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How to Make Big Bux Writing Elfy-Welfies

Before you begin a schlock fantasy novel, you need a gizmo. You know, a thingie, a watchamacallit. One ring to rule them all, the baby foretold to be the death of the evil Queen, something like. A piece of business. A macguffin.

Then, you need a plot. I mean, it's not much of a novel if it doesn't have a plot, right? Luckily, you don't have to work too hard, since all schlock fantasy novels have the same plot. There's this big butch bad guy, see, and he's gonna conquer the world. He's real nasty and evil and mean, and if he does conquer the world, everyone will be sorry. There's only one thing that can stop him.

The gizmo, of course. The macguffin.

So anyway, the gizmo comes into the hands of a bunch of good guys. A bunch of good guys is much better than a single hero.

Why? Ever hear of character licensing? See, if the novel becomes big, you can sell movie rights, Saturday morning cartoons, games, action figures, plush dolls, paper napkins, plastic weapons, all sorts of ticky-tack garbage with the names and faces of your characters on it. But you've got to have a bunch of characters to pull this off. Notice how there's a lot more licensed crap for He-Man than for Conan? One character just doesn't cut the mustard.

True, not much from the world of printed fiction ever gets big enough to become a hot license -- you'd be better off starting with a cartoon show or a rock band or something like that, something important to American culture -- but you've got to think ahead. And if your book ever does get this big, we're talking mucho samoleons, let me tell you.

So you want a bunch of good guys. Definitely.

But back to the plot. The good guys have the macguffin. It's the only thing that can stop the bad guy. To stop the bad guy, they have to travel from point X to point Y. Why do they have to travel from point X to point Y? Who cares? You need some kind of bogus explanation, but the point is, this is a heroic quest. You can't have a quest if your characters don't go on a journey.

Look at it this way. Suppose they could defeat the bad guy by staying home and smoking cigars and drinking brandy in front of the fireplace. Wouldn't make for much of a novel, would it? No, you have to get the good guys out in the wilderness, where they can struggle against bad weather, nasty monsters, the villain's lackeys, and other assorted nastiness. Remember, "adventure is someone else having a hell of a hard time a long way away." We've got to pad this thing out to 75,000 words or so, so we need a lot of stuff about the good guys being miserable but overcoming daunting obstacles.

So your characters may not like it, but they have to travel to point Y. No "fly" spells, either, mind; we want to see dirt on their shoes, and chattering teeth and stuff. No pain, no gain.

Eventually, they get to point Y, and then we have the big, climactic confrontation with the bad guy. Tolkein botched this one. I mean, Frodo gets to Mount Doom, he dunks the ring (splash), and it's all over. Kind of an anticlimax. There should have been a big blow up between Sauron and Gandalf, with Frodo saving the day only in the nick of time. Lots of flashy magic and stuff.

By the way, has it ever occurred to you that The Lord of the Rings is really a allegory for a basketball game? I mean -- Frodo has the ball; dribble dribble; Gollum makes a play for the ball but -- wait -- Frodo keeps control!; and dribble dribble dribble; Frodo's nearing the hoop, I mean, Mount Doom; Sauron's attention is diverted, and most of the home team are off covering the Gondorians; and Frodo heads for the hoop; dribble dribble; he's shooting! He's shooting! and SCORE! The ring is in Mount Doom! The crowd goes wild!

So that's all there is to it.

See how easy it is? It's simple. Really. All you need is a macguffin, a bunch of good guys, and a travelogue. Anyone can write a schlock fantasy novel. Now that you know how, why don't you write one yourself?

Listen, when you're finished with your novel, I'll tell you what. Send it in to Beth Meacham at Tor Books. She absolutely adores getting semi-literate prose from enthusiastic but unpolished would-be writers. If you hand-write it, or type it on a ancient manual with half the keys missing, so much the better. And hey, don't worry about grammar or spelling or anything. I mean, what are editors for?

Don't be afraid to send your manuscript to Beth, no matter how poorly it's written. She lives for this. There's nothing she likes better than being harangued for hours at science fiction conventions by unpublished heptology authors who've never heard of deodorant soap. She adores it. She absolutely laps it up. Trust me on this one.

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Copyright © 1996 by Greg Costikyan.