Wednesday, June 5, 2013

IWSG: Fantasy Cliches

As I am plotting a new fantasy novel, I keep worrying that I'm not telling anything new. Now, I know that there's nothing new under the sun, but even if the story is familiar, I still want to tell it differently than how it's been told before.

This got me thinking about cliches, and which ones I'd like to avoid. Some cliches are okay--beloved, even--but others I could do without. Here's a list of a few:

  • The orphaned hero -- Sometimes the parents should be alive, darn it! The orphaned hero does make the reader feel sorry for the character, I suppose. (examples: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Spiderman)
  • Talking animals -- I can live with this one, though I don't know if I'd use it myself. (examples: Smaug, Charlotte, Aslan)
  • The chosen one -- I get tired of prophecy telling people what to do. I want the character to choose to be awesome, not have it chosen for him/her! (examples: Harry Potter, Rand al'Thor, Shea Ohmsford)
  • The villain who's evil for evil's sake -- Give them some good back story, I say! (examples of great villains: Voldemort, Zuko, Saruman)
  • The wise, bearded wizard -- I like this one, but it is used a lot. (examples: Gandalf, Dumbledore, Merlin)
  • Enchanted swords -- Ah, the good old sword that can save the world... (examples: The Sword of Shannara, The Sword of Truth, The Blue Sword)
  • Good vs. Evil -- Sometimes it's not all black and white.
  • Alternate worlds -- There has to be a really interesting spin on it for me to read another story about a kid falling into another dimension. (examples: Narnia, Wrinkle in Time, The Sword Bearer)
  • Ugly evil faction -- Evil can be pretty, you know! (examples: orcs, trolls, Voldemort's minions...)
  • The large, often fuzzy, friend -- Okay, who doesn't like this one? (examples: Hagrid, Chewbacca, Fezzik)
Which cliches peeve you in fantasy fiction? Which ones are you okay with?

This post is part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Check the link for some of the other blogs participating in this event!

24 comments:

  1. I guess I'm all right with the orphaned hero, as I used that in my first book. Talking animals though? Not a big fan.
    Write it anyway, Allison! It will be unique because you wrote it.

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    1. Thanks, Alex :) I do like a sarcastic, irritable talking dragon every now and then, but most talking animals I could do without.

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  2. I think orphaned hero can be a good jumping point for a ton of things, not the least of which is freedom of the character.

    The others are a big issue. I think though when you understand the rules of story it is okay to break those tropes or reuse them because you do with an open mind on how people may react to it.

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    1. Oh I agree. It is necessary to break these rules sometimes!

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  3. I like talking animals and how about a magic wand or an object that takes you places...brooms in Harry Potter, Cars, how about something along those lines! Have fun! Great post!

    sandysanderellasmusings.blogspot.com

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    1. Magical objects I am okay with :)

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  4. The orphaned hero is overdone, but usually necessary - in order for the hero to take that first step to become the hero, they need to sever ties with their previous life. Having your parents still around makes this very difficult, so them not really having a 'family' enables them to embark on their quest. It's why Luke Skywalker's aunt and uncle were murdered too.

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    1. You make a good case. I'd still like to see that cliche broken every now and then though.

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  5. Why do they have to walk everywhere? And why can't magicians/wizards/sorcerers use their magic to save the day? And really, why do we need a "quest" that has the protag roaming far and wide, only to find the last object in their own possession or at the home they left? And don't get me started on how quickly the protag learns magic and spells when he/she previously didn't believe in such nonsense.

    Some of these tropes are necessary, and can be used to great advantage with unique circumstances. As you say, some cliche's just have to be followed. I'm embarrassed to say how many I'm including in my fantasy project; but I'm hoping they don't make anyone's "eyes roll" at the usage.

    ....dhole

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    1. YES! Thank you Donna. =) You're my hero.

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  6. Ahh there's a reason why they're so overdone though, everyone loves them! Have to agree with you about the 'chosen one', it's nice when the hero decides to save the world without being told he has to.
    I love a good villain, and a good villain is one who actually has a reason for being evil. I hate it when they're just evil for no reason.

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    1. It's true, and I am using some in my book, so I can't complain!

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  7. great list! and i went thru it thinking of my mg fantasy, happy to say i dont use most of those cliches, but i probably use others, i am a cliche addict sometimes... if you arent busy, care to exchange wips? i appreciate your wisdom & candor & sci fi/fantasy choice of genre! just a thought =)

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  8. You can't go wrong with a bearded wise wizard. Always be wary of the ones who shave...

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    1. haha! I might have to write about a shaved wizard now...

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  9. I tend to think most fantasy authors need to branch out and read a few other genres. Seriously, those 10 things up there are just a few of the reasons I bailed on reading straight fantasy. --And I'm much better off for it. Or at least, my writing is much better because of it. The one cliche that REALLY gets me is the magical ring. Seriously people, J.R.R. Tolkien used his creativity. You can too. =P

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    1. haha, the magical ring needs to be put to rest, yes.

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  10. The orphaned hero who is taken in by the gray bearded old wizard in disguise to help the young lad (it's never a girl!) take his rightful place on the throne of the kingdom that so many thought was destroyed but will be renewed once the orphan hero proves who he is and much happiness is had. ;)

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  11. I think I'd be into a story with many of the cliches (except talking animals, I am not a fan) if only the gender roles were reversed. Orphan girl, wise old witch, etc

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  12. I think Harry Potter showed that a story can have a lot of cliches and be unique and amazing at the same time. Great list. It's good to be aware of the cliches and okay to go ahead and use one or two anyway.

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  13. Okay, so my story DOES have a prophecy (Wait! Hear me out!), but its not a "So-and-so is the Chosen One who will rise up and defeat the Super-Evil Bad Guy" type prophecy; its quite the opposite really. It labels the protagonist as a threat (If he's allowed to live, he will destroy the good guys' chances of defeating their enemies, even though he has no intention of doing so). Thus, even though he believes in the good guys' ideals, he still has to escape and evade their attempts to kill him while also trying to stop the bad guys. So...is that still a cliche "Prophecy/Chosen One" plot line??

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