The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam


A few days ago, the mythical and ever elusive Markus Røe tagged me in his latest blog post: Fantasy Novelist’s Exam, which is a test to see if your novel is original or indeed a Tolkien ripoff. Let’s begin.

1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages? – Many, many, many things happen during that time, including a major theft that changes life for the characters.

2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage? – Nope. But he is a werewolf with mysterious parentage.

3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it? – No, he’s flat-out broke and struggles to survive on a daily basis.

4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy? – It depends on how you look at it, but there really isn’t just one supreme bad guy in this novel.

5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world? – It’s quite the opposite. My story is about a magical, or shall I say cursed, artifact that has the disastrous potential to wipe out masses of people.

6. How about one that will destroy it? – *cough* See above. *cough*

7. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about “The One” who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good? – No, buddy. This isn’t Star Wars, The Matrix, or your stereotypical Superman movie.

8. Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information? – No, I think that would be weird though. Can you imagine living your regular every day life and some random guy comes up to you and gives you clues on the challenges you may face? Think about how terrifyingly disturbing that would be.

9. Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise? – No.

10. Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character? – No, sadly my main character has never met his father. It’s an issue that has plagued him many times in his life.

11. Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician? – No. The “king” of the world wishes he could rule over the people, but he has no ties to royalty to make that happen.

12. Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel? – Unless you count a drunk fortuneteller in a rickety shop as a forgetful wizard, then no.

13. How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”? – Yes.

14. How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”? – There is no sage, but there is a strange elderly woman who turns out to be more than she seems at first glance.

15. Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around? – No, the female characters in my novel are tough as nails and have no time for that. Their circumstances and culture calls for not worrying too much about one’s physical appearance, even if it’s to impress the opposite sex.

16. Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued? – No. What the hell? What kind of purpose would that be? I can’t even imagine that happening so easily in this novel. As stated before, many of the females are tough as nails and grittier than a mouthful of gravel.

17. Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals? – If you want to look it that way, then possibly. But I never intended to create any characters for that reason.

18. Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters? – No. What did I just say? GRITTY AND TOUGH AS NAILS!

19. Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters? – They can use both with equal pleasure, but just make sure you don’t complain if the food tastes like sandpaper and molasses. You just might find a sword rammed through your abdomen.

20. Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”? – No.

21. How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”? – Oooh, actually, yes. My antagonist is half elf, half human, and that has completely corrupted his appearance. He looks nothing like an elf, and nothing like a human, despite his mother and father.

22. Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different? – I wouldn’t call them great friends. They tolerate each other and team up on occasion against the unfair treatment and brutality they’re often shown by humans.

23. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief? – No.

24. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy? – There are other uses for ships? I had no idea. Quick, somebody get me a dictionary and the biggest, nerdiest reading glasses you can find.

25. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented? – I wouldn’t be able to tell you what a hay baler is, even if my life depended on it.

26. Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like “The Blasted Lands” or “The Forest of Fear” or “The Desert of Desolation” or absolutely anything “of Doom”? – There is a map, but there aren’t any places with names like that.

27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then? – Nope.

28. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy? – Who knows what the future holds, maybe this could be a trilogy, but I haven’t intended for that to happen. This is just a standalone book.

29. How about a quintet or a decalogue? – Oh. My. God. A decalogue? I can’t even imagine writing that many words about one world. My hands are throbbing just thinking about it.

30. Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book? – I’m from New York and I’ve held many of those blasted phonebooks. I can only imagine the sheer horror of having to read a novel that size. I’m unforgiving and brutal when it comes to my characters, but I wouldn’t be able to bear having a reader go through all of that. As a side note, I’m pretty sure attempting to read a novel that size would lead to a slow and painful death.

31. Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you’re still many sequels away from finishing your “story”? – This is a standalone. There are no prequels or sequels.

32. Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books? – What did I just say?

33. Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far? – Hey, hey, hey. I refuse to answer this question. I’m supposed to be undercover, you know. You can’t keep blowing my cover like this, Markus.

34. Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group? – Egad! Those things exist?

35. Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm? – No, but that may happen in a different novel I write later on.

36. Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names? – No.

37. Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables? – No. That’s a mouthful.

38. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named “Tim Umber” and “Belthusalanthalus al’Grinsok”? – Yes. Yes I do. That’s incredibly confusing. One of them have got to be of a foreign heritage, right? At least, I hope so.

39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings? – Just dwarves and halflings. No orcs or elves make any appearances.

40. How about “orken” or “dwerrows”? – NOPE.

41. Do you have a race prefixed by “half-“? – NOPE.

42. At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines? – The main characters enter dwarven territory, but they don’t enter any mines.

43. Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG? – I don’t like RPGs. I don’t play them.

44. Have you done up game statistics for all of your main characters in your favorite RPG? – What did I just say?

45. Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast? – No.

46. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls? – No, we might as well have a boxing ring instead of a cozy place to stay for the night if that was the case.

47. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t? – I don’t know what feudalism is. Maybe I’ll look it up if I’m bored.

48. Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place? – Nope. They’re quick and straight to the point.

49. Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won’t break the plot? – No, nobody has even the slightest idea of what’s going on behind the scenes.

50. Do any of the magic users in your novel cast spells easily identifiable as “fireball” or “lightning bolt”? – Nobody uses magic.

51. Do you ever use the term “mana” in your novel? – No.

52. Do you ever use the term “plate mail” in your novel? – No.

53. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term “hit points” in your novel? – Hit points? People actually write those into their novels. I… I don’t even know what to say.

54. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs? – I don’t think so. I’m not a miner, so I’ve never had to weigh gold before.

55. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest? – No, but if they have wings, then travel shouldn’t be a problem once their legs get tired.

56. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day? – No. No. No.

57. Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it? – No.

58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar? – Once again, I have no idea what a scimitar is.

59. Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor? – Somebody does get stabbed, but there isn’t any plate armor involved.

60. Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more? – I think they can weigh that much, depending on the user’s strength. Swords can vary in shape and size depending on the individual’s physical abilities and the circumstances of combat.

61. Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains? – Nope.

62. Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns? – Puns are usually disgusting. When used properly they can be full of laughs, but no, I don’t use them.

63. Is your hero able to withstand multiple blows from the fantasy equivalent of a ten pound sledge but is still threatened by a small woman with a dagger? – No, my hero can be a bit of a coward sometimes.

64. Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man? – A man, maybe. But when you’re going up against an angry and disgusted centaur… let’s just say I hope there’s an arrow warehouse nearby.

65. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an “on the road” meal? – Yeah stew is amazing, but what does it have to do with novels?

66. Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead? – No, but there is a savage alliance of mystical creatures who pillage cities and enslave humans as they please.

67. Do you think that “mead” is just a fancy name for “beer”? – I guess so. I’ve always wondered what mead is, I’ve just been way too lazy to look it up.

68. Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion? – There are many different races, but every individual being has their own belief system and. Now about the whole ruler thing, some races may have one definite ruler, but it depends.

69. Is the best organized and most numerous group of people in your world the thieves’ guild? – There’s no thieves’ guild here. Nope. No way.

70. Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death? – Yes. Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes. He doesn’t often punish mistakes with death, but the guy has some deep rooted anger issues. I’m pretty sure he tried to see multiple psychiatrists, all of which suddenly decided to retire the day after he came in. Weird.

71. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute? – No.

72. Is “common” the official language of your world? – If by “common” you mean english, then yes. Everybody speaks english.

73. Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before? – YES!!! That’s actually a major part of the plot. It’s funny that you asked this question.

74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings? – *falls over in chair* What? No, of course not. I actually feel kind of offended. I’m about five seconds away from asking you to leave my cozy and well concealed cave.

75. Read that question again and answer truthfully. – Well, that’s it. You. Out. Now. Go on, take your accusations and leave from wenst you came. This exam is over.


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