the saddle to sleep, although I've never seen that in a book. The heroes usually camp.


    There have been threads about the inaccuracies of horsemanship in fantasy novels before. They covered this stuff in a lot more detail.

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    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I don't usually care so much about the simple things that fantasy writers get wrong. If you give me compelling characters and lots of intrigue and action, I don't care how the characters eat.

    In my books, I mention food every now and then, but it's just not that important to me.

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    I remember one book where the writer used "the male cow charged across the pasture."

    um. wouldn't that be a bull?

    Also, many writers forget that we started riding horses not because they're faster but because we could sit while the horse did the walking.

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    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Lots of stuff related to horses, and occasional historical anachronisms (in novels that actually take place in real historic times) are the things I tend to notice. Like they're eating potatoes or corn in England in the middle ages. I did get annoyed by a novel once, though, where the character was feeding his horse "corn" in the fifth century AD in England, and I later discovered that the word "corn" used to refer generically for any grain one fed horses, so I was wrong there.

    I definitely do notice when someone who's never ridden a horse before just climbs on and gallops off without losing control of the animal (assuming it WANTS to gallop off at all and not just put its head down and graze with such a know-nothing rider on its back), let alone falling, and as the OP mentions, ride for hours on end without having any saddle sores (on either the horse's or rider's back). I used to ride a lot, but I don't much any more. When I do get on a horse and ride for even an hour or so now, I experience serious "noodle legs" when I slide from the saddle. Few writers ever describe that sensation on the part of an inexperienced or infrequent rider.
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    Lots of sci-fi and fantasy stories treat a change of physical sex as something just anyone can instantly adapt to with no problems or psychological damage. In reality, it's pretty much going to drive most people to become suicidal or seriously depressed (unless they know for sure it's temporary), and even ignoring gender dysphoria, it's a _hell_ of a lot of changes to get used to. You don't just suddenly go, "Huh, my anatomy swapped, I'm dealing with different hormones and feeling way different, and I've never lived within these social roles, so I guess I'll just suddenly accept this and function perfectly."
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    Quote Originally Posted by LOG View Post
    The first thing that came to mind though was systems of magic. To me, magic that works according to laid out rules has taken a large step away from magic, and become more about science. I prefer the kind of magic you get in The Last Unicorn. There may be stuff you can and can't do, but systems or explanations of how it all works aren't things I usually enjoy.
    Well said!

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    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Lawrence View Post
    Well said!

    But not what the thread is about.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fadeaccompli View Post
    Are we talking about things which are done in a way that doesn't jibe with reality, or are we talking about things we dislike? Because it seems to me those are very different conversations, and I am a little reluctant to volunteer one if it's going to be assumed to be both.

    (And I assume we're not even going into things like "dragons can fly despite being really large!" Fantasy has many a genre convention that involves things which aren't factually accurate; that's why it's fantasy.)

    ...or possibly I should just wave vaguely in the direction of the Tough Guide to Fantasyland and be done with it. They have a great deal to say about Stew and Horses in there.
    I'm shocked...shocked, I say! Are you implying that fantasy isn't factually accurate? No! You're saying it isn't factually accurate.

    Does that mean you can't cast a spell to allow your horse to gallop for 72 hours straight?

    Okay, I'm done now. It's fantasy. You can do what you want. The only rules that apply are the ones you wish to have apply. Of course, if the reader doesn't suspend disbelief sufficiently, nobody will read it. But that's on the writer. I have read a few wild-ass inclusions I didn't believe for a second. Sometimes they made me stop reading. Sometimes I ignored them and went on. To each his (or her) own.
    Last edited by lbender; 11-24-2012 at 08:09 PM. Reason: misspelling

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    Quote Originally Posted by lbender View Post
    Does that mean you can't cast a spell to allow your horse to gallop for 72 hours straight?
    'Course you can, just make it clear upfront that this is why your horses have such stamina. If you put a horse in your story, I expect it to act like a Terran horse unless you tell me otherwise--if you do, sure, I'll roll with that, if you don't, it will annoy me.
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    All fantasy writers and readers will enjoy the classic by Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, in which she hilariously skewers innumerable fantasy conventions. Here is part of her entry on horses:

    "Horses are of a breed unique to fantasyland. They can gallop all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame, of put their hooves down holes, except when... the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.... They never resist being mounted or blow out so that their girths slip.... they never shy and seldom whinny or demand sugar at inopportune moments.... Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are."

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    empty-nester! shadowwalker's Avatar
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    Strictly as a reader and not a writer of fantasy, I don't care how factually inaccurate things are - as long as they are consistent within the story. Hell, horses communicate telepathically with their riders, so why should I worry about how long they can gallop?
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    Merovingian Superhero ULTRAGOTHA's Avatar
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    Ah, but Lackey explains that Companions are a) not horses and b) have a heluva lot more stamina than horses.

    Explain it to me and I'm fine with it in Fantasy. But even Fantasy has story rules. Don't have longships with hatches and below decks. I'll scoff at you unless you explain that these aren't Viking Longships, but fantasy-culture "longships" and then I'm fine with it.
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    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    I'm fine with an author choosing to ignore certain facts, especially if they have a reason(it doesn't even have to be a good one necessarily, as long as they acknowledge the issue). But most of the people making these mistakes simply come off as ignorant and uninformed.

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    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LOG View Post
    Whacking swords together, armor being made of lead, etc.

    The first thing that came to mind though was systems of magic. To me, magic that works according to laid out rules has taken a large step away from magic, and become more about science. I prefer the kind of magic you get in The Last Unicorn. There may be stuff you can and can't do, but systems or explanations of how it all works aren't things I usually enjoy.
    Now I prefer being able to see inside the black box a little. It's still magical, and it's still a story, so it doesn't have to be, and probably shouldn't be, explained ad nauseum. I don't even like it when sci fi authors go overboard with explaining every little thing about how the spaceship goes between star systems. But I get a bit tired of "hand waving" magic where the characters are manipulating the physical universe with their spells and yet have no more understanding of it than people who lived in the "real" olden days. If you're using your magical talent to stop someone from hemorrhaging, surely you must have some idea about how blood circulates in the body!
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