Needs more: -Religion of unknown accuracy. For the most part, it seems like fantasy series will either say that one specific religion is definitely right, there are religions but believers are typically displayed as idiots, or else religion is never defined. But it is rare to see religion where we don't know if it is right or wrong to any degree, even in a world of magic. And honestly, for as much push there is to use more cultures, not touching religions is a waste of potential and ease. (And before someone talks about how easy it is to offend religious people, the Assassin's Creed series got off with nothing more than a slap to the wrist for some of the liberties it took in regards to real world religions. Game of Thrones and its fictional religions don't seem to have any complaints about being offensive but instead are (jokingly) quoted. So, you know, do some actual research like you would with anything else. And for all that is good, knock it off with the whole "the church is against science!" cliche crap, it isn't all that accurate and pointing to how the Roman Catholic church initially rejected the idea of the Earth not being the center of the universe makes you miss a bigger picture.)
-Different fictional races. I'm not going to say that more writers need to derive races from other cultures, but that we need to do more than just copying Tolkien and vaguely changing a few things. I mean, good grief, the Elder Scrolls series have cat and lizard folk while also taking elves and dwarves (only mentioned as far as I know) in a different route from Tolkien and it is kind of nice, versus something like Eragon where there really isn't anything new about the dwarves or the elves in the first two books (afterwards, well, the author maybe had a bit of a fetish for elves.)
Before I dig in the next one, I would like to note that while I say this, it is more of a "we should really avoid these without good reason." I feel like pointing it out because I know I personally get a little huffed reading these kinds of things. Need less: -Orphans. It seems like this is used way too often to remove to have no reason for the main character to not go out and adventure. Because why wouldn't you take the risk of an adventure when your life is already gloomy? Seriously, if you want an orphaned character in a hero's journey, at least follow the Harry Potter series and add something of value to be lost upon failure or even just going on the journey. In the case of Harry Potter, that was the Weasley family, Hermione, Harry's other friends, and all of Hogwarts.
-Dark, gritty stories. I know people love throwing Martin in the list as one of the problems, but that guy actually had good moments where someone was at least a little satisfied at how they were doing in life. And he most certainly didn't try to explain how horrible the world was by constantly talking about the piles of dead bodies with crows pecking at them as an opener. No, he instead actually took the time to show the world and some of its inhabitants as fairly normal people who would probably be fairly nice to most people. Instead, I swear so many stories like to start off with how horrible the world is and how most of the inhabitants are miserable or something.
-Using real world things by name only. If you are going to say that two characters are going to joust, follow the real world rules for jousting. I don't care that this is a fantasy setting. If I read that two characters are going to joust, then they will be jousting! Don't throw in weird rules like that they fight to the death or that they don't use wood lances, because that isn't jousting. Instead, call it something else! It is like saying that for humans in your world, it is perfectly natural and normal with no magic for men to exclusively give birth to puppies. It doesn't matter how much you explain it, you can't say those are humans!
Too much... 3)Europe and settings based on Europe. I'm guilty of this too. But no, seriously, other cultures are cool too. Not enough... 2)Settings other than medieval Europe. What about ancient Greece? The Mayans? Modern England? Feudal Japan?
I've been thinking about this. For me, medieval Europe (or anything close to it) has the nice deal of that creating a society that doesn't fully understand the world is easy to accept. If I, the writer, was to say that there is this territory that is mostly unknown or there is an ancient knowledge that few have heard about, the audience would easily accept that. Do that in modern settings, and you are going to have to explain where this territory is or how this knowledge eludes the general public with internet access so easily. Which then blocks what you can and cannot do. For example, try to imagine Lord of the Rings in a modern European setting while keeping the dwarves and elves in tact and explaining how they even exist without being noticed by anyone. It will end up changing quite a bit of the story that you are rubbing closer to something like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows instead, which I wouldn't really say hits the same points as LotR. And as for things like the physical location, architecture, social trends, armor and technology, and such, well, literature isn't exactly known as a visual medium and such things are easily loss unless they hold an importance to the story.
