I ran across The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam while reading the archives at Miss Snark’s no-longer-updated-but-certainly-not-dated blog. It’s a pretty funny list. The theory is that if you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions, you should chuck in the novel and start again. Would that more people took this list seriously.
For giggles, I decided to see what the score would be for my epic fantasy work in progress, The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy. I’ve only included the questions here that I have meaningful answers to.
1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
Heck no! By the end of chapter one Bixby has been tormented by his distressigngly hot stepmother, met with an old kook who turns out to (also) be a wizard, and has been sent pajama-clad (with his axe) out into the rain to meet a mysterious bunch of people for some important job.
2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
Yes. Yes, he is exactly that.
3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?
Hm… that’s probably something that I should add…
4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
How could it not be?
5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
All hail the Important Thing! Whatever it is…
6. How about one that will destroy it?
All hail the Important Thing! Whatever it is…
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?
I’m pretty sure that there is a prophecy about Bixby. There are certainly some pretty racy prophecies about some of his companions.
8. Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?
You know, now that I think about it, QITDEG is lacking this rather annoying feature. Good thing this exam is here!
10. Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?
Oh my god! HOW DID YOU GUESS?!
11. Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?
Hmm… not yet.
12. Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel?
Insane would be closer, but we’ll say yes to this one.
13. How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”?
Everyone assumes that’s what Bixby is, but sometimes you have to wonder.
14. How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”?
See #8 above
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?
I think it would be more accurate to say that I spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, but the result is the same.
16. Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?
One of them might use it as a ploy, but for the most part they are not interested in being rescued by anyone.
17. Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?
Yep. They are smokin-hot feminists.
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?
20. Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”?
I wouldn’t call her dour. She has a lovely beard as well.
21. How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?
No, but there will be plenty of half-elves should there ever be a sequel.
23. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?
You mean Chavdar the horny halfling who would just as soon cut your throat as head-butt you in the nuts? Yeah, he’s pretty funny.
25. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
I hadn’t considered the humorous application of anachronism yet. Might be some potential there.
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”?
I haven’t drawn the (absolutely required) map yet, but “of Doom” will appear more than once.
27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then?
28. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
As little planning went into the still-incomplete first book, it would be hard to say yes to this (for now).
29. How about a quintet or a decalogue?
As long as people keep buying the crap, I’ll keep writing it!
30 – 32. [my summary] Is your novel a long-winded and directionless “epic”?
This is an action story, baby!
33. Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?
Hah! I’m happy to report I’m not.
36. Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names?
What the hell kind of fantasy novel would it be otherwise? (Um… though actually, no. They are named for Eastern Eurpean automobiles.)
37. Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?
Only if you include their “the’s”, e.g., Trabant the Immutable.
39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
41. Do you have a race prefixed by “half-”?
I expect Chavdar’s half-halfling progeny will have to wait for a sequel.
42. At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?
Yes, not long after they take a shortcut through the mist-shrouded ruins of a once-mighty kingdom. Other suggestions for things they can take a shortcut through are welcome.
46. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls?
If there’s another purpose of an ‘inn’, I’ve never heard it.
48. Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?
Heck yeah! It’s a Quest!
49. Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won’t break the plot?
Oh, my characters keep secrets for iron-clad reasons!
55. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
No, but Bixby can come close.
56. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?
Bixby is far too polite to make love to a barmaid, and wears a lot less.
57. Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it?
You mean Orc-O-Matic? So far, Bixby has kept it firmly in hand.
61. Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?
62. Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns?
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?
More ‘confused’ than ‘threatened’.
70. Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death?
Helloooo! He’s Eeeeevil!
73. Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before?
Not nearly enough.
74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?
Closer to a rip-off of Bored of the Rings
75. Read that question again and answer truthfully.
Let’s tally up the score then, shall we? By my count I hit on fifteen of the questions, and I’m in a gray area for a few others.
This list is awesome. Using it, I have been able to identify some glaring holes in the story. Should I ever get around to revising it, I’ll have a solid foundation to work from.