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Ten Fantasy Clichés That Should Be Put To Rest

"How to Train Your Dragon"Anyone who follows celebrity gossip knows there is a downside to fame. Addictions, bankruptcy, and sex scandals threaten to tarnish a star’s image. Perhaps the biggest downside of fame is that, for most, fame is temporary. Why? Imitation. A hit record or a hit movie creates an army of fans. Producers start looking for the “next big thing” to satisfy the demands of those fans. Copycat acts start appearing, the market becomes saturated, and the fans move on.

The copycats are even worse when it comes to fiction because that market does not move as quickly. Imitation survives far longer than it should, until it calcifies into cliché. But there is hope. Writers can avoid using clichés, and readers can avoid stories that are lousy with clichés. To that end, I offer the following top ten list of fantasy clichés that deserve to be put to rest, once and for all.

1. A Prophecy or Destiny

One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading is watching characters develop as they struggle to overcome challenges. If the readers, or worse the characters, have some foreknowledge of how these challenges will be met, the drama loses all impact. It’s a shortcut, a cheat code. At best, the reader will want to skip the hundreds of pages a character spends resisting prophecy or destiny. At worst, the reader will throw the book across the room, suspecting that the ending has been spoiled. And as far as false prophets, a surprise interpretation of prophecy, or a mistaken chosen one, skip those as well. These twists are no longer surprising.

2a. The Orphan/Chosen One

Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and King Arthur/Wart. Across media, this is a common cliché, often related to prophecy. As children, we all dreamed of being picked from obscurity to become a celebrity, a hero, or a doer-of-great-deeds. Let’s leave those dreams in childhood and not in our fantasy novels, okay?

2b. The Wise, Old Wizard

Otherwise known as the bearded deus ex machina. Does the protagonist have a guide or a mentor? Fine. But I draw the line at stories in which the protagonist and his friends have been struggling for the past two chapters, only to have a wizard swoop in and solve their problems with a wave of his wand or a magical phrase. I think readers would prefer a wizardless solution, where the protagonist solves problems for himself.

3. The Dark Lord (Corollary: the Pure Superhero)

Similarly, I would argue that it is acceptable for a story to contain a tyrant king or a bloodthirsty general. But if the antagonist is evil for the sake of being evil, that story has crossed the line into cliché. A villain never sees himself as a villain but as a hero in his own mind. Unjustified evil is boring. And so too is unmitigated goodness. That’s why Batman is better than Superman.

4. White Hat Good/Black Hat Bad (Corollary: good people are beautiful; evil people are ugly.)

Any story that relies on some form of simplistic shorthand to divide good from evil should be avoided. Now that’s not to say that you can’t have symbols or uniforms for opposing sides in a war, but any sort of Manichean marker, such as the color of clothing, race, or species is too reductionist. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy fell victim to this cliché, with his Aryan/good elves and dark/bad Orcs and Uruk-hai, but George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series flipped the cliché, with (mostly) honorable men wearing the black of the Night’s Watch, while corrupted men wear the white of the King’s Guard.

5. The Races/Species are Uniform

Just as an entire race or species shouldn’t be purely angelic or demonic (even angels or demons need complexity and variation), members of a race or species shouldn’t look or act the same as if they were clones of one another. Look at humanity: the variation is quite dramatic. Yet it is rare to see such variation among elves, dwarves, or other fantasy creatures.

6. Men, Front and Center (Corollary: women are to be put on pedestals or martyred.)

Take a look at the protagonist and secondary characters. Are they all men? Are the women in your story afterthoughts? A beautiful princess in need of rescue? A goddess sacrificing her immortality for the sake of a handsome hero? A grandmother or witch? Just as races or species shouldn’t be simple stereotypes, neither should female characters. Look for stories that challenge sexist conventions. Readers prefer strong female characters. Choose Buffy Summers over Snow White.

7. Unrealistic Fighting (Corollary: unrealistic healing from wounds.)

A hero cannot take on a dozen assailants simultaneously and win. And a group of assailants would not wait to attack the hero one after the other. The hero would likely be killed, or at least horribly injured. And in a society where medical knowledge is limited, these injuries would have long-lasting consequences (barring magical healing, but see cliché number 8). Broken bones not set properly would cause pain and limit motion.

Arthritis would be common, not to mention pain and nerve damage. Again, George Martin does inflict long-lasting injuries on many characters in his A Song of Ice and Fire series.

8. Magic Without Limits

This follows from clichés two and three. Magic should be constrained in some way. There should be a cost to acquiring a magical ability and limits on the exercise of magic. Otherwise, magic can be used to solve all problems and overcome all challenges posed in the story.