But personally, if someone wants to use a different culture to tell a different story, I think that would be a good idea. Ancient Rome was a rather political time, Japan has an interesting moment in history where the outside world showed up on their doorstep with more advance technology, and the industrial revolution could easily be used for a lot of commentary or to have that feeling of great scientific advancements at the cost of humanity. That's just my two cents on the matter.
Too much of: OMG hyoomans r evil and hartlesss!!!111 unless their envirunmentulissts!' Anime Settings where humans arbitrarily can't learn magic Wizardry being treated as somehow different than other professions All magic users having to draw magic from something rather than just being their own source Magic depending on birth; characters being strong because they were born into it Needs more of: Characters can learn whatever magic they want Non mages eventually get some kind of magic different than mage magic as they get stronger, to balance things out(think like Determination in Undertale) multiple kinds of magic; clerics, mages, sorcerers, druids, etc More personality in characters Dark fantasy
I think the eevil hoomin trope is there because some authors are secretly misanthropes. I hated my humans too and my friend suggested the best thing for my writing - ditch them. No one said fantasy has to be about humans. xD
More of more of: Original mythology. What I mean is, well-developed old gods in pantheons, and magical worlds and such, that don't rip off greek, roman or norse mythology. Navajo stuff Angels and demons not being people with little wings strapped to their back.
Fantasy has too many dragons. Seems that if there is a great evil besieging the land, it is either a dragon, a sorcerer controlling a dragon, or something involving dragons. There are so many fantastic mythical creatures to use, enough with the dragons!
Swords weren't that expensive. It's true that in a military context they functioned as a sidearm, not a main weapon, but they weren't all that uncommon for infantry. It is true that the only people likely to go around wearing a sword all the time were knights, since it was part of the uniform. But every knight had at least one, and most knights weren't rich.
Ironically, given your distaste for "Tolkien ripoffs", Frodo and Sam in LotR seem to be the kind of non-combatant characters you're looking for. They fought when forced to, but mostly they were trying to avoid being noticed at all. Not that most fantasists do all that good a job of ripping off Tolkien. Mostly they just rip off his labels (not that he invented any of them) and design each race according to their own tastes.
1. Rehashing. I don't really mind if something is western medieval or anything, but all this mindless copying off of one another when it comes to folkloristic clichés and modernised mythological creatures... For once, I'd just love to see a good old-fashioned wyrm again instead of a majestic flying dragon. And less 'artefact of power' and 'destined' nonsense, as well. Or elves as noble GREENPEACE warriors. I like the idea of trickster spirits far better. 2. Rape. I've brought it up from time to time on these forums so I'm a little bit loath to do it again, but frankly, if someone's only going to use rape as a way to tell 'them's the times people lived in', I think that's just lame. Who likes a rapey atmosphere anyway? Something that pushes a story's grit over nine thousand shouldn't be used frivolously, just because the author wants to be edgy. 3. Creature comforts. I like realism so if there's going to be a medieval setting, you would think some thought ought to go into people's diets and housing and how it's just not believable if every peasant's house is a romantic fairytale dream with three meals a day and fruits and such all year round. I appreciate if as much effort went into a Fantasy story as would into a historic novel; lets you learn all kinds of new and interesting things.
What I look for more than anything else is a sign that the writer knows the topic is more than just violence. Understands the weight of trauma, and knows that he or she can't predict what any given reader will bring when they happen upon it and will take away from it. Takes it seriously.
Re #2, Shooting is a distance activity, so a woman (well, anyone) with the muscles to handle a bow is in a better, safer position vs close combat. (And I wouldn't waste heavy infantry on bows, give those orcs some 16' pikes and have them destroy the cavalry!) Also, wouldn't be surprised if this dates back to the Amazons, although I don't recall that they were limited to archery.
I think the problem with staying away from swords is you don't get a lot of characters in high fantasy who don't have some kind of noble origin, because the peasants were busy getting fucked by famine and disease or whatever. Surprisingly, 'Wheel of Time' comes to mind as an exception.
