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Yes, you're writing a fantasy story. Yes, that means many of the normal "rules" of reality are suspended. It doesn't mean you can just write whatever you like and expect your readers to swallow it. The existence of dragons they'll probably accept. Moscow being the capital of France they probably won't.

The key to "selling" weird, fantasy stuff to your reader (like dragons and half-elves) is making the world at large believable. This means getting the simple things right. So on that note:


1. Factual Errors

There are things in the wide-world of fiction that are fantasy elements; things like dragons, unicorns, and women who find beards sexy. There are other things in the wide-world of fiction that are factual elements; things like the speed of an average horse, the boiling point of water, and the observation that iron rusts.

Clearly, these are not two distinct categories that can have a line neatly drawn between them. You may have created a world where one of the fantasy elements is that water boils at fifteen degrees (making a lake on a warm day hilarious). I could totally go with that. The important thing is that you are clear which category you're operating in. Readers will spot factual errors for what they are if you don't make it obvious that this is an intended fantasy element.

Example: A horse can't gallop all day. While horses are bred to cover many miles before exhausting, they do this most effectively at a trot. A fit horse can go maybe three miles at a gallop before tiring out, but over fifteen miles at a trot. If its a magical horse, then knock yourself out. But be clear that it is a magical horse.

Another one: There is no special place on the human head that you can hit to render someone unconscious without risking brain damage (and certainly waking up with the mother-of-all-headaches). If someone receives a blow to the head that leaves them unconscious for more than a few minutes, then they have what doctors call a Grade III Concussion.

So don't have your noble knight do it to his girlfriend, alright?


2. Straining the Limits of Plausibility

Even without making any distinct factual errors, it's still easy to strain the limits of what a reader will accept without incredulously rolling their eyes. The line between "heroic" and "god-like" is a fine one, and it's worth developing a sense for when you've crossed it.

Example:
-> In the real world, a talented individual who starts fencing at the age of ten isn't likely to reach international recognition before they're in their late teens or early twenties.
-> In a fantasy story, the humble (but mysteriously talented) farmboy who spends all his time training with a legendary warrior, might be capable of going toe-to-toe with the Dark Lord's lieutenant after a few years.
-> In a bad fantasy story, he can best his master after three months.

I think most people can probably think of a book they've read that includes an example of the above, but problems with unbelievable martial prowess are only scratching the surface. What lurks below the surface (like a waiting crocodile or a submerged corpse) is the following:
Protagonists with the stamina of the Duracell bunny and the resilience of granite; making tender love to their third wench of the night having broken both legs just two hours earlier. Who can forge a sword having only previously watched one being made, or tame lions because they had a mean cat when they were a boy.

Such characters have progressed beyond heroic, and are now simply unbelievable. And readers don't invest too much in unbelievable characters.


3. Inconsistent Technology

"But surely only science fiction writers have to worry about technology!"

If the people of your fantasy world have invented the hand-axe, then they have technology. And if they have technology, then you need to worry about keeping it consistent.
This doesn't mean you have to accurately represent a particular historical time and place in your alternate-world sword-and-sorcery yarn. (Although that's a good start if you're not sure.) It just means paying attention to the rough order that various technologies tend to be invented in.

A possible place to start: In your fantasy world, have black powder weapons (cannons, muskets, etc.) been invented yet? Well, cannons first reached Europe (having been used in China for ages) in the 1200s. So if they haven't appeared in your fantasy world yet, then that puts down a rough marker of the sort of technology level you're talking about.

For example, it would be highly surprising for a world without black powder to have hay bales in its fields, as the hay-baler wasn't invented until the 1850s (over six-hundred years after the appearance of cannons). That would be a civilisation that has invented heavy machinery, but has completely failed to discover that a rough mix of charcoal and saltpetre (a chemical easily extractable from human urine) will explode violently when lit.


4. Fantasy Stew-Pot

Like spices, fantasy elements are best used in moderation. The more weird stuff you introduce, the more stuff you have to "sell" to the reader. So piling in every single mythical creature, fictional race and mystical artefact that you have ever read, seen or madly dreamed up is not the best plan.

Readers will happily swallow your fantasy world occupied by elves and dwarfs. They will still probably be fine when you add dragons and unicorns. But throw in fairies, angels, demons, vampires, werewolves and Cthulhu, and now you've turned your delicious fantasy soup into an almighty mess.

And - as with spices - combination is just as important as quantity. Some fantasy elements have a certain "synergy". Vampires and werewolves; elves and dwarves; dragons and men-wearing-impractical-metal-outfits. These pairs go together like chedder cheese and Branston Pickle; effortlessly. Other match-ups take more work.