9. The Church of Witch Burning

Religion can be a difficult subject in fiction. Historically, churches have been a source of community, of spiritual and worldly education, and of political power. Although a fictional religion can stand in opposition to magic or magicians, or even actively struggle against them, a fictional religious order shouldn’t be reduced to one overarching cause. Religion becomes reactionary, making it difficult to justify all those religious adherents. Check out Mary Doria Russell’s portrayal of the Jesuits in The Sparrow or Walter M. Miller’s monks in A Canticle for Leibowitz for examples of a more complete portrayal of a religious order.

10. Strange Spellings

Stories should not have to rely on capitalizing words or spelling them differently to invoke a sense of mystery or power about the word or concept. The context in which the word is used should be sufficient. The same goes for changing the names of recognizable animals in order to make the beast sound more fantastic. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series relies on creative spelling and excessive apostrophes quite heavily: Dhai’mon, Dhjin’nen, Ghob’hlin, Gho’hlem, Ghraem’lan, and Ko’bal, for example.

Readers may recognize elements of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey among my clichés. Please understand that I am not criticizing these stories themselves. I am criticizing imitations of these stories. A familiar character or plot device becomes a cliché only if it lacks originality. Execution is the key to storytelling. If an author is able to bring creativity and beauty to a story, the idea will likely rise above cliché, becoming something else entirely. For example, the first book of Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard Knight is about a boy transported to a sword-and-sorcery world where he must find a magic sword and become a knight. Yet Wolfe’s talent prevents that story from becoming a cliché.

I encourage readers to look for stories that challenge conventions that twist clichés into something new, favor complexity over simplicity, and aim for originality. Celebrate those stories, and ignore the knock-offs.

Want to discussion which fantasy clichés you love and which you hate? Join us in the forums!



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Brilliant article! Welcome to Fantasy-Faction, Eric 🙂

    • Avatar Lorcanius says:

      Generally good, but the fact is, none of these ideas are cliched in regards to tolkiens work, as he first popularised these ideas, years before sub-standard writers wore them out.

      • Avatar Esmeralda says:

        I was going to say this as well. Tolkien is NOT the cliche’, he is the origin. These are cliches because other authors copied Tolkien.

        • Avatar xaz says:

          True with the exception of good and evil codified by outward appearance. That’s a medieval concept.

          • Avatar Alexander Azarov says:

            And as a medieval concept, it corrupted popular Christianity as well – Biblical angels were often either frightening or looked like simple travelers, not all gloriously beautiful, and evil masqueraded as beautiful good, instead of being demonically ugly.

  2. Avatar Jamie says:

    Magic clichés annoy the heck out of me. I’m a stickler for a good magic system, and those who fail to create one go way down in my books.

  3. Avatar Hannah says:

    What a fantastic post! Fantasy is riddled with clichés across the board and it’s great to see authors breaking out of those in modern fantasy. Love the way you explained the clichés but then also how to break out of them.

  4. Avatar AshKB says:

    “And as far as false prophets, a surprise interpretation of prophecy, or a mistaken chosen one, skip those as well. These twists are no longer surprising.”

    Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what people DO with the twists – a chosen one can refuse, after all, or be the chosen in a way not suspect. One short story I have on my hard-drive involves the Long Lost Heir, the girl whom prophecy says will be queen of her city on her 21st b-day, indeed being queen of the city. Because she was raised by peasants, she’s pragmatic, and thus using her beauty and charisma to have a profitable career as a dancer and courtesan, with her fans calling her the queen. And she’s a firm believer in the city’s new republic – but the prophecy has been fulfilled, so nothing anyone can do. Is this still cliche and unsurprising?

    The trick is to TWIST things, and what one person may find boring, another may not. But I suppose I have a contrary streak when anyone says “you cannot do this” or “you cannot possibly find a way to make this cliche interesting.” I see it more as a challenge.

    Maybe we can have more small prophecies, the kind that just matter in a village, the kind the village shaman pronounces over infants – every day prophecies and destiny, rather than the fate of the world/kingdom.

    THAT SAID, I agree with most of this – and yes, please, more DIFFERENT women (women being “Strong Women” is as problematic in its own way, as they tend to be Strong Women which really means They Are Like Men And All The Same), and YES to all the different species being as varied as humanity.

  5. Avatar Eric C. says:

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone.

