Gen Con Panel Notes: High Fantasy Without Cliches

Josh Vogt, our own Kelly Swails (m), Robin D. Laws, Lauren M. Roy, Kameron Hurley

Favorite cliches
Kelly – farm boy saves the world (favorite)
Josh – destiny (least favorite)
Mcguffins (fave)
Robin – least – dark lord of darkest darkens embodiment of evil
Lauren – likes it when she’s surprised.
Josh – holly lisle had a series with a prophecy , society waiting for a messiah. He’s born in the middle of the book and someone kills him. It works well.
Robin – avoid D&D cliches
Josh – cliches are shorthand
Kelly – likes the farm boy cliche bc sometimes i don’t want to be wowed, just want mind candy
Kameron – fave – scullery girl will be queen
We’re always waiting for someone to choose us and say we’re amazing
least – medieval Europe (boring)

Kelly – do we need to avoid cliches
Robin – tricky distinction between trope and cliche
Hero’s journey seems cliche if you do it badly, but a trope if you do it well
Josh – be widely read so you know what’s been done – make a trope uniquely yours. Distinguish it or subvert it.

Kameron – wanted lots of unfamiliar aspects, so using the stable boy story helps ground the reader in something familiar
Kelly – part of discovering yourself as a writer and not writing cliche stuff is doing it at first
Robin – how to make it suck less – look at the characters. If the character is fresh and new and specific people will like the other elements, but if the character is also stock, the book sucks
Josh – that’s why antiheroes are popular
Lauren – give yourself permission to have fun

Kameron – people are drawn to passion, they see you’re having fun. Write the book you want to read.

Robin – if there is something else you want to do professionally, do that instead
(Digression into productivity)

Blending genres as a way to subvert a cliche
Josh – Genres are a marketing tool, readers don’t care
Robin – is it two cliches and therefore twice as bad? Or did it make it new and cool?
Example: the movie Priest – ideas disconnected from historical context and an uninteresting character.
Kameron – big fan of worldbuilding. Sees a lot of lack of imagination. People do a thought experiment and then don’t think through how various technologies would transform their lives. Like transporter technology. The more you think through, the richer the world will be.
Combining genres is difficult to sell. Call it the thing that it is most like. Mirror Empire is an epic fantasy. God’s War is science fiction.
Lauren – booksellers ask what section to put the book in, they do t want it in two places
Josh – you see a lot of cobbled together steampunk…
Or our world with magic, but we wouldn’t have developed the same tech. You have to think about the consequences.
Good examples?
Lauren – Defiance
Kameron – Cherie Priest new series, thriller horror gothic mashup. Jeff vandermeer, China mieville. Lots of the new weird – combined horror and fantasy
Robin – first season of true detective – cop drama and horror
Josh – max Gladstone – urban fantasy, high F, SF. Cat Rambo beasts of tabat
Kelly – kris rusch – Paloma, police procedural set on the moon
(But fantasy and SF are settings, not plot)
Kelly – we blend a lot – SF and mystery, or thriller
Josh – Jim Hines libriomancer, definition of mashup.

Define high fantasy?
Kameron – the great man theory of history, vs low fantasy which is the grunts
Robin – one steals from Tolkien one from Robert e Howard
Josh – the stakes – alter the world vs more personal

Will learning how to craft a mystery help your writing?
Kelly , kameron – yes.
Robin – read literary fiction. If you want to learn character which is the basis of all interesting writing, read literary fiction.

How do you not fall on the tropes like elves, dwarves?
Kameron – read really widely.
And travel
Robin – read science and natural history
Kameron – cultures – anthropology and history
Josh – aliette de bodard’s Aztec city

Do you have to put things back into satisfy editor or reader?
Like super hero origin?
Kelly – quality of critique makes a big difference

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