Fantasy without cliché

Fantasy stories are often filled with clichéd ideas – the farm boy who saves the world, the girl destined to become the ruler, and so many more that I could fill up my whole post with overused plot or characters from fantasy stories.

The hard thing is when you think of fantasy – you typically think of fantasy characters such as fairies, goblins, dwarves and elves. All these are overused.

It becomes hard to write a fresh, innovative fantasy novel without using a few of the clichéd ideas. After all, what makes fantasy…well a fantasy is a lot of these things.

I am not saying you need to omit these ideas or characters from your writing. I am just saying that you need to be aware of the overused themes, characters and plots and give them a new twist.

Fantasy clichés to avoid

dragon1.) Creatures – The above-mentioned creatures – fairies, elves, gnomes, dwarves – have all been overused and stereotyped. You can either change them from what everyone expects or create your own creatures. (But don’t use the same old creatures and just rename them something else.)

2.) Legends/Prophecies – The prediction that something will happen (and for it to come true) isn’t very realistic and can take some suspense out of the story for the reader. (Of course, my trilogy and my latest book both dealt with forms of this.)

3.) The Chosen One – This often is a lowly stable boy or someone of no importance who rises to save the world (or galaxy) from evil. Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter are both great examples. Again, overused and could negate some of the suspense to the story if you know how it will turn out.

bigstock_Shadow_Man_4690914.) Dark Lord – This typically is an antagonist that is often evil just for the sake of being evil. (I have already addressed creating a realistic villain in another post. Basically, the villain needs motivation or a reason to be evil.) Of course, many times the villain doesn’t see their scheme as bad. They are heroes in their own mind.

5.) Unrealistic fighting – In a fight, people get wounded and often are killed. It is unrealistic to have your hero battle a hoard of attackers and comes out unscathed. This is especially true if it is the young stable boy who has only had a lesson or two in sword work before he bests the trained, seasoned warrior. (Check out this post on creating realistic fight scenes.)

6.) Men as Hero/Women Damsel – Often the hero and his cohorts are men. Sometimes a woman is thrown into the mix but not always in a strong role. Instead, she often needs rescuing. But readers do like strong female characters. Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer versus Snow White.  (All my stories have had a women protagonist though my first one, Lina, was a bit reluctant and a bit weak before growing into her role.)  Oh, and I should address the stereotype of the man who saves a woman and then will do anything to protect her after only just meeting her. Again, very unrealistic actions.

wizard7.) The Wise Old Man – Our stable boy or other-wise seemingly low born character is often taken under the wing of a wise old man – usually with a grey robe, long beard and some sort of magic. Definitely overdone. Maybe your hero can meet a young woman who guides him/her instead.

As I said, there are many other examples than the ones I listed here. Even romance between characters can become clichéd. I actually had a reviewer tell me that my romance in my first book, Summoned, seemed to only be included because romance is a given in most fantasy books these days.

You don’t have to avoid these clichéd items but try to put a creative twist on them. Go against the norm and do something a little unexpected. Then it isn’t a tired, old plot or character but something new for your reader.


2 thoughts on “Fantasy without cliché

  1. It was my understanding that a cliché is not the same thing as a trope. A trope MAY be a cliché, depending on how it is used, but simply ‘this has been used in some other story’ would not make, for example, a dwarven character inherently clichéd.

    So apparently my understanding of what “cliché” means is incorrect. IS there a difference between cliché and trope, or is it all the same thing? How do archetypes fit onto this? Is “archetype” just a fancy name for a cliché?

    • That’s an interesting but complicated question. Cliches are usually overused tropes – but not all tropes are cliched. So if the dwarf had been used in one other story, it’s not cliched. But if it has been used to the point of overuse, then it is probably cliched.

      Archetypes are the norms of storytelling that exist regardless of culture. Tropes are culturally specific storytelling norms – so there can be multiple tropes for each archetype. For example, the Scholar in search of knowledge is a archetype. In Western culture, the Geek is a trope under the Scholar archetype. The Scholar in another culture might be something different.

      Cliches are things that are overused – characters, settings, plot points etc. Tropes can become cliched. Archetypes cannot (because they are things common to the human experience and therefore have intrinsic meaning for us).

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