Pub Rants

The Fantasy Exam

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STATUS: Contract weary. Three of my contracts have reached the final stages where the final copies can be mailed off to the clients after one more look to make sure all changes are included. So close. Contracts are very time-consuming so I’m really looking forward to the completion of this batch. I can then start concentrating on the full manuscripts I’ve requested.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? HOW by The Cranberries

Last week, we had some fun with romance. This week, it’s fantasy’s turn. This website is just hilarious (and of course my agent friends and I have been passing around the link). I just wish I was this brilliant and original. I’m not. I’m happy to give the glory to those who are though.

So, fantasy writers, think you have what it takes to write the genre? Not so fast. David Parker has decided that anyone thinking about it should have to take this fantasy novel exam first. Answering “yes” to just one question means failure and you should abandon your novel at once.

My favs:

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?

18. Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters?

19. Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters?

27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then?
(You knew I had to highlight this one!)

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?

Enjoy and good luck taking the exam!

68 Responses

  1. nathanjfealko said:

    Whew! I actually answered no to all those questions. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

    Btw, I hated the “Lord of the Rings” books. 😛 Although I loved the movies. Figure that one out.

  2. joanr16 said:

    Couldn’t help but notice the quiz also describes one of my all-time favorite television series:

    7. Yes, Buffy Summers.

    18. Yes, Willow Rosenberg (if by cooking, you mean school, and by frying pan, you mean a chemistry textbook).

    19. Yes, could be either Buffy, Kendra, or Faith the Vampire Slayers.

    27. Yes, “The earth is doomed,” uttered by Rupert Giles in the first and last episodes.

    71. Of course. The Scoobies, and Daniel “Oz” Osborne, guitarist for Dingoes Ate My Baby.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I only answered yes to one and that was “Is this the first novel in a planned trilogy?” I figure I’m pretty safe there since trilogies are still very popular. Happily I was able to say “No” to everything else.

  4. Anonymous said:

    nathanjfealko, you answered no to all questions?

    Even to question 25?

    You may have a problem… 😉

  5. Anonymous said:

    That exam is idiotic.

    Most of the questions have to do with archetypes. Archetypal characteres are what make the Lord of the Rings and Narnia what they are. Why should writers who weren’t even born when those books came out be discriminated against for using archetypes?

    That exam is idiotic.

  6. Alexandra said:

    Is it bad that I got six “yes’s” and three “maybes”…?

    Oh yeah nathanjfealko: I hate the books and love the movies too…mostly because the women have roles in the movies and the book goes on for pages at a time

  7. Laurel Amberdine said:

    Aw, drat. I have to admit: I’m not entirely certain when, exactly, the hay baler was invented (#25). Who knew there’d be a history question?

    Suppose I’ll have to switch to science fiction, now. 😉

  8. Zoe said:

    And don’t forget “Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?” There’s that portal…

    I answered “no” to everything, by the way 🙂

  9. Anonymous said:

    I answered yes to a few questions (which I plan on fixing immediately). The best part was all the references to Robert Jordan, he was the inspiration for my novel (I did everything the exact opposite of him).

  10. nathanjfealko said:

    Yeah, I hate high fantasy too. But I don’t have anything against people who write it, it’s just my personal tastes.

    (megablocks: you can delete all those spammed messages if you want. just click on the trash can icon underneath them. that is, of course, unless you like assaulting us with them.)

    anonymous: ok, i admit i have no idea what a hay baler is, and in fact believe it’s a fictional machine. people still move hay by hand, i’m sure of it. (actually, since the word “hay” never appeared in my story, i didn’t think it was important. :-P)

  11. Mike Strahan said:

    I answered “yes” on six of these with the erotic novel I’m writing. Is that bad?

    I do take the Dwarf-Elf friendship question a step further: the Dwarf and the Elf are lovers.

    This exam is obviously not multi-genre…it’s sad that fantasy writers are so restrained.


  12. Alexandra said:

    I do write high fantasy, which is why I had 6 yes’s–but having the race’s isn’t really so bad, as long as you don’t blatantly take from anyone else. The only reference to my Elves being “Tolkien-like” would be their pointy ears. They don’t pull a lot of Legolas tricks, like running up the back of Oliphants and surfing down stairs on a shield and climbing up the back of a cave troll and being one of the only Elves to survive Helm’s Deep and always looking pretty and never messing a hair up or getting a bruise or breaking a nail (heaven forbid…)

  13. Anonymous said:

    None of those things you mentioned about elves are Tolkien-like. They are all Peter Jackson-like.

