New poll - Fantasy clichés/tropes

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Let me start with a quick return on the last poll.  I asked a simple question on a theme up to date with the current trends of Fantasy: "Do you like your Fantasy gritty?".  The results show a variation even more important than I thought with 87% of the respondents answering with Yes. Since there's more and more authors getting grittier or in fact actually focusing on that aspect, we're in for a treat in the future!


Once upon a time, in an old kingdom, a young hero destined to save the world came upon a nice old wizard who told him he is part of a prophecy and has to learn magic, get a magical elven sword and become a hero by killing the evil dark lord in his castle protected by a dragon.

Would you like to read a book with this kind of synopsis?

Some of the themes/clichés/tropes I introduced here are at the heart of the now labelled traditional Fantasy novels, mostly so in the case of epic (or high) Fantasy and sword and sorcery. They are the bricks and mortar that served to build the genre as we know it now, set the conventions.  However, are we still interested in building brick walls? Nowadays, the Fantasy tropes still found in modern authors are twisted, turned inside out or extremely stretched. Clichés exists to be parodied, used with parsimony or clear intent. 

Authors tend to me quite imaginative but sometimes they fall into the trap by inadvertence.  I say trap but depending on the usage of it, a trope can become an asset.  Anyway, for a book to be considered Fantasy, it ought to have at least some recurring themes, a certain dose of magic, heroism or questing.  I think that one of the element bringing these classic ideas to the table over and over is probably some kind of nostalgia but in the end, it's what makes us marvel when reading in the genre.

Writing a good story based on compelling characters is the important part (without forgetting that it ought to be in a fictional world to be classified as Fantasy). Nonetheless, one of the skills of a Fantasy author is to incorporate imaginative elements derived from the usual setting and world building and to use them in new ways. As for myself, I appreciate from times to times the good old traditional Fantasy novel, as far as there's still something original about it. I'm pretty sure we all feel the same to a certain degree in that aspect.

However, there are certainly a couple of these tropes that get under your skin.  In my case, I admit that I have grown really tired of the young boy hidden on a farm waiting to be found and transformed into the savior of the world. Mostly so when he doesn't really understand what he is doing or why. Evil, pure unexplained evil without a hint of motivation has also grown to be monotonous.  Still, dragons, morally devious thieves and assassins and historically rich world are my cup of tea even after reading several interpretations of them all.

Here is my next question:

Which of these Fantasy tropes are you tired of?

  • Empires
  • Righteous thieves/assassins 
  • Elder races
  • Elves/dwarves (or other races)
  • Prophecies
  • Evil dark lords
  • Farm boy saving the world
  • Medievalism
  • Middle-east references
  • Dragons
  • Unevolved old worlds
  • Artifact/sword McGuffin
  • Apostrophes/names with G's and K's
  • Black-cowled assassins covers
  • All of them
  • None

Maybe one not on the list?


Michael McClung said...

Farm boys and elves, for me. All the other tropes can be jiggled into interesting configurations, but far boys and elves/dwarves have just had the life sucked out of them.

Of course I'm will ing to be proven wrong, too.

Laurie Tom said...

Probably a mix of elves and "black-cowled assassins covers" for me. I'm just really worn out on elves and it's hard for me to get excited about them. The assassin covers haven't been around nearly as long as the elves, but they're wearing their welcome out sooner. There's only so many of them I can take, which is unfortunate since the books they belong to I might actually like.

Kevin said...

Prophecies! I'm so tired of this trope. It takes all the suspense out of the story. The protagonist must do x in order to kill the baddie/prevent doom/whatever. The rest of the story than just becomes filler.Plus, prophecies bring up tons of debates over the nature of fate and free will. Debates which become tiring after hearing the same issues over and over again.

Joshua Lowe said...

It's evil dark lords for me. As you said, being evil for no apparent reason is not just getting old, it was stupid and childish to begin with. After reading some great 'darwinian fantasies' such as Ian Irvine's works, it's hard to stomach the evil overlord's. It's much more interesting to have enemies who still have a story and rationale for what they're doing, but simply conflicts with that of the protagonist.

Anders said...

"I have grown really tired of the young boy hidden on a farm waiting to be found and transformed into the savior of the world. Mostly so when he doesn't really understand what he is doing or why. Evil, pure unexplained evil without a hint of motivation has also grown to be monotonous." I´m sorry I just had to quote you on this. I just selfpublished my first book om kindle and at smashwords. You pinned me there! I have a story about a boy etc. But for me... I need the thrill and joy of following someone who might change how people look on their own lives and find a new meaning or purpose. We have those in real history as well. And the question; Why someone is evil? must follow; Why is someone good? Answer! Don´t know... but I presume it has something to do with the balance in the world. But as far as I´m concerned it´s the same for almost every genre. Crime for example; the victim the cop and the badguy. The set up, the trap, vindictive ex.cons etc. We all (hopefully) wake up to a monday morning. The same date, same year, but every one´s monday is different. I must add that I have started on another series as well and it´s not about a boy or in midieval times. I´ve done that and can move on:) Ok. so I have two more parts to the book "The Pathfinder Of Magic" before I´m completely done. I hope I haven´t offended anyone by commenting.

