I have children and a huge amount of the time I spend with them is either spent reading Harry Potter, watching Harry Potter or reading about watching Harry Potter. I don’t particularly mind this, there are worse books to have to read to a child (I’m looking at you Dr. Seuss) but reading them over and over means that I’ve had lots of time to think about them.
I’ve never been a great fan of fantasy books since I was a child, maybe I just haven’t read the right ones, and I’ve certainly never tried to write one, but I really admire people who can. I’ve got a great imagination and have no problem coming up with people and situations that I can see clearly in my head but if I try to come up with some kind of imaginary setting, all I get is either a dodgy Star Trek set, or some kind of Lord of the Rings cliché.
It takes a lot of work to imagine a whole new set of characters and settings without falling into the usual clichés. For someone who hardly reads this stuff, even I groan at the stereotypical monsters and the outsider with hidden powers. There’s always a tavern, there’s always someone searching for something and they’ve usually ended up in an alternative world by complete accident, probably through some kind of hidden door. No, not a door. Silly me. It’s a portal.
There’ll be a mysterious woman, she’ll either have large breasts, be useless and end up having to be rescued, or she’ll have short hair, issues and a boyish figure. Everybody is white. The action will take place in some kind of medieval setting but everyone will have modern day values and strange hybrid weapons. Somewhere, someone will be wearing a leather bra or a cloak.
There’s a fine line between readable fantasy and cliché and we are all so affected by the stories we read as children, it’s hard to come up with something new. It could be argued that there are no original ideas any more, it’s all been done and all we can do it present things in a different way. The main thing is to write what you want to write and take the corny bits out later. And whatever you do, stay away from that hooded stranger.