Magazine and book editors are cruel oppressors who delight in rejecting and demeaning True Art. In short, they are evil. So your mission is to join the Fellowship of those who seek to inspire editors to fling themselves or coworkers from high windows or commit hara-kiri with their letter openers.
The best way to cause an editor's mind to wander to despairing thoughts of self-destruction or to throw her into a mindless murdering rage is to present her with a manuscript of such astonishing quality that her mind is broken. But like the mighty Uruk-hai of Sauron, editors are a tough bunch; don't expect your first effort to do much more than cause her to drink a bit more than usual at Happy Hour.
Thus, you must send her many, many manuscripts, and encourage your friends to do the same!
- Prepare for your writing by exposing your mind to the right material. This means you absolutely must watch every Hollywood fantasy movie you can lay your hands on -- the ones from the 80s are especially helpful. Optionally, you can read Tolkien and Robert E. Howard's and L. Sprague DeCamp's Conan books. Don't bother reading any other old fantasy authors like C.S. Lewis, Charles Perrault, Howard Pyle, Sir Thomas Malory, or Lewis Carroll, and don't trouble yourself with modern fantasy writers like Gene Wolfe, Jonathon Carroll, Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles De Lint, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, or China Mieville.
And whatever you do, don't read outside the fantasy genre, or else your work could be subject to all kinds of foreign literary influences that could destroy the purity of your high fantasy prose.
- Develop your ideas carefully. Nothing helps you develop your storytelling like a few hundred hours of D&D! Make sure you write down everything that happens in your latest Dragonlance campaign; this will form the backbone of your first novel. If you feel you need help coming up with good dialog, try some live action roleplaying -- the quips and barbs you'll cast at each other when you're all running around the local science fiction convention hotel at 3 a.m. will be pure gold!
- Research. Researching mythologies, legends, and history on your own is a complete waste of time -- real authors don't worry about that kind of thing. It's fantasy; they just make stuff up off the tops of their heads! And anyway, everybody knows that fantasy should be all about orcs, dwarves, elves, and dragons, with maybe a unicorn or a few fairies or demons thrown in for good measure. If you feel you need something more exotic, use a creature from the D&D Monster Manual. Take your settings directly from Tolkien or Dragonlance -- readers like to feel they're in familiar surroundings. You earn bonus points from readers if you lift scenes directly from the Lord of the Rings movies!
- Set your story free. You might have heard writing instructors talking about stuff like "internal logic", "consistency", and "maintaining the reader's suspension of disbelief". Don't listen to them -- they're just trying to stifle your creativity! Fantasy is all about magic, and anything can happen in magic! Internal logic's so boring; keep the reader entertained with surprising and unprepared-for events!
- Give your characters memorable names. You'll want your readers to know right away whether characters are good guys or bad guys; it's also helpful if the name describes the main feature that distinguishes that character from all the others. For instance, your lovely elfin princess could be named Arewynne Fairmaid. Your evil orc could be named Argh of the Skullkrusher Clan. The brave blacksmith could be named Hammerclang Strongheart. Don't confuse the reader with subtlety.
- Write your dialog carefully. You don't want to spend too much time on characterization, so it will need to be conveyed in dialog. Make absolutely sure your reader knows what the characters are feeling:
"I'm going to kill you, snivelling creature!" Argh shouted menacingly.
Be sure to add in the funny quips and sayings you picked up while you were gaming! Readers love it when you throw in hip, modern language to spice up that old style stuff:
"Please give me the ring, master!" wheedled Gorrum flinchingly.
"Thou art troubling me!" growled Blackmane Stabmaster. "I shall run thee through with mine Sword of Stabbyness!"
"Come and get some, beeyotch!" Puck replied defiantly.
- Create a powerful opening. Make sure to ground your readers in your fantasy world with lots of description right away. Make sure to spend several paragraphs describing the room your main character has just awakened in; no detail is too insignificant to be dwelled upon. You shouldn't introduce any dialog or plot for several pages lest you break the spell you're weaving for the reader.