  14. Anonymous said:

    Hay baler = something that makes (not moves) bales of hay or straw.

    Definitely not a fictional machine. 😉

    FYI, if you’re talking big, round bales of hay (which is what you feed animals; straw–what you usually see those small, rectangular bales of–is what you use for bedding), you’re probably going to use a tractor to move them instead of moving them by hand. The big ones are way, WAY too heavy to lift.

    – A Midwestern Farmgirl Anon

  15. nathanjfealko said:

    I know, I was joking about the whole hay baler thing. 😛 Hay is over-rated anyway.

    Btw, am I the only person who has vowed to never put any elves, dwarfs, halflings, dragons, mermaids, faeries, sprites, or any other standard fantasy race in his quote-unquote “fantasy” writing? Again, it’s probably just me, but those things bug the crap out of me. I think they show no individual creativity.

  16. December Quinn said:

    Nathan, I’ll go out on a limb (and probably be vilified) but I suspect the reason you loved the LOTR movies but hated the books is because it’s a great story, but the writing was a little…um…a little not-always-good.

    You have long pointless episodes like the Tom Bombadil thing, you have lots of characters telling each other about stuff that the reader already knows, you have some incredibly stilted dialogue.

    I enjoyed the books, but I admit they were a little hard to get through at times for those very reasons. At least for me.


  17. LindaBG said:

    I want to take exception to the idea that if you answered “yes” to any question you should give up on your novel. Perhaps this was meant facetiously, but as someone who teaches writing to teens just starting out, I think it’s important to emphasize the power of the rewrite. Toss out the elves, rework the plot, yes: give up on your book as hopeless, no.
    But thanks for posting this one. I needed a good laugh this morning, and I roared at #33: Are you Robert Jordan…and I was relieved to find I could answer “no” to everything without lying. (Although I wouldn’t mind having Robert Jordan’s bank account…)

  18. Jan Conwell said:

    I agree with anonymous. This exam is idiotic. Funny, but idiotic. We all know a cliche when we see one, but a couple of things on this list are to fantasy what a HEA is to romance.

  19. Bernita said:

    Ah, fun!
    Close on the trilogy thing.
    I didn’t plan it,but the tale is developing that way.
    Yes, I do know how much a sword weighs and yes, I know about hay bailers and stew, and gold.
    No “portals” – just a quantum slip in time.

  20. Anonymous said:

    Caution!!! Cheesy e-published romance cover alert!! Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!

  21. doc-t said:

    First, let’s consider Mr. David J. Parkers ability to evaluate good fantasy.

    Mr. Parker doesnt think much of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series.

    Those who read fantasy are likely familiar with the name Piers Anthony.

    Now, consider this the next time you go to borders, or barnes and nobles… Walk to the FANTASY section… Remove the entire xanth series… Then measure the gap. it’ll be huge.

    if you want to be more scientific about it, you could compare the space occupied by the Xanth series to the space occupied by the entire fantasy section…

    you could also compare it to the space occupied by the David J. Parker Fantasy novels. There may be some but I can’t seem to find them.

    Ms. Nelson,

    You are a literary agent. I have read, from numerous sources, that literary agents want manuscripts that are marketable.

    I wonder, Ms. Nelson, if Piers Anthony sent you a manuscript would you bother representing this man who is one of the greatest fantasy authors alive today, or would you stand on the opinion of David J. Parker.

    I don’t know if you read these comments, but quite honestly, I would love to hear the answer.

    If you were to reject manuscripts that failed this test, you would reject manuscripts from the following authors.

    Piers Anthony – if you have to ask you really don’t know fantasy.

    Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time) recently released number 11 in the series. (wonder if he’s worth representing)

    Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman – Drangonlance series

    Terry Brooks
    Mr. Brooks tends to take up quite a bit of space on the shelves in the fantasy section as well.

    has anyone alive published more fantasy novels than mr. Brooks? Maybe Piers Anthony, but as we know according to the illustrious Mr. Parker, Piers Anthony doesn’t know how to write fantasy.