Antonakis said...

I have a frequent/intense dislike to the cliches that violate the logic and realism of the frame of reference they are set it. After all, suspension of disbelief can only get you that far and then it starts to become annoying. Thus, my usual complains about cliches mostly focus around the farm boy turned hero, the self-completing prophecies and the evil without reason as it has been said so well already before me. The righteous thieves/assassins often also flirts close to crossing that line for me. I usually don't mind much about elves/dwarves, monstrous races or legendary artifacts as long as they don't come close to that line I drew earlier.

Cursed Armada said...

Hmm I'm gonna have to go with Elves and Dwarves... One thing I don't like is the whole "Post Apocalypse World that is somehow Medieval now". It really bugs me for some reason... Like I'm just waiting for the hero to discover a machine gun and ruin the whole story. I might be alone on this one, but if I want science fiction then I'll read science fiction.

Doug M. said...

All of them with the exception of Middle-East references.

Anonymous said...

Farm boys. Just leave the farm boys on the farm please. Its better that way.

Anonymous said...

All of them, especially righteous thieves/assassins and the black cowled assassin covers. These tropes are why I've had a hard time finding anything to read in the genre.

Ghost said...

Farmboys & thieves/assassins without question. Thieves & assassins are NOT supposed to be righteous. There’s just something wrong about that. And farmboys have been done to death, Rand Al'Thor anyone?
BTW, who picked dragons on the poll? What’s fantasy without a few dragons tossed in there for good measure? More dragons is a good thing I say!

shaneo52 said...

Farmboys, evil dark lords, prophecies, all the rest when well done I think are totally cool.

Unknown said...

For me, even though it's though it everyone's newest 'trick' I'm sick of Middle East references, it highlights a certain brand of ignorance and is unnecessary, imho of course.

Ghost said...

I have to disagree on the Middle East references. I don't think there had been too many books with them. In fact, more alt worlds from the usual is a good thing in my view.

MarkS said...

Anything done well is fine by me. In general Farmboy Saves the World is out of vogue, and I'm ok with that. And elves have never appealed to me.

Sabrina A. Fish said...

I love them all as long as they are done well. No one writes a story the same and I like to see how a new author will give these same tropes a new spin.

Great post!!!

Anonymous said...

Farm boys saving the world; perhaps that just because of that monstrosity called ‘the wheel of time’, never have so many words been used to say so little.

Anonymous said...

Wow man,Beauty beyond words.

Nate said...

Righteous thieves/assassins, dwarves, Unevolved Worlds, Evil Dark Lords...

I have never found anything "righteous" about stealing from other people, or killing other people for a living. The closest I have ever come to a "steal from the rich, give to the poor" mentality is where I am right now after having lived on the Big Island of Hawai'i for 2 years. I swear this island is alive and it lures outsiders to suck out their souls... Anyways, mine and the strains of bad luck of many other non-locals around here are not relevant. I just find the idea of righteous thievery and righteous assassins as cliche. Neither of them are righteous in the least.

For me as well, I was also very into the High Fantasy portrayal of dwarves as a kid, but I think it's been overdone far too many times for it to have any place in my novels at least. Unevolved worlds I think are a cheap way to avoid going into greater detail about your setting. It is perfectly plausible that a society might stay at a similar technological level over millennia. We've witnessed this on Earth in Africa and the Americas. But if you're going to stifle technological and social progress, you need to give a good reason. I don't care, write an appendix to your book like Tolkien did where extra information is contained if you have to, just don't arbitrarily have people living in medieval times for thousands of years for no reason.

Evil Dark Lords are perhaps the most villainous of cliches to me though. Mostly because this is a simplistic interpretation of what was going on in certain High Fantasy novels that people cherish, like Lord of the Rings. Although Sauron's history is not explained within the Lord of the Rings (or at least not much of it), you do get a better look in The Silmarillion. If you pay attention, and it can be hard given how the book is worded, you will realize that Sauron and Melkor feel like they have been spited by their Ainur brethren, and so their goals to take over the world are actually rooted in very personal conflicts with people who were once close to them. Most people don't get this though, and often say that evil in LOTR was "black and white". More like black and grey if you ask me. The reasons for their evil were explained, just not in big bold letters or a chapter of their own. There is really no excuse to not give your dark lord a little bit more character. You don't necessarily have to go with the scorned child approach, but there just has to be something.

Still, using a dark lord at all can be risky, and it is often better to have a human/sentient being acting in the interests of evil, which itself doesn't have a physical form. It's more relatable, and makes your world more believable. It's far easier to believe the idea of an evil MAN than an evil deity that hangs out in his black keep and gazes out over a burnt plain and maybe mounts some heads on his wall now and then. Who wants to be king of a grave yard?

shaneo52 said...

Nate I hope you're writing a kickass book, cause I wanna be the first to read it. You nailed what you said there.

Anonymous said...

Middle-east references for sure; I am Egyptian and surrounded by it all the time so I need a break.

Anonymous said...

Dark lord (supreme evil), farm boy and women beating men phisically!

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