It was inevitable. Eventually, I knew I’d face the Fantasy Writer’s Exam. I had seen it a few years earlier but had ignored it. This week, it was brought to my attention again.
So here I am, taking the exam created by David J. Parker and Samuel Stoddard at Rink Works. They believe, “Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too.”
That’s quite a statement, and there’s more: “The problem is that most of this “great, original fantasy” is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we’re sick of it, so we’ve compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam.”
Fantasy writers who answer ‘Yes’ to just one question fail the exam and are instructed to abandon their novels immediately.
Let’s see how I do. I won’t answer all 74 questions here (too lengthy); I’ll provide only an over-view.
3) Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?
A: I don’t think so; I’d ask him but if he’s not supposed to know it, I’d be wasting my breath.
4) Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
A: The men in my stories are no different to that in real life: they all must mature, gain wisdom and defeat their inner badguys and be responsible.
A: That’s funny. All my characters are forgetful…they take after me.
13) How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”?
A: Nope. All my kind-hearted warriors are fast, particularly while on horseback.
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?
A: Never! She doesn’t give two hoots about being dirty or if she’s dressed in unflattering clothing. Okay, maybe that time when she sat across from him at the dinner table, but we weren’t in her thoughts, so I can’t say for certain.
16) Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?
A: Not in this life time! I was thinking in my next book, I could create a male to fit that role.
18) Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters?
A: No, but it does describe one of the male characters.
19) Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters?
A: Not really. My main female character is handy with a dagger and a frying pan, err…water flask.
20) Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”?
A: There’s no dour dwarf in Shadows in the Stone though the main dwarf character is pretty stubborn. Blame that on me. He can be pretty sarcastic at times, but I have no idea where he gets that from.
21) How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?
A: I don’t have a half-elf in my story, but I do have a woman with a divided heritage, but she isn’t torn between them.
22) Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?
A: No, they are naturally good friends…except when they’re trying to kill each other.
25) Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
A: I really don’t care when the hay baler was invented, but I’d love to have one instead of raking up the hay I cut with my scythe and piling it in the barn. Have you ever tried hooking up a hay baler to a horse? Now that’s the question.
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”?
A: Are you saying I should change the name of Death Swamp to something more friendly?
28) Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
A: It was until I decided to bump it up to four books.
29) How about a quintet or a decalogue?
A: Quintet? That’s four books right. Yes. Thanks for asking.
33) Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?
A: Not that I know of, but check out my upcoming short story, Dancing in the Shine. Sometimes your name isn’t what you think it is.
37) Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?
A: Let’s see. Bronwyn: No; Alaura: No; Isla: No; Liam: No; Catriona: Yes! I found one!
38) Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named “Tim Umber” and “Belthusalanthalus al’Grinsok”?
A: Yes, I see the problem. I’d have to copy and paste every time I used the Belth…name because there’s not chance in hell I’d ever remember how to spell it!
39) Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
A: No, yes, no and no. I have troglodytes, elves, dwarfs and hauflins…and don’t forget the gnome and humans. They’re important, too.
40) How about “orken” or “dwerrows”?
A: No to orken; I was thinking of using dwerrows, but again, I’d have to check the spelling each time I used it. What can I say? I’m lazy. Dwarfs is easy to spell.
41) Do you have a race prefixed by “half-“?
A: Half-lit, half-wit…oh, you mean race. Yes, I do, but I won’t tell you because (whisper) it’s a secret.
42) At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?
A: There’s a short cut through the dwarven mines? I didn’t know that. My characters would have arrived at the castle much sooner if they’d known.
43) Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG?
A: Actually, I usually grab the swords and daggers, hand them out to my kids, give them a character name and say, “Go!”
46) Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls?
A: They used to, but my characters have matured. They just want to eat and fall into bed after riding all day.
47) Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t?
A: Of course. I always think I know what feudism, feud…Family Feud is, but I’ve never been on the show.
53) Heaven help you, do you ever use the term “hit points” in your novel?
A: You know, Isla, she’s the young kid in my novel, was going to award her friend points for every time he hit the toad with a rock, but I thought that was cruel, so I made them just yell, “Bulls Eye!”
55) Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
A: I read a poem once where a man galloped all day on a horse and it died in the end. But you know how poets are; always exaggerating. He was probably riding the kind that ran on quarters.
60) Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more?
A: That’s a touchy subject. After all, those muscular men who wield swords are always bragging about their size when really, we know…(whisper) it’s much smaller.
61) Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?
A: Isn’t that what makes a great love story? Dah…
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?
A: Yeah, but that woman was his mum and whether she’s holding a dagger or a biscuit, he’s going to do what she says.
64) Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man?
A: One through the chest can bring a man to his knees. One through the heart will have him begging for forgiveness while he’s on his knees. I can take about a dozen Nerf arrows before I start running for cover.
66) Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead?
A: Bah! My characters don’t drink…well, okay, a few did take wee sips at the inn, but that was with a meal. I can’t have them going around half-corked. It just doesn’t make any sense for them to drink like pigs and fight like warriors.
73) Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?
A: I can’t say; I haven’t read the book. I mean, I read to about page 100 or more, maybe page 150, and then I got bored. Perhaps if you have read that book, you could read mine and tell me if the Tolkien guy ripped me off.
74) Read that question again and answer truthfully.
A: Okay, okay, I probably only read to about page 90…80?…before I got bored with the language. I mean, not much was happening. I wanted some action.
End of exam. Put down your pencil, grab a sword and head off into whatever fantasy world you want to explore.
If you thought that was fun, there’s also a film maker’s Exam to take.
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Reviews for Shadows in the Stone can be found at Goodreads.