    Robert Asprin
    Again, someone who tends to take up space in the fantasy section.

    I could list many more, but the point is made.

    Ms. Nelson, you cite Mr. David J. Stoddard as if he is an expert in the genre of fantasy. While I appreciate his ability to put together a website that provides resources for the fantasy and sci-fi writers of the world, I am less inclined to appreciate his evalution or his standards for worthwhile fantasy.

    The ONLY thing I can find published by a “David J. Parker” are some chemical journal articals with a David J. Parker as a “contributing” author, NOT the primary author.

    With all due respect they bored the hell out of me. and I AM a scientist. (Phd Bioengineering)

    I LOVE the fantasy Genre. I’ve purchased and read more novels from the authors, that YOU would reject, than I can easily recall.

    I do realize you are a successful literary agent. I seem to recall reading your web site, some time back, and you stated that you wanted to ‘increase your representation in the genre of fantasy’ or something to that effect.

    and Yet here you trust a man whose test rejects MOST of the fantasy novels published today. Is this wise?

    In your heart do you believe that Piers Anthony, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Margaret Wies, Tracy Hickman, and Robert Asprin should all throw in the towel and find new occupations.

    Or do the millions of books they have sold warrant them any consideration as possible authorities in the field.

    We know Mr. Parker’s opinion of Piers Anthony. Let’s consider mr. Anthony’s opinion of David J. Parker.

    It is SCOTT’S PAGE OF EVIL, at Apparently Scott just likes to sound off in a way that attracts notoriety…….I wonder whether he ever looked at my adult novels like Firefly, Tatham Mound, any of the GEODYSSEY series, Volk, the non-novel Letters To Jenny, Tarot, Macroscope, or even the juvenile Balook? If so, he may have a basis for his opinion. I am more than a little tired of ignoramuses who choose to read only my frivolous fantasy, then condemn me for supposedly doing nothing else. That’s a critic’s formula I have seen many times, and they don’t just buzz about Anthony; they seem to resent any success anywhere by anyone–but does this vitriol have any value? I can give the formula for criticizing any trilogy: the first volume is indifferent, the sequel does not achieve that standard of the first, and readers will be sadly disappointed in the third. Who needs to read the books? So visit Scott’s site, and judge whether he is a pretender to the throne of Lord High Hack Critic.

    Ms. Nelson, I have no doubt that you will continue to find Authors of fantasy to represent and their books will have some success. However, I am more certain that if you use Mr. Parker’s list to evaluate a manuscript, you will be rejecting millions of dollars in sales, and some of the greatest fantasy novels yet to come.

    There is a reason that many of these elements are common in the fantasy genre. We who LOVE fantasy tend to like to read about those things. We can’t help it. But we don’t apologize for it. We do however BUY the novels. We know what we like. WE are the market.

    Perhaps we should think about a similar test for chic lit / romance / erotica genre.

    1: Are any of your characters getting over a broken heart and afraid to love again?

    2: Is your lead character female, mid-20s/professional, and single?

    3: Does your book have a promiscuous male aristocrat.

    4: Does your book have a male lead whom everybody presumes to be promiscuous but is not?

    5: Does your story end with a variation on the theme “And they lived happily ever after.”

    6: Does your main character fall in love?

    7: Does your book contain any of the following: Heaving bosoms / swollen manhood / hot breaths / wet with desire / heart beat faster / unbridled passion / penetrated / thrust / stifled scream or primal urge?

    8: Does your story have a lead male who is tall, handsome, and muscular?

    9: Does your story have a lead male who is rich or powerful?

    10: Does your story have a lead female who is talented, but struggling to make it in a man’s world?

    11: Does your book have a promiscuous male aristocrat.

    12: Does your book have a male lead whom everybody presumes to be promiscuous but is not?

    13: Does your story end with a variation on the theme “And they lived happily ever after.”

    if you’ve answered yes to ANY of these questions your novel is old, trite, tired material that women are sick of reading. There is no market for this kind of literary waste.

    I am sorry if this steps on your toes, I meant no disrespect.