    Fair point, AshKB. It’s all about execution–done properly, a cliched idea can become original, and done poorly, a “surprise ending” can seem quite lame. Looking at things like a challenge, like you say, requires a proactive, creative approach. I think that goes a long way for originality because it’s much more difficult than falling back on tropes that come easy during the writing process. But the stories are often much better for that hard work. And good point about “They Are Like Men And All the Same.”

    I’ll check back fairly regularly. I look forward to reading comments and getting a discussion started.

  6. Avatar Matt Weber says:

    Just to pick nits: Most of the Night’s Watch are rapists and criminals, and the Kingsguard has some badasses and honorable men on it, notably Barristan Selmy (but also the three who opposed Ned Stark and Howland Reed at the Tower of Joy, even though they served the Mad King). I don’t know, I don’t think Martin’s “flipped” that cliche, I think he’s actually avoided it.

    Also, I’m pretty sure you can’t simultaneously claim that good execution can save what would otherwise be a cliche and that these particular story elements “deserve to be put to rest, once and for all.” If they can be done well, then people who can do them well should do them well. I understand you’re saying that they’re dangerous and can encourage lazy writing, but that’s actually a considerably weaker claim than “no one should ever use them again.” I do think it’d be worth expanding on how a good writer can save a story element that would become cliche in the hands of a lesser writer (rather than saying it’s due to “talent,” which isn’t illuminating), but I’m pretty sure it’s not easy to figure that out, or presumably more people would.

    And, while I’m here, you are criticizing Tolkien. WHICH IS FINE. Harry Potter, Joseph Campbell: Also not above criticism. No need to be timid.

  7. Avatar Alister says:

    Excellent article, especially the comments regarding magic. There’s nothing worse than a “get out of jail free” spell.

  8. Avatar Lewis says:

    Coincidental timing. I decided to write a book this month embracing ALL of these cliches 😀

  9. Avatar AE Marling says:

    Prophecies induce my gag reflex, and Dark Lords make me scream, “Why, Lord, why?” That said, some people do enjoy fantasy for the simplicity of good and evil. Also, I don’t think a genre can ever really be done with orphans becoming heroes. That’s stock archetype that resonates with the human consciousness. It’s less fun to see a veteran general save the day than a plucky youngster who seems to have no chance.

    I would like to add one more cliche for epic fantasy: An endless procession of characters tromping through a deluge of pages, and book after book in which the plot does not advance and nothing is resolved to the reader’s satisfaction.

  10. Avatar Dan D. Jones says:

    Matt, I don’t believe he WAS criticizing Tolkien. I sat down to watch “Casablanca” with my son a few years back. He watched for awhile, then turned to me and said “This is the most horribly cliched movie I’ve ever seen!” The thing is, of course, that those tropes weren’t cliches when the movie came out! They became cliches precisely because they were done so well and so powerfully that everyone else copied them and did them to death. The point certainly isn’t “Tolkien did it poorly.” The point is “Tolkien already did it and most likely better than you can, and a couple generations of authors have already copied him. It’s time to find something new.”

    • Avatar Matt Weber says:

      “Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy fell victim to this cliché”

    • Avatar Matt Weber says:

      Just to be clear, I agree that there exist criticisms of Tolkien that fall under the umbrella of “Shakespeare wrote in cliche.” I know the guy invented orcs. But “LotR is ethically simplistic” is not such a criticism. It’s true, it’s been said before (notably by Moorcock and Mieville), and it’s not a compliment.

  11. There is nothing wrong with any of the cliches listed. The complaint behind each one is at its root, sloppy story craft. Literature as a whole, and not just fantasy, is rife with cliches. Cliches themselves are valuables tools if used correctly. It is the skill in crafting a story that is important, not the avoidance of cliches. Being innovative for no other reason than to be innovative is just as disastrous as the clumsy use or overuse of cliches.

  12. Avatar Tbeowulf says:

    As for Tolkein. Its hard to fall into cliches when you INVENT SOME OF THE CATEGORIES ON THE LIST.

  13. Avatar darkharlequin says:

    I started reading the Sword of Truth series and the Wheel of Time series at the same time. Talk about excruciating.

    If I never have to read about a young perfect male hero surrounded by prophecy with an unknown magical father and kindly but grizzled caretaker again, it’ll be too soon.