Anyway, 100% on board with #3, I expect high fantasy to be medieval - or at least pre-Industrial Revolution - but that doesn't mean it has to be Western Europe medieval. (Especially considering that, pre-Northern Renaissance, the great empires were all outside that region.) And more importantly, if you're going to drop in other cultures, don't make the attitudes Eurocentric - that's been done, too.
How would a character totally out of combat keep the story interesting? I'll admit I read fantasy for the adventure. (Although isn't Diana Gabaldon famous for going with romance instead? I've not followed her work.)
I will say that I don't read that much high fantasy, so I'm generally satisfied - I think it's that specific category which is most wedded to Tolkien.
The story doesn't have to be about something that involves fighting. It could be something revolving around exploration for example. I mean, fantasy just means it's fantasy. So anything with magic can be fantasy. Harry Potter is a good example of a successful fantasy series which isn't centered around fighting.
High fantasy is more about fighting, I agree. But there are other fantasy genres that are lesser known. For example, I'm currently writing a hard fantasy novel which is set in a gaslamp/arcane punk environment. It has nothing to do with fighting because it's centered on a mad scientist type of character who spends most of his time plotting and researching.
Arcane punk isn't alternative tech tho. It simply means that you have a setting where magic and technology coexist in a way that it's available to everyone etc. And of course there has to be a punk aspect to it, so ideally it'd be a dystopian setting. In my case, the tech level is 1900s and most of it is reinforced or enhanced with magic. There is a pronounced divide between the social classes hence the punk aspect.
Mixing of tech and magic. I'm sick of this "magic doesn't work with technology" bullshit - if you can enchant a sword or bow, you can enchant a gun. If you can enchant armor, you can enchant a tank
As mentioned, non-European shit. I'd like to see an exploration of African witches and sorcery, Aztec blood magic, Native American rituals, Aboriginal Dreamtime, and so on. Better yet, a world with many styles of magic.
As an alternative, more "magic as science": mages who go to college to.learn their stuff, night classes to learn basic enchanting, bored kids doing junior magecraft experiments in magic class, and so on. Dragons who have to hold down jobs because a hoard doesn't go that far in this economy. Magic as something so mundane as to boring and ordinary.
Young adult fantasy. I didn't give a shit about pretty teens doing pretty teen things when I was a teenager and I care even less now.
Too much: 1. Darkness, overall 2. "Can-do-spirit" plucky champs that somehow end up dominating colossi 3. Aggressiveness/machismo 4. Smallest-common-denominator-content/writing 5. Dragon-killing as some kind of virtue 6. War 7. Obnoxious characters
Not enough: 1. Beauty 2. Light 3. Colourfulness 4. Quality of writing 5. Happiness 6. Daring in the emotional scope portrayed 7. Tender male love
As for your list, ironically enough, I portray several of the cultures you want to see more of. I really like your third point, characters that don't fight, I will really think about that more.
I'm a bit guilty of the "darkness" bit. If by overall darkness you mean grim reality and stuff. But it's more because of how the main character is. I wouldn't say that I outright try to make the story dark, I just don't make my characters do what they don't want to do. xD Overall I don't mind a dark story but I do believe that darkness needs to be balanced with light. No matter how dark someone's life gets, they always manage to get a light moment in there. I think without the light the darkness loses its meaning and just becomes the new mundane. And then you get a bland story.
I agree with the tender male love. Most men I know aren't rough savages who just want to "own" the chick. Most of them just want to care for someone and be cared for.
I agree with beauty. But beauty as a concept is quite hard to portray. Most people correlate beauty only with visual things. Few of us understand there's beauty in anything, even flaws.
All of the darkness is getting to be too much, it suffeses almost the entirety of some books, to the point where I stop reading them.
Yes, and that goes for more than romance, also among themselves. Frodo and Sam got very close toward the end of the Return of the King, it was wonderful, but few authors go as far with the emotional intimacy between males.
Well, it seems that people have stopped trying out of fear...