  22. The Beautiful Schoolmarm said:

    Doct-t, I have to argue a few points with you. While many of the authors you named do take up large amounts of space on the shelves, most of them broke into the genre quite a while ago. Things that were archtypes then have moved squarely into the stereotype catagory. Yes, I know who Piers Anthony is: an author whose books never looked interesting enough to read. Terry Brooks: the only fantasy author whose writing style, plots, character names and obvious rip-offs from Tolkien caused me to throw the book away (when was the last time he wrote a new book, anyway?). Robert Jordan: I stopped at book six–if grumpy old whats-her-name pulled her braid one more time . . .

    Every genre has cliches that have become so old and worn that new authors must break out to be noticed. Look at Westerns (movies or books). Check out sci-fi, espeically space-opera. We could have much fun making lists pointing out genre cliches. We could post them on the internet. Frankly, I’d rather invest the time in writing a fantasy novel that will avoid or twist enough of the cliches to stand out.

    And up until this post, I was sure you had a sense of humor. Where did it go?

    2 yeses from the list, one maybe. One yes was the trilogy question. Not bad.

  23. Caro said:

    Have to say these two were my favorites:

    74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?

    75. Read that question again and answer truthfully.

    Bwah! I’ve been trapped at one too many parties and SF cons by people who’ve heard I write (doesn’t matter that I haven’t published but that I’ve actually submitted) and heard forced to listen to them describe their opus which definitely get a “yes” to 75.

  24. doc-t said:

    Becca, I think you missed a very important point.

    Literary agents, are constantly reminding writers, that your manuscript has to be MARKETABLE.

    If Piers anthony, Robert Jordan, Robert Asprin, Terry Brooks and Margaret Weis are ANTHING AT ALL, it is marketable. The proof is on the shelf….

    Now, we have a guy who’s never published a fantasy novel trashing those who do.

    I have a saying: “Those who can do… Those who can’t bitch.”

    You are correct, it would be nice to get rid of the cliches.

    and while it would be nice to write something that stays within the boundaries of the genre while avoiding the cliches,

    It is a MISTAKE to make your goal to be the

    AVANT-GARDE author of Fantasy. The GOAL should be to write a good story. If it happens to be avante-garde then wonderful.

    ask yourself Would you rather eat a good hamburger and fries (even though you’ve had that combination thousands of times) or would you prefer something that looks different, feels different, and IS different but taste like soemthing that came out of an old sock?

    So, do you agree with literary agents? Should a book be marketable? if so, do you fault piers anthony and company for being marketable?

    Keep in mind, David J. Parker doesnt JUST trash Piers Anthony, he tends to hate anyone whose had success in the genre. Let me translate that.

    David J. Parker tends to dislike any author of fantasy that has been successful in writing books that sell….

    Is this really a good thing???

    you THOUGHT i had a sense of humor. I appreciate that… i’m actually one of the funniest people I know.

    and while i laughed at a few of these questions I remembered one thing I think you may have forgotten.

    The author of this test… IS NOT KIDDING! This test is not a joke. He’s serious… Now go back, read the test, and see if you really think it’s a valid.

    but if you must have humor. Here is a conversation I imagine would take place between mr. parker and myself.

    Tim: Mr. Parker. I wrote a fantasy. I’d like your opinion of it please.

    David: Well let’s see. Hmmm. Yes I like that… oh wait. YOU HAVE DRAGONS IN YOUR FANTASY STORY?! oh my god that is soooo tired. Been there done that.

    Tim: Well, yeah… I kind of like dragons. always have.

    David: Get over that. it’s been done. Can you think of some other creature that might work?

    Tim: Actually Blue Jays can be quite ferocious. maybe..

    David: YES! go with the blue jays. Okay, let’s carry on… uh-huh, oh crap… another warrior??? why always a warrior? AND LOOK AT THIS?! he’s carrying a sword?! have you not a single original bone in your body?

    Tim: Well… actually… I WAS thinking of having a hero who was a… Notary Public and he has a, um. magic seal maker.

    David: Excellent go with that… Okay, let’s see what else you got… mmm-hmmm. damn… You’ve got a giant sea monster. If i had a nickle for every time…

    Tim: How about a grouper?!

    David: I beg your pardon?

    Tim: A grouper! They get VERY large and have you ever watched one eat? I have. DAY-UM… what if i make THAT my sea monster, and also! instead of making him a creature of the deep (overdone) i’ll make him hunt is the rain gutters of the city!!!!

    David: will a grouper fit in a rain gutter?

    Tim: This one can… changes size at will. AND sometimes walks!

