Merriam Webster describes a ‘fantasist” as ‘one who creates fantasies.’
But as any fantasy reader knows, there are many types of fantasies and fantasists.
While reading Oathbringer, I finally figured out what makes Brandon Sanderson stand out among today’s fantasists. There are 3 distinctions in his writing that set him apart from his peers:
- He is pretty much the only fantasist today who isn’t dropping the f-bomb and s-missile on every page. Other writers seem to think that having your characters say—and think—the ‘F’ word makes them realistic. Really, it’s just distracting. And, just as with real men who constantly cuss, it becomes addictive, and is soon their go-to word. Ultimately it limits their vocabulary and makes them, in some respects, one-dimensional. (See my ranting post on the overuse of profanity in manuscripts here)
- His women are strong. Of course, plenty of other fantasists write strong women. Unlike the others, however, who infuse their females with strength by making them snarky and kick-buttery) Brandon’s women are strong because they are complete personalities, full of complexities and passions. They are neither dependent on men to complete them, nor do they need to hate or destroy men to feel complete.
- Brandon subverts the modern urge to create anti-heroes and characters we love to hate. I’m not sure–in all the Sanderson fantasies I’ve read– that I have encountered any despicable character. In fact, in Oathbringer, book 3 of the Stormlight Archive, even the apparent baddies are shown in a certain favorable slant of light, rather than as fully dark or anti-heroic. After spending a little time with the Voidbringers, Kaladin says he feels a certain kinship with them.
How to Be a Top Fantasist
So even though Brandon Sanderson doesn’t write subversive or revolutionary fantasy, I consider his quiet literary rebellions a high mark among today’s fantasists. Respectable is a good word for him. His work is refreshing and . . . clean. Another clever fast-one he pulls on the Powers That Be is the Cosmere, his version of Stephen King’s Dark Tower, where many or most of his books take place in a connected universe.
I can’t remember where I read it (maybe I heard it from the horse’s mouth), but Sanderson said that, when he was publishing his first novel, Elantris, he explained to his agent that this book was set in a vast interconnected literary universe. But his agent told him that publishers are weary of debut novels being part of a series. So, cleverly, Sanderson left hints in Elantris that would connect it to his later works while letting it be published as a standalone novel.
The lesson here is that, like best-selling fantasist Brandon Sanderson, you should be more interested in establishing your own literary integrity by writing your way in your style. Writing fads come and go, but great books are never forgotten. They continue to be picked out, bought, read, or listened to by fans who appreciate their individuality and unique creation.
The Rebellious Writer
In sum, rebel against common tropes and embrace the revolutionary writer in you. Brandon Sanderson ignores the current trend of peopling his worlds with despicable characters and of dropping f-bombs by the payload.
Michael J. Sullivan forgoes anti-heroes and clichéd women heroines by crafting likeable, genuinely decent dudes and likeable, genuinely decent dudettes. Travel to his world here
Instead of writing grimdark fantasy, the popular fantasy subgenre today, Eoin Colfer embraces his inner comedian to create funny fantasy, which should be especially welcome in today’s grimdark reality.
And lest we forget, there’s Jasper Fforde’s brilliant Thursday Next series, which is . . . like nothing else.
Ask not which author you wish to imitate. Ask what you wish to write. Don’t be afraid to create against current trends. Your greatest works are lurking inside you right now. Write them down!