Example: Your fantasy world already contains vampires and werewolves. Classic as vanilla ice-cream, so no problems there. You add witch-doctors and zombies for a bit of chocolate sauce. We're still in the arena of pulp-horror monsters, so all is well. Then a leprechaun shows up, like a short, green sausage thrust into the middle of your sundae. It's not pleasant.

It's not that you can't do this, but you're going to need a lot more heavy selling to get your reader on board with it. You can drip-feed the new elements (e.g. only introducing two races in each book), or tinker with them until they represent something more in keeping with the rest of your world (e.g. swapping traditional vampires for blood-sucking tree-monsters, the better to fit in with your forested elfy world).

Alternatively, you can write a spoof, and thus throw all the above rules out of the window for the sake of good comedy. But that's a different kettle of fish entirely. (And fish doesn't go with ice-cream either.)


5. Narnia, by MC Escher

Of course, there is a way to completely dumb-found all those nit-picking readers who'll complain about every factual error and implausible event they find. And that's to make your fantasy world so incredibly, obtusely, barbarically weird that the reader has absolutely no idea what to expect.

You've set your story in a fantasy world where the fundamental laws of physics left on the same life-raft as logical human behaviour and basic economics, thus allowing your Merry-Ship-Fantastica to sail gaily away into a vortex of sheer lunacy.

Believe me, there's no faster way to make your readers jump ship as well. The further your world strays away from the real one, the less readers have to connect them to it. So - like it or not - you need to know things about this world before you can create your own.

And remember, Google knows all!
Co-written with :iconravensscar:

Cheers =fenris242, =LadyofGaerdon and ^Elandria for the DD. :D

Be sure to give co-writer *RavensScar some love too!

(This was originally written as an entry for the Free Fantasy Resources Contest over at #StockandResources.)

My sincerest apologies for the tortured metaphors.

-

Found this helpful? Point your browser here for the rest of my tutorials.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2012-02-28
5 Ways to Get Fantasy Wrong by *MetalMagpie The suggester states: Written clearly in an entertaining fashion, *MetalMagpie's guide is invaluable, detailing common mistakes made by fantasy writers and how to avoid them. Also suggested by fenris242 ( Suggested by LadyofGaerdon and Featured by Elandria )
:iconkanascott:
KanaScott Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2015
Fantastic tips, and hysterical examples - brilliant work, both of you! :la:
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Cheers. Glad you enjoyed it. :D
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:iconsuperawesomegodzilla:
Though my story isn't entirely fantasy, I have a question over the Fantasy Stewpot section. My story's basically features one specimen of each and every horror, fantasy, and science fiction monster ever made...but it's set in a school specifically made for these species. My question deals with the world: Since species like Molemen, Dragons, Brain-Eating Meteors, Slashers, Leviathans, Ghouls, etc. exist in the same world (though all of the alien species originate from other worlds), would that be the horrific equivalent of pissing in the stewpot? There IS a meta origin (they were all created by some Ancient Gods to scare humans, as fear powers them, and all these different species are in the same world as all these different types ensure humans will never ''get bored'' of just having werewolves, vampires, and zombies up the arse as it appeals to that one weird part of the human psyche that likes variety.) but I'm still uncertain.

Also I probably phrased that meta origin very confusingly. Sorry about that.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I think you should get away with that just fine, as the crazy variety of monsters is the entire point of the setting. It sounds fairly tongue-in-cheek too. You should be able to get a lot of great humour out of the different species interacting with each other. :D
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:iconsuperawesomegodzilla:
I guess you're right. It's sort of coming out to be a jab at how people are willing to see the same old horror movie with a different monster, as well as appreciating all the whacky horrors humanity came up with. Plus it's just fun to stuff all these monsters together into a single world. Thanks for the reassurance! 
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:iconfilipepvasconcelos:
FilipePVasconcelos Featured By Owner Jun 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Forging a sword with no previous experience is easy. (The form, at least, the details are a little more difficult...)
Forging a good sword though...
(Well, if the character has one of the following, it becomes far too simple: "Photographic reflexes", "Talent to Learn", "Extremely good senses", "Mind sync ability", "Superior intelligence")

What do you mean fish an Ice cream don't go well? I like my Tuna-Ice-Cream :(


Quite the good text :D
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks. :D

Is tuna icecream really a thing?
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:iconfilipepvasconcelos:
FilipePVasconcelos Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Dunno.

