I have been mulling over the plot and characters for an elaborate fantasy work for a number of years now. The longer I mull things over, the more possessed I am that this story is worth telling. The problem arises when I actually sit down to write it: as a lifelong fan of fantasy, when I write my story on paper, it seems generic. Contrived, almost. The plot and characters I am totally in love with, but when I write it, I think, "Oh, this is worse than Paolini." It just feels... fake. What can I do to avoid generic writing? I would appreciate concrete methods that work, not just opinions or abstract advice.

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    Not entirely a concrete method - but an excellent and elucidating analysis of the problem. Your good taste is why your work disappoints you (Ira Glass, via Jim Van Pelt). I think this is one of the best answers you'll find.
    – Standback
    Feb 23, 2012 at 6:37
  • @Standback you should post as an answer
    – Toby Allen
    Feb 23, 2012 at 16:42
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    @TobyAllen : What, and miss out my chance to inch towards a Pundit badge? :P No, seriously - I usually don't post a link as an answer. I also don't feel the quote serves as a complete answer to this question.
    – Standback
    Feb 23, 2012 at 17:05
  • @Standback +1 Wow. That's an awesome quote. Thanks. :) Feb 23, 2012 at 20:02
  • 'Imaginary gardens with real toads in them'--this line from marriane Moore's a goood departure point. I don't care if you have elves, or, (shudder) unicorns, or zombie pirates--you must make rules for the world they live in, and make it, as 'twere, a lived-in world.
    – user3332
    Feb 28, 2012 at 20:05

5 Answers 5


What has worked for me in the past is to simply concentrate on telling the story. I'm assuming you are on your first draft and have yet to complete even that. In that case, you need to spend less time analyzing and more time telling your story. If you spend too much time reviewing as you write, you'll end up with a case of paralysis by analysis.

Sometimes what causes a writer to start reviewing their work prematurely is a lack of focus or direction. If you don't already have an outline or at least a timeline of events, then maybe you should concentrate on that. The main idea is to just let the words flow, no matter how contrived they may seem. You will have plenty of time to go back and edit for style later.

Another consideration is to stop comparing your own words to what you have read in other fantasy novels. More importantly, I would recommend refraining from reading any fantasy at all while you are writing. I have found that reading a fantasy novel by another author proves to be very distracting when trying to write my own. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with copying another writers style, so don't assume that your readers will be critical of it.

Lastly, make sure you have at least a couple of good beta readers who will give you honest feedback. Let them help you to decide if your content is too contrived or too generic. It is very easy for us as writers to be overly critical of our own work. We end up spending so much time trying to refine the story that we never end up completing it.


If everything you write is sounding like overused tropes and clichés, it may be that you're simply showing your influences. And when you see your writing, all you're seeing are those influences. Hence, it feels less substantial to you.

What, exactly is "bland, generic fantasy" to you? I suggest you define what it is you're trying to avoid. Make a list if you're so inclined, or just get it straight in your mind what you want to sound different from. You could then go ahead and write, specifically avoiding these areas. While this could push you into writing about new and interesting things, it could also be difficult restriction to deal with. What if there's very little left after this process?

All writers have influences. With some, it's more obvious than with others. However, the only cure to this is, unfortunately, to keep writing. Don't stop just because something seems familiar or fake, just note it for future revision. With a little talent and time, your influences will blend into a style that is yours. It won't happen quickly, or without some hard work, but have some faith that it will happen.

You ask for specific methods: Since becoming aware of your influences and stylistic leanings will only help matters, getting some critiques of your work with that in mind may help. However, volume is your friend: Get those pages written. Don't stop if they suck, just keep going. You won't learn from the experience if you don't. Some specific working regimens, if you don't have them, may also be of help here.

  • +1 for "the only cure for this is to keep writing." The excellent podcast Writing Excuses, which consists of four successful professional authors discussing the craft of writing, traditionally ends with the sign-off "You're out of excuses. Now, go write!" And that's a really good summation: like anything else, practice makes perfect. Jan 8, 2016 at 20:15

On the first draft: you won't. First drafts are almost invariably clunkers.

But your first draft is not meant to shine. Your first draft is meant to get the story onto paper and out of your head where it's been languishing for years.

Once it's on paper, then you can edit, revise, polish, and get an editor/editors to scrub out the bland and generic.

But you can't do that until it's written. So give yourself permission to be bland. Give yourself permission to be generic. I promise it's okay. You will be able to fix it later.

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    Dan Wells says he always laughs/cringes at Brandon Sanderson's early drafts. A good writer is mostly a good reviser.
    – MGOwen
    Mar 1, 2012 at 22:35

One kind of off the wall solution I've used in the past to make fantasy/sci-fi feel less generic is choosing another style of writing (genre fiction or otherwise) and trying very consciously to emulate it while I write. If you're writing fantasy, maybe read nothing but noir fiction while you're writing and try to absorb the syntax/diction of that genre into your own work (assuming, of course, that that tone is still appropriate to the story you're trying to tell). For example, I'm giving a kind of 19th century 'literature' novel feel to a sci-fi piece I'm working on. Analyze the unique qualities of writing in other genres, and experiment with applying them to your work. There are plenty of books and essays out there that discuss the building blocks of genre fiction if you're interested.

While you're at it, think about qualities of the writing that separate really good fantasy from cookie-cutter fantasy for you, maybe make a list of the things that set it apart to help you isolate what you do want to emulate.

Laster makes a good point too, about remembering to get down and dirty no matter how fantastic your world is--people will still have aching feet, streets will still be dirty, people will still annoy each other even if there are archmages running around. Try to include the mundane day-to-day things and follow through with the non-obvious consequences of your fantasy-novums. The unexpected inconveniences that come with being a mage or a snake man go a long way towards drawing the reader into their lives.

Don't be afraid to be weird, make strange similes and word choices, and even be cliche as long as it's still absorbing for you. As other people have pointed out, this is a first draft. Try and be daring now and critical later. Write what you want to read without thinking about other people's work except as inspiration.

Hope it was helpful, good luck!


Further to Steven Drennons answer, make sure you get people to read it who know and understand the same sorts of influences that you have. This means that a) they are more likely to be your target audience and so will give you a critique based on those you are writing for and b) if you are writing badly, or generically, they will probably pick this up and tell you.

To an extent, fantasy works best when it draws on the many other fantasy influences - it fits into the world better. At the same time, you have to draw something new from this as well, but wearly on, you should be setting the scene, defining what part of the fantasy genre you are using, so it will be moderately generic - that is a good thing at that stage.

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