- Less magic. I can't read a single high fantasy book that doesn't have magic in it - Less knights and assassins as main characters. I've read so many books where the main characters are knights in shining armor or broody assassins wielding a cloak and dagger - Less high fantasy in general. Most fantasy books I read are high fantasy - Less elves, trolls, dragons, faeries, etc. and more lesser-known mythological creatures, such as phoenixes, gryphons, and selkies
(also I disagree with the girls with bows thing; I've read a lot of books where the main [female] character is an archer, but that's just me )
You think maybe you might be trying to read science-fiction, and you just aren't ready to admit it yet?
Go read Dune if you haven't. Seriously. It's epic, full of larger-than-life characters, sweeping grandeur AND gritty struggle, Everything Means Something, and although it's not completely devoid of weird shit (vast understatement), it doesn't have magic.
And there are monsters. There are giant worms, too.
I can say for certainty that low fantasy is literally the opposite of high fantasy, but the point is that I agree that the magic isn't very pronounced in a low fantasy regardless of a real-world or a traditional setting.
Game of Thrones feels pretty low fantasy to me, if that says much.
1) Swords - yes and no - swords were not really as uncommon, especially later on, but the is - there is not polearms in fantasy - one of the simplest, dependable, easy to use weapons for an army. Still - a sword makes sense depending on a premise, a group of adventurers could be better equipped than common peasant militia. 2) Bows - absolutely agree. I blame RPGs for this - a common fault is classifying bows as "dexterity based" weapon - which is bollocks. 3) I'm generally fine with magic as long as it does not play a role of a bloody deus-ex machina and as long as it follows consistent rules, instead of being just and excuse for lazy writing. 4) Torches... so much this. Again, I sort of blame RPGs for that.
Onto not enough: 1) Tolkien-esque races... Well, it is harder to pull off than one might think -many times even original races fall more or less under standard fantasy archetypes. On the other hand, it is also easy to overdo it - create stuff so weird that it feels forced and barely makes sense even within own setting. All in all, classic elves, dwarves, orcs are all overused, but also a safe choice that still leaves some decent place for variety. Look at the elves for example - depending on setting you can find them presented as Tolkien-style nearly godlike noble race, or as basically savage cannibals on the other side of the spectrum - basically the only thing that generally remains consistent are pointy ears and affinity with nature and magic. 2) Settings - yeah, completely agreed. But at the same time, it runs into similar problem as races. Easy to overdo and create stuff that is weird and hard to get into. 3) This is difficult to pull off without making it awfully boring and while the idea is interesting and I certainly agree that a bloody sword should not be the only answer (it becomes equally boring otherwise), one could ask question - why make it a fantasy in such a case? People do mostly talking in real life anyway.
As for my personal issues with lot of fantasy, most of them are based around details of the settings - inconsistencies, things that do not add up:
You mentioned medieval settings - my problem is... they are often not medieval enough - as in the only "medieval" crap is kings, swords and armour (and even that tends to be a terrible mix of early to late middle ages) and general lack of tech. But everything else absurdly goes by cookie cutter, standard issue XXth/XXIst century moral standards, which breaks immersion like crazy in my opinion, unless it is clearly intended - though in most cases I've seen it it was a case of lazy writing.
Another problem - races united under one nation. This is the thing that annoys me. All elves belonging to roughly the same faction, all humans to theirs, all dwarves etc. No division within them - single race = single culture in way too many cases.
Another overused thing - a race/faction that is way past their glory - how many times did we see that? This one really needs no more explanation.
Lack of technological progress - a lot of fantasy settings are stuck with same old, tired and inconsistent technologies (inconsistent in a sense of say... chain-mail thrown into the same box as plate-mail) - same stuff, same material used for thousands of years, with no progress and often even regress (as in ancient long gone civilisations that used to have far superior stuff). I mean, come on.
But fantasy isn't just about knights, kings or whatever. It can be, and often is more than that. The fantasy where you have badies you need to defeat is its own, and rather a popular type of fantasy. It's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "fantasy", but really there are different kinds of fantasy. Really, what I noticed is that the only thing that makes fantasy fantasy is the setting. Like if Lord Of The Rings was set in 10th century Europe, where no magic or supernatural beings existed it would just be an adventure story. Or something else entirely. Likely there'd be no story.