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118 votes
Accepted

How to trick the reader into thinking they're following a redshirt instead of the protagonist?

If I had to play out this scene from the POV of the protagonist, it would be hard to transition from "redshirt" to "heroine" in a first person narrative. She - as a person - is the heroine from the ...
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104 votes
Accepted

Using real words from a foreign culture feels like 'Calling a rabbit a "smeerp"'

I've found that the main key to unfamiliar words -- and this applies to jargon in technical writing as much as it does to foreign or made-up words in fiction -- is density. The example in the XKCD ...
77 votes
Accepted

'The Chosen One' paradox

It's not a paradox - it's a choice You, as the author and creator of your specific fictional world, have the choice to define which of these statements is true. There is no inherent reason to assume ...
  • 5,596
77 votes
Accepted

Avoiding racist tropes in fantasy

This is a great question. I think being aware of the problem is a good first step. If you really do want to use the traditional creatures but without the baggage, I think you'll have to take on the ...
73 votes

How to trick the reader into thinking they're following a redshirt instead of the protagonist?

What pattern are you breaking? In this case, you are hoping the accumulation of other people's writing clichés will carry your opening. You want to subvert the trope, but unfortunately this trope ...
71 votes

Should I use the words "pyromancy" and "necromancy" even if they don't mean what people think they do?

These terms are very often used to mean magic, and I've never before encountered anybody discussing the ancient greek etymology. You are totally safe using the modern meanings. In general, words ...
66 votes

Is it bad if I don't like the "best" books in my chosen genre?

Short answer: J.K. Rowling claims never to have read a fantasy book in her life, and she did just fine. For that matter, J.R.R. Tolkien hadn't read much fantasy either. Long answer: who considers the ...
62 votes

How to tactfully inform readers of differences in the book world to the real world?

As the wagon bounced along the rutted road, Prax was objecting to Lis's notion that they should both run away to start a new life in the city. "I can think of seven reasons that won't work," Prax ...
61 votes

Should I add racism in my book's world or have my world have no racism?

There is more than one way racism can be present in a work. For example, when Star Trek have on the bridge of the Enterprise an Asian pilot, a Russian navigator and a black Communications Officer, ...
57 votes
Accepted

How do I write "fantasy counterpart cultures" without being accused of cultural appropriation?

The phrase "cultural appropriation" can make it seem that the sole issue is just who is using the culture. From my point of view, the deeper question how good a job they're doing at ...
52 votes

In modern Sci-Fi/Fantasy, does real world racism need to be addressed?

Why do people seem to think that if a character isn't a straight white male, then the story must address homophobia, racism, and sexism? When was the last time you saw a movie with a black actor that ...
51 votes

Evil plans - how do you come up with interesting ones?

The best villains (and villainous plans) are ones that are relatable. And by that I mean ideally the reader would be able to understand why the villain is doing what they are. One of the ways I've ...
  • 6,762
49 votes

Should I use the words "pyromancy" and "necromancy" even if they don't mean what people think they do?

There are at least as many problems with "pyromagus": "Pyro-", "necro-" and "-mancy" are Greek, "magus" is Latin. "-mancy" (manteia) is a practice, a magus is a person. Magus is, originally, a ...
49 votes

How can I handle a powerful mentor character without killing them off?

Your protagonist is not the only iron the mentor has in the fire In Avatar, the Last Airbender, Uncle Iroh is a powerful and interesting mentor character (with his own complex arc). He has his role ...
  • 7,911
47 votes

Using real words from a foreign culture feels like 'Calling a rabbit a "smeerp"'

asvarans, vaspahrs, sardars and ostandars. I struggled with this for a different reason, I didn't want to invoke medieval Europe titles either, because little else in my story was like that, I didn't ...
  • 94k
45 votes
Accepted

How much can a reader remember?

In addition to Mark's excellent advice, I would suggest: 1) Start slowly. In Game of Thrones, we start with just the Starks, and Martin adds on characters a few at a time and lets us live with them ...
45 votes
Accepted

How to make a story entertaining with an almost invincible character?

When the main character is physically invulnerable, then that gives you an opportunity to highlight their emotional vulnerability. Address how his newfound superpowers affect his relationships with ...
  • 5,827
44 votes
Accepted

How can I convince my reader that I will not use a certain trope?

Readers establish a sense of the story they are reading in the opening pages. That's where you set the contract. If you open with the death of this evil being, the readers will expect that being to be ...
  • 23.7k
44 votes

How do I tell the reader that my character is autistic in Fantasy?

I am not on the autistic spectrum, and I confess that it is not obvious to me to what extent and in what manner you plan to characterize your character. On the other hand, I think that your problem ...
  • 10.5k
42 votes

What are the standard genre characteristics of contemporary women's fantasy

As a female reader of SF/F who enjoys fantasy books with protagonists of whatever gender and plot, my advice is: Make it interesting. It doesn't matter if the basic plot structure is older than dirt....
41 votes
Accepted

Creating an incompetent antagonist

You're concerned about things being "unfulfilling if I simply make the Empire regularly make mind-boggling logical errors". And you're absolutely right. It will be unfulfilling if they make mind-...
  • 783
41 votes
Accepted

Can I write a book of my D&D game?

Plagiarism would be taking exact text from the various game manuals and representing it as your own. So don't do that. But you probably weren't going to anyway, because you want to tell a story, ...
41 votes

Avoiding racist tropes in fantasy

Humans don't all look the same, dress the same, speak the same language. Why should $FANTASYRACE? So you have Legolas elves. You should also have Rhea Perlman elves. You should have Lupita Nyong'o ...
40 votes

Problems Blending Sci-fi & Traditional Fantasy?

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur C Clarke There's a reason that science fiction and fantasy are frequently shelved together - separating the two is ...
39 votes

Are wands in any sort of book going to be too much like Harry Potter?

Waving a wand and wiggling the fingers while magic happens is theatrics. In Faust, Goethe has the Devil make fun of a witch for being too precious and ceremonious with her magic, so you are in good ...
38 votes

How can I convince my reader that I will not use a certain trope?

This is really a version of the Chekhov's Gun problem. Things aren't in a story unless the writer puts them there, so readers tend to expect significance from important-seeming things that are ...
35 votes
Accepted

How to make clear what a part-humanoid character looks like when they're quite common in their world?

If you were describing a human being, you wouldn't say "she had two arms, each the same length and ending just below her hips." That description is assumed for everyone (if it's wrong for an ...
34 votes

Using real words from a foreign culture feels like 'Calling a rabbit a "smeerp"'

It's ultimately up to you, but you don't want your ancient Persia overridden by knights. You may as well make them wear full plate armor instead of describing whatever garment was in use in that age ...

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