    • Avatar Megan says:

      Though you will probably never see this, others may. I don’t know about the Sword of Truth series as I have never read it, however I have read the Wheel of Time series and it would seem you have no idea what that story was about. The protagonist is young *applause you got something right* yet he, or any of the supporting characters, are anywhere near perfect.
      Rand Al’Thor began inexperienced, kind of slow in the mind, in my opinion whiny, and generally flawed like any real person. Unless you think a real person with all their flaws are perfect…
      However there is the whole prophecy thing surrounding him, yet the author deals with that effectively enough to where I enjoyed the whole series.
      As for his father, yes he was unknown to Rand at first, but magical? Is being an Aiel leader magical? Or perhaps you never read to the part where he learns about his real father because you decided to stop reading before the end of book one.
      The whole kind caretaker thing is true, however would it have made sense for him to be brought up by some evil psychopath bastard?
      Jordan handled the series quite well, even with cliches present. And as another comment-er here stated “It is the skill in crafting a story that is important, not the avoidance of cliches. Being innovative for no other reason than to be innovative is just as disastrous as the clumsy use or overuse of cliches.” It annoys me when I come across someone who obviously has not read The Wheel of Time and talks as if it is just another lame fantasy novel.

  14. Avatar Elfy says:

    Interesting article, if anyone wanted to explore this further and have some fun doing it I’d recommend Diana Wynne Jones Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which not only skewers nearly every cliche in the genre it makes you laugh while doing so.

  15. Avatar S. V. Rowle says:

    Don’t worry about criticizing Joseph Campbell. He was mostly full of crap, as virtually all academic folklorists can demonstrate.

    The list is Good; good is The List! If I had a dollar for every story I read where all the species were “races” of uniform and boring creatures, I would have a healthy retirement account by now. 🙂

  16. Avatar JeninCanada says:

    Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” isn’t so much a story about a hero as an explanation of all heroes throughout time, and our common mythic themes of heroes and their journeys. There’s a reason that the orphan grows up with a destiny and meets an old man helper to fight a great evil, but to do so much leave home and return a man (or more lately thankfully, a woman). It’s probably the most well known and often told story in shared human history. Most of these aren’t cliches so much as parts of a vast, intercultural tapestry.

  17. It’s fantasy, it is a trope in and of itself. This is why there are so many splintered subgenres because people are wanting “realism” or something different.

    I think you are missing the point, which is you are to either evolve in your reading and do something interesting with the seven stories that exist, which we all retell every time we write, or go teach people how to write via non-fiction.

    Fantasy is magic. Mysteries are suspenseful. Sci-Fi is space. You can’t really switch these around too much without losing the thing that defines them.

    All in all, you missed the point. However, this is why I can’t read people who make it too gritty or make consequences that need to be “real”. We want to escape from life, not apply life into our fantasies.

    Nice try though.

  18. […] Fantasy Faction (Eric Christensen) on Ten Fantasy Clichés That Should Be Put To Rest. […]

  19. Avatar William Lexner says:

    Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard Knight is about a boy who falls out of a tree, injures his head, and hallucinates being a magic warrior of god and thor with a magic dog and cat and anything else his damaged brain concocts while unconscious. Not having traditional tropes would have been foolish, as the young man would have little else as a frame of reference when dreaming/hallucinating.

    I have a hard time taking serious the opinion of someone who missed that, btw. Wolfe, ever vague, spelled it out clearly in The Wizard Knight. It may be time for you to read that again.

  20. Avatar David Greybeard says:

    My pet peeve of fantasy cliches is: The Obsidian Blade/Sword/Knife or what have you.

    It’s used everywhere. In fact this month there’s a new release called “The Obsidian Blade”.

    And it’s nonsense. The writers don’t even know what Obsidian is! It’s volcanic GLASS! It’s just about the worst thing in the world to make a sword out of. It was great as a stone age cutting tool, but beyond that, it’s just plain silly. You’d be dead in moments if you had an obsidian weapon fighting against an opponent with a proper sword/knife/blade.

    • Avatar Chikiko says:

      Does the fact that an item is called obsidian mean it must be made of obsidian? it could just be dark colored or made of a substance that resembles obsidian.

    • Avatar Oberonjames says:

      I don’t understand why obsidian is considered magical and powerful either. Furthermore, I can’t figure out why, or how it started. Maybe it’s nostalgia for ancient civilizations and shamanism or something.

      That being said, you’re wrong about obsidian swords. They did exist. The Aztecs had them. Obsidian is actually a great material for weapons because of how insanely sharp it is. It is in fact the sharpest material we know and capable of producing mono-molecular edges. That’s right, a cutting edge a single molecule thick. It’s still used for scalpels, mainly for eye surgery.

      Macuahuitls, the Aztec obsidian swords, could easily slice unarmoured people in half and have been known to behead a horse. You wouldn’t be “dead in moments if you had an obsidian weapon fighting against an opponent with a proper sword/knife/blade”. That would depend on fighting prowess and technique. It is true that obsidian is brittle and a macuahuitl would have shattered easily when hitting metal armour, but the conquistadors weren’t armoured knights, so that didn’t apply to their conflict with the Aztecs.

