Monday, November 07, 2005

Two Words Overused In Mediocre Fantasy

The words are "hurt" and "friend," and they are two sides of the same coin.

I see them a lot in fantasy novels, particularly contemporary fantasy of the "me and my Scooby gang save the world from vampires" kind. Our heroes are always worried that someone will "get hurt," or that the plans of the villain will "hurt people." They use that phrasing even if said plans are likely to reduce the greater Saskatoon area to a puddle of burbling lava; this is an event that must be stopped because it will "hurt people."

Similarly, these characters are always worried about their friends. They won't let their friends go into danger alone, or possibly at all. It's too dangerous to allow a friend to do that. "You hurt my friends!" scream the heroes at the Big Nasty, about forty pages from the end of the book. Strangely, none of these people have any family (unless a parent is the Big Nasty in this particular book; parents are always evil). They don't call their mothers on Saturday or go shopping with their sisters; they don't have nephews playing Pee Wee football or cousins going to technical school the next town over. Clearly, these characters sprung fully-formed from the bosom of the earth, or were perhaps tragically orphaned at a sadly young age, and now they only need to worry about their friends. But that's OK. Their friends are wonderful, and they only feel alive in the company of their friends. (There is something very late-Saturday-night-at-a-minor-regional-convention to this obsessive, gushing friendship.)

Both of those words are wishy-washy. A friend is not a companion, or a compatriot, or a comrade. A friend is someone you nod at, or have lunch with once a month, not someone who helps you decapitate the Hopping Yellow Leprechauns and brew their blood into the World-Saving Crystals. Hurt is what Dr. Phil talks about endlessly every day on daytime television. Dead is what the villains are usually trying to do to the heroes.

"Friend" and "hurt" are dirt-common words in the American language, and so they're about as useful as dirt when a writer tries to place any weight on them. They buckle under the strain, and simply collapse, dropping all of the writer's carefully-hoarded pathos onto the grimy graveyard dirt.

Please, if you are considering committing fantasy novel, severely limit your intake, and outflow, of "hurt" and "friend." Thank you.

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