    David: Good! I like it! THAT’S never been done. So how does this go… OH MY GOD! Please gouge my eyes out NOW!!!

    Tim: what did i do now?

    David: HORSES? Why do they ALWAYS have to ride horses? You don’t have an original thought anywhere in this manuscript!

    Tim: actually I’m going to change that… the horses are gone.

    David: Ah. Good. What will be the main mode of transportation in your novel?

    Tim: kangaroos.

    David: I beg…I beg your pardon?

    Tim: Kangaroos! it’s perfect. They don’t even need saddles or saddle bags. the rider just hops in the Kangaroo’s pounch! Of course these are LARGE kagaroos, but kangaroos are quite fast, and unlike the tired old horse, a kangaroo can BOX! huh? you HAVE to love that!

    David: it’s completely BRILLANT. You go boy. Now go and rewrite your manuscript. And come back when you have a kangaroo riding notary public who faces the dreaded rain gutter grouper!!! So that he can face down and destroy the dreaded blue jay!

    That book is going to sooo rule the world.

    Tim: So, you think it’ll sell big time, do you?

    David: What?

    Tim: You think it’ll be a bestseller right?

    David: Real authors don’t worry about that kind of thing. We don’t sell out to the man. DAMN the man. Just find a literary agent who doesn’t give a smurf about book sales but rather apreciates the way you push the boundaries of fantasy……

  25. Stuart said:

    Interesting list, and a good list to show new writers so they are aware of tired conventions, but it’s not gospel.

    There should be a last question added: If you can do any of your “yes'” in a new, fresh, and original way, you’ve passed the test.

    Otherwise, George Martin should stop writing his Song now and Robin Hobb should quit her career. 😉

    For the record, I did have 3 yes’: trilogy, prologue (that makes sense when you read it), and elves (though closer to Williams than Tolkein) and dragon.

    (Knows he just removed himself from KN’s consideration list)

  26. sex scenes at starbucks said:

    I think the test can be reduced to one question: are you creating or recreating? Silly question. There’s nothing really new, ever. Just fresh clothes on an old hero.

    The debate revolves around whether archetypes are a legitimate tool for the genre? The past has proved that to be true, but what about now? That’s why we read this blog and others, trying to keep up with today’s market.

    I happen to believe archetypes are still valid, but then, I happen to like variations on a theme. Reading is my relaxation and I don’t always want to be taxed. (I hardly think I’m alone in this–see past and current sales of romance novels.) But, like many readers, sometimes I like to get my socks knocked off. I think there’s a place for all of it in the market.

    I took a serious look at my bookshelf. Archetypal fantasy: dogeared copies of LOTR (garanteed mine’s older than yours), the Underworld books, Narnia, John Marco, Laurel Hamilton, Tad Williams, and Carol Berg all share space with Irving, Crighton, King, Cornwell, MT Anderson, PD James, Dave Barry and JR Moehringer. New authors are on their way as I write this. The stories in my magazine are fresh, inventive. But a hero’s a hero.

    Easy solution to this. What about your bookshelf? Take a look and then write what you love. Write what you read. Hell, you bought it. I bet somebody else will too.

  27. doc-t said:

    Tim: Mr. Parker, I wrote a chic-lit story. Would you…

    David: Of course. Let’s see… crap. clearly you learned nothing from our previous conversation.

    Tim: how do you mean?

    David: A female heroine? Do you konw how many chic-lit stories have a FEMALE heroine?

    Tim: umm… all of them?

    David: YES! So why not be original. avante garde. avoid the double Y chromosome cliche…

    Tim: soo… make a man the hero in my chic-lit story?

    David: Either a man or a hermaphodite.

    Tim: can i at least make him where women’s clothing.

    David: why not. so let’s see where you go with this…smurf me.

    Tim: What now?

    David: Mid-20’s? intelligent? successfull? What did you use, a cookie cutter?

    Tim: Women tend to like to read about heoines that…

    David: HERO!

    Tim: um… heros that fit that model.

    David: exactly. a model. if i am forced to read ONE MORE chic-lit story with a young, intelligent, pretty female, I’m going to rip my smurfing eyes out!

    Tim: an old transvestite who was beaten so badly, when he was young, that the brain damage caused him to be less intelligent than george bush might be good.