Bacon Ice-cream is, though.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
It would appear that fish icecream really does exist in Japan.
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:iconfilipepvasconcelos:
FilipePVasconcelos Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Oops! 
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:iconsorrowscoldfrost:
Sorrowscoldfrost Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2014
I write fantasy, and I know I've made some of those mistakes, so this is quite helpful! Thanks!
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I think we all have. ;) Thanks for reading.
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:iconredheadfred2000:
RedHeadFred2000 Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2014
This is very helpful, and sort of funny. I like it a lot!!!
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks. I co-wrote this with RavensScar, so do check out his stuff too if you have time. :)
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:iconredheadfred2000:
RedHeadFred2000 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2014
Always welcome.... I may just do that.
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:iconoichidan:
oichidan Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This is helpful, and fun to read :D
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks. I wanted to make these tutorials entertaining as well as helpful. :)
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:iconoichidan:
oichidan Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
And you've done it already. Keep it up and running! :D
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:iconepismatic:
Epismatic Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you, this really helped! I will keep these tips in mind as I write my fantasy story.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Glad it's helpful. Good luck with your story. :)
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:iconvalkeus:
Valkeus Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Hahaha! These are very good reminders! On the subject of technology, I often find myself googling things like "sod house", "uses for buffalo", and "what did people use before sunscreen".  XD

If you want to see someone mix low-tech with high-tech really well, try David Weber's Off Armageddon Reef series. It leans more toward low-tech and super-involved politicking, but the man did his research!
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
The internet is an amazing writing tool. Wikipedia in particular is fantastic, because it offers convenient summaries of pretty much any topic you care to name which are generally accurate enough for fiction writing. Although there is a danger that you end up spending two hours reading about Victorian sunscreen instead of writing. ;)

I'll have a look out for that series. :)
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:iconvalkeus:
Valkeus Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah, that can definitely happen XD
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:iconsleepywishes:
SleepyWishes Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2013
You should mention that none of the inter-species rules apply if you're J.K. Rowling - who, incidentally, had vampires, werewolves, goblins, mermaids, leprechauns, phoenixes, unicorns, and dragons all mentioned in her books...xD Then again, we're not all J.K Rowling.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Yeah, the Harry Potter books are quite a kid's-fantasy style. So anything goes, really!
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:iconscreamingtc:
ScreamingTc Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2013
Number three is the bane of almost all Sci-Fi for me, but particularly in Star Trek where a weapon that is supposed to be anti-matter won't blow up an entire starship once it penetrates the shielding.  I can forgive such things to a degree if it is for dramatic purposes, but it can be immersion breaking at times.   On a fantasy level?  I'm trying to think of books I found a bit...haphazard...when it came to technology, but all of them tended to have their own strong internal logic.  To be honest I can't stand reads which suddenly leave you going "What the...?", so I've probably ended up chucking them a few chapters in.  
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I think sci-fi can end up being annoying simply because there's a temptation to use real words and concepts in an inaccurate way, whereas in fantasy the words and concepts are entirely made up. If you replace the word "anti-matter" with a made-up term like "cosmic-fire", then the story can maintain its internal logic without having to mesh with the real world in any way. But you lose some of the "sci-fi feel".

The main place I see people having problems with #3 in fantasy is on dA. I think editors are pretty good at catching this sort of stuff, so it generally doesn't make it to published works. But I have read a couple of fantasy novels where people had things like complicated weaving machines (of the wool-goes-in-fabric-comes-out variety), but hadn't advanced further than sailing ships for transport. Which isn't completely immersion-breaking but does give me a brief moment of going "Hmm...really?"
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:iconistarian:
Istarian Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2013
*
You've set your story in a fantasy world where the fundamental laws of physics left on the same life-raft as logical human behaviour and basic economics, thus allowing your Merry-Ship-Fantastica to sail gaily away into a vortex of sheer lunacy.
*

What a line... :)

It seems to me that it would help in cases of strange physics, etc to simply make it another world. Once it's not Earth and/or not much like Earth, some of those fact finding tendencies can be dampened. Alien "horses" are just as good as magical ones for breaking normal rules. Of course, you do have to deal with how much similarity there is and not abuse the reader by never explaining that and simply popping in fast as the wind horses and then casually mentioning later that these are Imperial WindSteeds from the planet Xeron. Interdimensional travel?!, in your medieval adventure, what?!
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner May 6, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I'm guiltily proud of that line. ;)

And you're absolutely right. Setting expectations appropriately is crucial for avoiding breaking your reader out of the story with a "What?!" moment. If the world is all fairly bizarre (and unlike Earth), then your reader will be less surprised by race-car speed horses. Whereas if it's mostly very naturalistic, you have to try harder to "sell" the bits of it that noticeably aren't.

The delicate balance is making sure you don't make the world so bizarre that the plot has no weight. If the reader can't at least learn what's considered normal and what isn't, then they never properly settle in to the world and feel like they know it. Getting that right is more about being consistent with your lunacy, than anything else.
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:iconallnamesareclaimed12:
AllNamesAreClaimed12 Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
"There are things in the wide-world of fiction that are fantasy elements; things like dragons, unicorns, and WOMEN WHO FIND BEARDS SEXY"
Oh my god, I laughed so hard at this xD So true.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Good to know others recognise the truth. :D
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:icon285studios:
285Studios Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2012  Student Artist
Ok, thanks for the tips, I will probably need to use those for my book, thanks :D
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
No problem. Glad they're helpful. :)
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:iconpt-piranha:
PT-Piranha Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2012
Ohh... that Rule 4... I feel like my concepts just got neutered.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Aww. Sorry. I'm sure you can make the craziness work. :D
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:iconmadoldhag:
MadOldHag Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I have read all your tutorials by now. They might help me to fix a few more things. And sometimes they made me smile (because I either have run into this trap already or it was something that bothered me in published (!) books). Thanks a lot for sharing!

