I have read a lot of fantasy novels, and there are some irritating things that crop up again and again. Thanks to Andrea for suggesting this post!
Ten Annoying Conventions of Fantasy Writing
1. The Apostrophe Rampant
"As Ro'bath rode down into the city of We'a'lan, he paused for a moment to reflect on the frailty of life, but was jolted from his revelrie by a passing wagon of rowdy Ja'rethian sailors."
I appreciate that a) apostrophes are tempting little buggers and b) one cannot call the hero of one's fantasy epic Robert, but come on. The apostrophe has a purpose, it isn't just something you chuck in when you want to make your elf sound more exotic. Rampant Apostrophying is borderline acceptable when it's a place name like 'Ba'aleth' and if you didn't use the apostrophe readers would have to stop every time you mentioned the town and furrow their brow because of the endless 'Baaaaaaaaa...' going on in their heads but come on, people. Surely we do not need an apostrophe in every proper noun you are going to use. Imagine if we did that in real life. "My name is All'y, and I live in Pa'Panui. Tomorrow, I will go to work in Cathe'Dral Square." Also, why apostrophes? Why not hyphens, or semi-colons, or tildes? Why is the apostrophe so seductive? Why?
2. The Significant Inn
"Around nightfall, Ro'bath and his weary band stopped at a roadside inn for the night. As they sat in the dining room, Ro'bath noticed a stranger sitting alone at a table in the corner, hood pulled up over his eyes..."
SPOILER: SOMETHING ALWAYS HAPPENS AT THE INN. If I ever come across an inn in real life you can bet your ass I am not going to stay there because one of the following things will happen: a) my horses will be stolen during the night; b) a party of soldiers will drop by; c) I will meet a significant stranger; d) the inn will be burnt to the ground and later in the story I will come across its smouldering remains, which will serve as a reminder of the terrible evil etc.
3. Don't Ride That Horse!
"Ro'bath saddled up his tame dothraki and prepared for the day ahead. The squat, shaggy beast's endurance more than made up for its bad temper."
Because heaven forbid that we could actually ride horses, unless we are knights in which case an exception can be made. I read a fantasy novel once where the primary mode of transport was the 'zorse.' It wasn't the zebra/horse cross that Science has made, but what it was was never explained. It was just assumed that we would know about the zorse. (Also, the plural was 'zorse' as well, which was annoying.) If the animal is described it seems to be a shaggy mountain animal blah blah YOUR ANIMAL IS FUCKING BORING JUST RIDE A HORSE, RO'BATH. This also goes for weaponry. No-one uses a sword. They use a pra'nart, or a vidalt, or, if they really have to, a 'blade.'
4. The Hermit Wizard
"Ro'bath kicked the final soldier's body into the gutter and reached down a hand to steady the frail old man. The homeless man's grip was surprisingly strong for someone of his advanced years, and Ro'bath was surprised to see that his eyes were a clear, penetrating blue."
Oh, yeah. You're an all-powerful wizard. You're going to live on the streets like a homeless person. Sure. Sure you are. THIS IS JUST UNREALISTIC. Actually while I'm on this point wizards in general are unrealistic. They don't exist. Get over it. Move on. I hear vampires are very 'now.'
5. Surprise! I'm a God!
"As Ro'bath stood before the fountain, the legendary blade in his hands, he felt the power surge suddenly through him and in an instant it was as if the whole cosmos was laid out before his eyes. He knew, suddenly and irrevocably, that this was his destiny."
Sorry to get the story of Ro'bath all out of order, but it is such a big yawn when the protagonist turns out to have been a god/god-in-waiting/son of a god all along. Maybe fantasy writers think that if, at the end, their main character just settles down and sells zorse hides for a living, the audience will be disappointed. Personally I am more disappointed when oh, he's been a god all along, I guess that sure explains a lot, I just thought he was really lucky. Thanks for clearing that up.
6. Swearing in Made-Up Languages
"As Ro'bath bent over to inspect his dothraki mount's shoe, a zwelty flying overhead let go a load of stinking dung. "Bort!" said Ro'bath, "this is a clean tunic!""
I don't get it. Everyone is speaking English. Everyone is using English idiom. And everyone is swearing in Vermouthian? I read a book once - it may have been the 'zorse' book, I don't remember - where the swear of choice was 'klat.' Every time something went down all the characters said 'klat.' And 'klatting.' It was completely distracting and kind of stupid, like a mother who says "f...f...fudge!" all the time. If you're committed enough to have your characters swear, at least allow them the dignity of using the effer.
7. Endless Nobility
"Ro'bath stood overlooking the Ce'Nedran peaks. He sighed as he looked at the vast wilderness spread out before him, and thought once more of his homeland and of this huge, pointless quest which he had taken upon himself. Could he ever succeed?"
Where is the part where Ro'bath and his friend, Ti'na'a'dran, bicker about how best to cook the dead zorse? Where is the part where Ro'bath gets too fat for his armour? Where is the part where Ro'bath descends into a huge inner monologue about the shape of his eyebrows?
8. Bam! Politics!
"Ro'bath arrived in the town of Me'tiana only to remember that here, it was impossible to park your zorse in anything less than five feet of Me'tianan hay and that, consquently, he was going to have to spend the afternoon searching the town hall for the correct official."
Yeah, I know, sometimes political people are necessary evils for plot purposes, but sometimes it reads like the author has gone "Ooh, that bit with the talking swan was quite OTT, maybe I should chuck in some red tape so that everyone remembers the protagonist is a real person in a real world. Let's have him walk around for a while, note the futility of politics, and maybe have a fling/make an unimportant friend. Also, I will get to write a scene with a royal banquet in it. I wonder, what will everyone wear?"
9. Obligatory Scenes: We're On A Boat!
"Ro'bath left the Royal Banquet and got on a boat. The captain was grizzled, and quite possibly a retired pirate. But oh, he was so lovable."
Your fantasy novel has gotta have at least one royal banquet. Also, your characters need to spend a chunk of the novel - no less than a sixth, but no more than a quarter - on a boat. No-one knows why. That's just the way it is.
10. Racing Profiling - Dude! That's not cool
No matter how supposedly liberal the society, there are four groups which are always unfairly racially profiled in fantasy novels. Here they are.
1. Dragons or, as I like to think of them, caricatures of librarians. Most are old, some are grumpy, and all are wise and probably the last of their kind. Fantasy writers have a real knack for turning a dragon into something really fucking boring. (Nothing personal, librarians.)
2. Elves. Elves are kind of like the Swedish - uniformly beautiful, with good bone structure and an air of melancholy. Also, they are fantastic architects.
3. Dwarves. Dwarves are like Australians! Tough, loyal, grubby little buggers who get the job done, as long as you don't ask what they cuddle up to for warmth during the cold season.
4. Orcs. Orcs are the most maligned race in all of fantasy writing, ever. They are always portrayed as stupid, violent, and easily led. I'm not going to say which racial group they should be paralled with. I will just say that it's going to be a klatting long time before Middle-Earth elects a half-Orcish president.
Feel free to add your own.