    David: I love you. I JUST fell in love with you. Go! Write! Write like the wind!

    Tim: I’m on it!!! and again, we don’t worry about selling the book right?

    David: RIGHT! U DA MAN!

    Tim: Thanks Mr. Parker. Oh by the way. I’m thinking of writing an erotica novel about a cult of bohemians that abstain for anything carnal to reach an enlightened stage of utopia. I think it’s SO different that NO ONE will buy it!

    David: Tim, stop. Stop before I cry tears of joy.

  28. Anonymous said:

    Uh, you guys…I believe Kristin mentioned this test to give us a little light humor break. To promote laughter…good feelings…in other words, the test is *not a real test* but a J.O.K.E.

    get it?

  29. Cindy Procter-King said:

    Well, now I feel really weird because I loved THE LORD OF THE RINGS–the books. I read the trilogy while on my breaks working the graveyard shift in a 24-hour restaurant when I was 21. But the movies? I fell asleep during each and every one. I played Bilbo in a grade seven Hobbit play and so looked forward to seeing Gollum on the big screen, but the big snooze overtook me every time. My kids liked the movie, though.


  30. doc-t said:


    The test is NOT a joke… That is the traged… YOU need to get this. Go to David J. Parkers website. Read his critiques. He HONESTLY BELIEVES what he said in that test. IT IS NOT A JOKE.

    Although I can see where you might think it is, because it’s that rediculous

  31. Sarah said:

    Am playing Neverwinter Nights on my PC right now, which says “yes” to the majority, and it strikes me to wonder how many people play RPGs and then think they should write a novel. Obviously a lot.

  32. nathanjfealko said:

    I guess those long rants of hypothetical discussions between agent and writer were funny, but someone else will have to clue me in on that one…

    I think Doc-T at least alluded to the distinction, but there can be more than a fine line between “good” and “marketable.” Star Wars is incredibly marketable, in movie/book/comics/games/whatever, but I’ve never considered Star Wars to be “good” science fiction. Same for Louis L’amour in the area of westerns.

    Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Anthony or Brooks, because their talent seems to be more along the lines of spinning long tales than creating something that I’ll remember 10 years down the road. Tho that might just be me, again. I’ve heard it said that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s good. Anthony, Jordan, et al. might be able to mass-produce popcorn literature, but it doesn’t mean they should. Some of the best stories I can remember I found in Nebula/Hugo-winning anthologies, by authors I’d never even heard of, before or since.

    Oh, and I won’t get my panties in a knot if you disagree with me either. 🙂

  33. Cheryl Mills said:

    Can I just be the only one to say that I really adored the disclaimer at the end: We, the authors, have no responsibility if you pass this test and still write a dumb book.


  34. Rick said:

    #37 … boy, am I glad my protagonist is named Catherine, not Elizabeth.

    #36 … but alas, my story takes place in pseudo-France, so some names have apostrophes (a la d’Artagnan).

    #25 … no, I don’t, but if the subtext is that farm labor was hard work, yeah, I get it.

    A fun quiz, and yes there’s a point to it, but not to be taken too literally.

  35. J Malcolm said:

    Good exam, Few question seem geared to crush cliched characters in Fantasy Roleplaying games. There are of course exceptions to all rules. Like if you write like a God, then maybe you can answer yes to one or two of these questions. For example, If you happen to beRobert Jordan (By which has a prophecy and a prologue to his first book that I still don’t understand) then you are probably okay, since you’re on your 13? 14? book.
    The rest of us must tread carefully though.

  36. lisa shearin said:

    I have to chime in here. I’m one of Kristin’s newest “signed & sold” authors. She negotiated a great two-book deal for me. I write traditional fantasy. Yep, for me that means elves, goblins, sorcerers and even a stone of cataclysmic power. I read the exam and had myself a good chuckle (and a couple of snorts). I took it in the fun with which it was intended. Traditional fantasy sells, thank God. In every genre there are archetypes and conventions and things that have been done to death. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them; it means you just have to use them in a different way. Poke fun at the conventions, turn an archetype or two on their heads, and whatever you choose to write, make it your own.

  37. Margaret said:

    Oh goody, mine’s much more than a trilogy! The whole “band” of adventurers—a flighty dwarf, a plodding elf, a bulimic halfling, and a crafty trilobite (with a nod to Matt Groening)—don’t even all get together until Book Seven. (Of course, Books One through Three are backstory.) (Actually, Book One is the prologue.)