(Just kept myself from adding a whole wall of text, because for each problem fixed, new questions showed up ...)
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks, glad they're useful. :)
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:iconmadoldhag:
MadOldHag Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
They confirmed that I am on a good way already. Some points remain, though.
- Consistency concerning time periods. Not only technical inventions (added gunpowder ;-)), but also political stuff, common sense, religion, architecture, clothing, jewelry, medicine/drugs/poison. "It is fantasy" sounds like a cheap excuse to me.
- I always get too attached to my characters, even to those I didn't like when they first showed up. Not sure what to do about this.
- When writing in third person, I have to be careful about mind-reading.

Plot, writing style and grammar are entirely different matters, of course ...
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Getting too attached to characters is a difficult problem and one I have all the time. :(

On the one hand, if you've created a character that you care about, then there's hope that your readers will care about them too. But if you end up dragging out (or otherwise distorting) your plot in order to give more screen time to a relatively minor character, then it may be time to take a serious look at how much value they add to the story (and edit as necessary).

I've promised myself so many times that I'll give a character I fell in love with their own spin-off story at some point. I've never actually done it, but it makes me feel better about cutting them out of scenes they were dominating and/or killing them off!
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:iconmadoldhag:
MadOldHag Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
He is my main character and he is supposed to have a certain effect on women ... so maybe it still could work.
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Who can forge a sword having only previously watched one being made Though that sounds a bit out there, it is humanly possible. I have an uncle who can watch someone do something once and do it just as good, sometimes better, than what the other person had done.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I've met a few people who can do stuff like that in specific areas. (Play a new musical instrument after watching someone else use it, or cook a new recipe just from seeing the end result.)

But "humanly possible" is not the same as "something the reader is likely to believe", which I think is the real point here. If a reader's response to something the character does is to think "yeah right" and roll their eyes, you've broken them out of the story.

As a character trait, being able to learn new complex skills simply by observation (accurately and without needing practice) is really quite impressive, but probably possible to convince a reader of. If you also make them so tough that they can beat off ten armed men using only their fists with a fully broken leg, then you may find you've stretched the reader's suspension of disbelief too far.
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
He can do most things after seeing it done once but is only interested in things that are useful to him, such as upholstery and auto mechanics (his favorite hobby is buying old cars and rebuilding them from the ground up). One of his granddaugthers showed him how to use Photoshop and he caught on right away but had no interest in it because he's only interested in the computer for the internet.

But I do get what you're saying: don't go overboard with unique abilities like that. If a character is good with something, have a counterbalance for it, such as the character being anti-social (like my uncle) or socially awkward instead of a show-off.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Be careful about "counterbalancing" as well. There's a fine line between making a character "well-rounded" and what role-players call "min-maxed" (meaning a character that is absurdly good at some things and absurdly bad at others, due to only having a certain number of points to allocate to skills). Being unusually bad at something (like being a mute or having weird phobias) can be just as eye-rolling as being usually good at something.

E.g. Character has an ability to read faces that borders on telepathy, but has almost no fine motor skills (meaning they can't write or even reliably operate door knobs). Both of those points are very distinctive features, and in combination they make the character quite unusual (unless both features have a common cause). Whether or not you can get away with having this combination (without making the character unbelievable) will depend on how outrageous/cartoony/etc. your story is in general.

Simply being socially awkward is fair enough though. Plenty of people are like that.
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm paranoid about going too far when counterbalancing so I think "Okay, if this character was a person, would I be able to tolerate being around him or would I want to shove him off a cliff?" If I think "shove him off a cliff" I try to find out where I went wrong.
I've tried to explain that to a friend who wants my help with her writing. I can't make her understand the concept and she's giving me a headache.
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:iconairgirl13:
AirGirl13 Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2012  Student Writer
This is great.
I try not to throw too many things into my stew, but shapeshifters, psychics, and the one stupid vapire go so well together sometimes.
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks. :) Sounds like a fun mix.
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:iconntn2:
Ntn2 Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2012
Lol.




Amazing. :D
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:iconmetalmagpie:
MetalMagpie Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Cheers. :D
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:iconmasterinsanity:
MasterInsanity Featured By Owner Jun 7, 2012  Professional Writer
I have problems with not doing #5. It's like, "Physics? What physics?" or occasionally, "Biology? What biology?"
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