- Use language skillfully. You've probably guessed that you should borrow terminology and descriptions from Tolkien and Dragonlance as much as possible. But what you might not realize is that adverbs are your friends -- you should use plenty of adverbs: slowly, quickly, menacingly, woundingly, etc. And! Use! Exclamation! Points! Wherever! Possible! For! Emphasis!!!
And if you learned a particularly cool, long word (such as antidisestablishmentarianism or omphaloskepsis), figure out ways to use it as much as possible. Editors will be awed by your intelligence if you use the longest, most complex words possible to spice up simple actions. For instance, "said" is terribly overused; try using "enunciated" or "phonated" instead. Heck, while you're at it, invent some cool-sounding words, use them frequently, and don't leave any clues or context to let the reader know what they mean! Readers love a good mystery.
- Titles are vital. Make sure your title is catchy, and includes words like "doom", "ring", "fellowship", "champion", "lord", "sword", "bane", "wyrm", "faery", or "blood". You get extra points if the title gives away the ending. "The Baneful Fellowship of the Sword Lord's Wyrm Ring of Doom" would make an excellent title. Also make sure it's subtitled as being Part One of a 12-part series (thanks to TenMinJoe for reminding me of this important element!)
- Rewriting and proofreading. You, my friend, are an artist, a poet, and the best, truest stuff will come to you in the first draft. Don't tamper with it by rewriting it -- it's your Art! And don't bother checking your spelling -- real authors don't worry about that kind of mundane stuff. After all, the editor's got to have something to do!
- Make sure your manuscript stands out. You might have heard about something called "standard manuscript format" -- that kind of thing is for chumps! Single-spacing saves paper, and you should always use the most exotic fantasy font you can find to put the reader in the right mood. And speaking of moods, white paper is so dull. Printing your opus on purple paper makes a powerful statement.
- Handle rejection like a pro. If an editor sends you a rejection, don't despair! Instead, write her back immediately demanding an explanation. If she did give you reasons, just ignore them -- she's only trying to keep you down. Write her back and tell her what an idiot she is -- show her you can't be cowed! And then change the title of your tale, write a new opening paragraph, change the names of your characters, and send your manuscript right back to her.
If you follow these simple steps, you'll have created a work that makes even the most black-hearted editor tremble ... and, if you're lucky, wish she could ask the court for a restraining order!
However, if you need a model to inspire your efforts, be sure to read The Eye of Argon. If every manuscript matched The Eye's sublime qualities, editors would quit or slaughter themselves in droves.
Explicating My Satire
Just in case anyone thinks I'm disdaining Tolkien, I'm not. His work is classic, wonderful, and timeless. His work is so great that 80% of the high fantasy fiction I've read as magazine submissions or for writing workshops completely rips him off. Fantasy goes way beyond orcs and elves -- go read some Gene Wolfe, Jonathon Carroll, Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles De Lint, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, or China Mieville and you'll see that the genre has gotten pretty broad over the past 50 years.
And if you've read any of my movie reviews, you know I carry a torch for many 80s fantasy films. I also have nothing against Dragonlance books or any other gaming or movie novelizations. Several friends of mine write such books, either because they enjoy doing so or because they need to pay their rent. Would I write a gaming novelization? Hell, yes; I co-wrote a story for a Xena: Warrior Princess anthology a couple of years ago, which makes me nigh unto a whore in some people's eyes.
Gaming novelizations can be a lot of fun. Some are not well-written, others are surprisingly well-written and contain original ideas. It depends on how adeptly a writer who is given rigid guidelines and a deadline can exercise his or her originality.
In short, novelizations can be a tasty part of your well-balanced literary diet.
But I've run into way, way, way too many budding fantasy writers who read nothing but fantasy, or worse, nothing but a particular writer or said gaming series. Anyone who reads nothing but the work of a single genre or author -- be it Margaret Weis or Jane Austen or Tolkien -- is going to stunt their growth as a writer. It's like training for a marathon on a diet of nothing but yogurt and gatorade.