    Everyone but the elf is under 3 feet, making him the “Butt” of the jokes.

    The dwarf and the elf can’t decide if they like, hate, or maybe love each other…but they do spend pages and pages discussing it.

    Plot giveaway warning: In the end, they are all blown to bits by a poodle with a pink tam and an uzi (nod to YKW).

    Go read Bored of the Rings if you can find a copy

    I have to go back to writing…

  38. PRNewland said:


    did this one strike a nerve?

    Has Longmire (or whatever his name is) done Fantasy spoofs yet?

    If not, he should since we apparently take ourselves WAY too seriously… methinks a few of us here doth protest too much over what is nothing more than one guy’s opinion. Whether he meant it as satire or not didn’t stop me from finding it fairly amusing. He could be in earnest about it and I still wouldn’t take him that seriously.

  39. Jan Conwell said:

    anonymous #7: Bless your darlin’ heart.

    I’ll send you a free CD copy when Lucky Break comes out…you can read it or shoot skeet with it if you want…all you have to do is scrape up guts enough to put your name on your posts.

  40. NL Gassert said:

    As an outsider (non-fantasy writer), I can see how this exam is fun and fluff for an experienced writer. But I can also see taking this to a class of novice writers as food for thought. If your novel embraces too many of these clichés/ stereotypes /archetypes, then it is probably a good idea to sit down and figure out a fresh approach.

    I’d do the same with the mini-exam doc-t offered the romance writers. I bet that’s what Vicki Lewis Thompson did when she created her nerd/geek series. She took the cliché of the tall, handsome, capable, athletic, independently wealthy hero and turned him into a glasses-wearing nerd with a boring 9-to-5 job.

  41. just Joan said:

    Someone close the lid on Pandora’s box, quick! 🙂 Wow, this got a lot of responses. I read the list and had a good laugh. I can’t say I answered no to every question, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on my novel.

    Maybe the author of the test didn’t intend it as a joke, but I chose to take it as a joke. 🙂

  42. Anonymous said:

    doc-t you are hilarious! Agree with you or not, the folks here must admit that was funny. However, Dubya happens to be a very intelligent man.

  43. Eleora said:

    This is great 🙂 Thanks for posting.

    Ironically, I know of a recent NY Times Bestselling Author who fails this test more than once, but writes brilliant stuff.

  44. Anonymous said:

    I wish someone would send this list to Christopher Paolini – writer of Eragon – most pathetic attempt at a fantasy book EVER.

  45. 2readornot said:

    what an entertaining read — I answered no, but my fantasy is YA and not anywhere near traditional — but that doesn’t matter. I think the test was definitely an attempt at poking fun — just to shake writers out of their comfort zones for a bit (if they’re ever there in the first place)…no reason to get all uppity. But, what do I know? I’ve read THE HOBBIT and none of the others because the description bogged me down (and i’m not that fond of elves and fairies and such)…loved the SWORD OF SHANNARA, but I was also 12 when I read it (and haven’t read since)…and haven’t heard of the others mentioned here (other than Narnia, of course, and Piers Anthony — though i’ve never read him either). anyway, thanks for the fun all 🙂

  46. Anonymous said:

    Ms Nelson,

    Can you tell us if you agree with this idiotic test or not? (Assuming its not a joke.)

    If you do, you’re missing out on some great stories.

    Archetypes are the building blocks of good fantasy. When they appear in bestseller fantasies (Narnia, LOTR, Potter, etc.) people go nuts for the books, provided they are well written. I don’t even think most readers even know what an archetype is. They wouldn’t even be thinking about it. They wouldn’t think it’s old and cliche.

    I just don’t think automatically rejecting archetypical stories is a good way to do business.

    Besides, didn’t you post a book on here about 18th century dragons not too long ago?

    Please clarify.

  47. 2readornot said:

    I noticed Kristin mentioned in her blog that she had ‘fun’ with romance last week and this week it’s fantasy’s turn…and, I must say, this is pretty funny…I’ll repeat, I think it’s tongue-in-cheek…no agent will turn their back on anything that’s well-written and within their list criteria — regardless of how many dragons, swords, elves, etc. they find. I think everyone is worrying over nothing…and if your books include these overused devices cleverly enough, we’ll all look forward to seeing them on the shelves someday!

