Well — far be it from me to leave that particular turn un-stoned, as it were. Despite the fact that I have yet to have any novel-length fiction published, here’s my list…..because, as we all know, writing about writing is easier to do than actually working on my goddamned manuscript.
1) Needless Apostrophe Syndrome. “I am Xhula’hurr of the Das’tani.” BLEAH. You need to be beaten with a stick. I’m a language geek — real-life languages fascinate me, and made-up ones can also fascinate me if they make some kind of internal sense. The apostrophes have got to go, folks. The first time I saw a copy of James Clemens’ Wit’ch Fire (with its heroine, Elena Morin’stal, and her companion, Er’ril of Standi, facing the Gul’gotha invaders), I had to restrain myself from hunting the author down and beating him to death with it. Wit’ch? WIT’CH? I think I’m gonna H’url.
2) SCA/D&D Societies. There are, roughly, a bazillion (it’s true, I’ve counted) fantasy worlds which are variations on the standard Idealized-Bits-Of-Middle-Ages-and-Renaissance-Europe-As-Dispensed-Through-A-Cheeze-Whiz-Can. We really don’t need any more. EVER. And we really don’t need these settings explored in Trilogies, Quadrologies, Pentologies or Jordan-esque Dodecahedrologies. Your setting isn’t really interesting enough for one book, let alone multiple ones. This is the literary equivalent of being cornered by the socially-inept gamer and told, in loving detail, all about his campaign. It’s an essentially pastoral feudal setting, with magic? You don’t say.
3) Protagonist AnachroCulturalism. Despite growing up in your pastoral, feudal setting, steeped in the cultural beliefs of their people — your protagonist just happens to be a Fiercely Independent Woman Who Chafes Against the Expectations of Her Gender….or a Sensitive Artistic Man Who Deeply Believes in the Worth of All Beings. Ah-hah. Yeah. That developed how, exactly?
4) Races As Cultures. The Elves are refined, artistic and intellectual. The Dwarves are doughty, hardworking craftsmen. I’m sorry — but why would two Elves be any similar than say, a Human from England and a Human from China? Why use non-human races at all? Human cultures come in a myriad of interesting varieties in the real world — why not in the fantasy world as well? Most fantasy races could be made into distict human cultures with no loss of wonder. Why create a race of mountain dwelling non-humans, when creating a unique culture of mountain dwelling humans would be equally “alien” to your protagonists? Sadly, the underlying reasons for most non-human races in fantasy: laziness (characterization short-hand) and perhaps some actually icky underlying views on race (“all X are like Y”).
5) No Sex Please, This is Fantasy. Actually, this comes in two varieties, both of which are a result of playing to the immaturity of a depressing large segment of the target audience. The fist variety is a complete lack of any sexual thought or motivation on the part of characters in the book — sex just never enters the picture. I’m sorry, we’re writing about people — sex ALWAYS enters the picture, at some level. We’re built that way. (And I can hear the cries of “but what about YA books — sex isn’t appropriate for those!” — yes, I would agree: explicit sex isn’t appropriate for a YA book. But are you telling me that the way Harry Potter acts around Cho isn’t basically about sex, at least as far as the target audience understands it?). The second variety is the opposite, in fact — the immature fetishization of sex, with the protagonist boning his or her way across the novel — where sexuality stops being a behavioral motivator, and instead becomes an excuse for the book to be read (and probably written) one-handed.
I could go on, I’m sure, but I think that 5 items are enough from somebody who hasn’t actually sold a novel yet. And so, back to work.