  48. Bruno said:

    Wow, And I thought this was just for humour’s sake. Everyone take a deep breath and calm down. What you put in your books is your own choice (that’s what makes you the author)personally, you could dodge through that exam with flying colours (don’t hate me, I did.)but if the book isn’t well written, well, that’s the acid test, isn’t it. Me? I’m still waiting for feedback on mine, so we’ll see. Incidently, some choice sections of that exam: The comment on the trilogy I dodged simply because I realized that my overall story would take four books, not three. And I purposefully did the rounds of the fantasy aisles of the local bookstores prior to commencing my own work and did an analysis of what other authors had not done, starting with what magical creatures and building from there. Then I added in things like, how are bows and armour made? What forms of combat techniques would a non-biped use? Based on racial history, what religions/philosophy would these creatures develop? Geeky? Ok, yeah. However, I’m not saying do fifteen years of research per topic. Get the basics down. Some interesting factoids and run with it. Oh, and the baler? Roud baler’s 1971. Square balers 1937 (if we’re talking mass production) That’s what you get for growing up in rural Canada, I suppose. Still, that exam was riot.

  49. Beth said:

    ‘Tis a silly quiz.

    In answer to those of you who complain of stilted dialogue in the LOTR books…well, Tolkien was a master of writing dialogue true to his characters’ time and culture. It may seem stilted to the modern reader, but in truth it follows the pattern of ancient languages. If you study it carefully, you’ll see that the denizens of Rohan have different speech patterns from the elves, whose syntax differs from the hobbits, who speak differently from the dwarves or the men of Gondor. Tolkien was a brilliant linguist and he brought all the richness and subtlety of many languages to his work.

    And while his exposition may have been rambling at times, he certainly knew how to write elegantly, which is more than can be said of many modern novelists.

  50. Laurel Amberdine said:

    I can’t believe there are all these comments, and yet no one had done my work for me.

    The round hay baler was invented in 1971, and the square baler in 1937.

    Whew, now we can all pass the test!

  51. Anonymous said:

    Whew, my fantasy book is okay.

    Now, my thriller … well, I won’t give away the spoiler. 😛

  52. Cameron said:

    I nearly wet myself.
    I’m just finishing up a humourous fantasy novel at present but I might have to abandon it because about five irresistible books ideas have smacked me in the head.

    To finish I’d just like to say I thought Star Trek Next Generation was crap and not a patch on the new Battlestar Galactica – what do you think Doc-t 🙂


  53. Mad Scientist Matt said:

    I posted this same link a while ago on Absolute Write, and it touched a few raw nerves there too. It’s surprising how many people take this list a little too seriously – Rinkworks is a humor and games site, after all.

    I’ll admit that I didn’t know exactly when the hay baler was invented, but I knew it was a modern invention and that a psuedo-medieval world should have haystacks, not neatly bound rolls of hay. There are some entries on the list that won’t sink a good fantasy novel if you throw them in and do it well, but a lot of them will.

    As for the complaints that this critic hasn’t published any of his own fantasy novels, remember that line in Galaxy Quest – “It doesn’t take a good actor to recognize a bad one?” The same can certainly hold true of writing.

  54. Anonymous said:

    Funny exam. 😉 I too loved the LotR movies, but completely despised the books. It took my mom about 15 years to pester me into reading them to help me get a feel for fantasy writing. o_O If only I held out for just one more year, the movies would have started! Ha! 😉 I think the one person that actually gave me that “lightbulb-over-the-head” moment of clarity of how I’ve always wanted to write was reading the Wizard of Earthsea books by Ursula le Guin. 🙂

  55. Anders said:

    You know, if you read Beowulf (I read the Seamus Heaney trans.), you will find that even the LOTR “takes from” Beowulf.

    In our day and age, what work does not have threads or reminders of previous work?

    I’m not saying that everything has been done. Absolutely there are new ideas to find, new stories to forge, but there will always be a strong potential that something in one work will remind someone of antoher previous work.

    I took the test… I’m proud to say that I failed miserably. I fully admit that my work is “inspired” and “influenced” by other artists. My true pleasure is in the creation of the story. It is icing on the cake if someone else enjoys the stories I create.