      What did apply is technique. The obsidian blade was a large swinging weapon designed to be brought down with speed. You’d use it a little like a broadsword. Most of the Spanish, though, had rapiers, which are quick stabbing and thrusting weapons. So even though if the macuahuitl hit you, you’d be dead immediately, if you had a rapier, you could quickly stab him in the heart while he was still swinging.

  21. Avatar Overlord says:

    Certainly inspired discussion 😉

    • Avatar Altario says:

      An obsidian sword would be silly. A Macuahuitls is not a true obsidian sword, it is a wooden sword embedded with pieces of obsidian on the blade. A true obsidian sword would be near useless. Brittle, would dull very quickly against another sword or armour, it just would not make an effective weapon for a sustained amount of time. In one battle where you could dispatch the enemy quickly? Sure, why not. But even the Macuahuitls, with its very sharp edges as you correctly pointed out, was designed so that the obsidian in it could be replaced when they fell out or were broken during a battle. They were great against the lightly armoured opponents of the time, but did not fair so well against Spanish armour.

  22. Avatar cairi says:

    What’s rather interesting about any list of cliches that should be put to rest is that in five years’ time, what’s “new” or “anti-cliche” will no doubt become cliches themselves. That’s the danger of building lists that isolate certain story elements as good or bad. As you say in your second to last paragraph, it’s not the element itself but rather the writing of it that elevates it beyond cliche. Take the elderly wizard trope: part of its popularity stems from the fact that It taps into the idea that the elders in a community have amassed wisdom in their long years of life and have a responsibility to share that with the next generation. Yes, in a poorly plotted story, the wizard can be nothing but a deus ex machina, but that’s no reason to declare the wizard-as-mentor trope dead and consign it to the dustbin.

    These sorts of lists are good reminders of the risks involved in using time-honored elements; writers really do have a responsibility to use them so deftly they avoid the cliche’ trap. That’s what keeps fantasy (and any genre) alive and well.

  23. Avatar John says:

    This is the first article I read on my first visit to this website (I found it via Twitter), and it’s a heck of a good start. I’ve only recently started to consider myself a fantasy reader, having read more sci-fi throughout high school and college. I did find it interesting that the two series of books that have gotten me more into fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time) tend to make use of a number (if not all) of these cliches. However, as many have pointed out, in the hands of a good author, cliches can be turned into useful tools. As a new fantasy reader, the cliches don’t seem so cliche to me.

    Side note: these comments have now given me a whole list of books to read. Thanks!

  24. Avatar Ryan says:

    Looks like a lot of these comments come from writers that have been relying too heavily on cliche’s. Don’t get defensive and miss the point of the article. Use it as an opporunity to reevaluate of your work product. If you ultimately decide your story works better with one of the cliche’s listed, that’s fine. Hopefully, however, this article will cause you to take a closer look at your execution from the perspective of a weary reader that has heard every story before and will be suspect of any use of cliche’.

  25. I have to agree with Leif – fantasy is the sum of its tropes. What I think you are really protesting is the way those tropes are being repeated, not the concepts in and of themselves. Brent Weeks mentioned this in his writing posts a few weeks ago – ideas are cheap and common. The ideas of fantasy fiction? They all tend to follow the same pattern. (I’d even argue its that sense of familiarity reborn that we return to, but that’s fodder for a different comment ;)) Its how the storyteller uses those tropes to tell us a new story and entertain us that is critical. The prophetic proclamation of destiny is all good and fine – but being present doesn’t dilute the story unless the author lets it.

  26. Avatar ChrisMB87 says:

    I’ve always hated the uniform racial tropes, myself and I’ve made a habit of never making a race generally “evil”. There can be evil people, yes. An entire race may hold up a tradition others may see as foul, but if the writer takes the time to show WHY they have their strongest children compete in a bloodsport for example, then we can gain an understanding of the culture. Most of it comes from watching Lord of the Rings, since I always wondered what if an orc who didn’t want to join Sauron but was forced to. Or what if he was bullied into it by comrades or they threatened his family? Or what if he thought what he was doing was for the betterment of his people?

    That’s just my view, at least.

    • Avatar SIlver slayer says:

      I understand your point, but i dont know if you realise Orcs in the LotR are corrupted Elves, Elves that succumbed to the evil of darks lords be that Sauron or before him Morgoth, thus non were ever bullied into it they allowed themselves to fall to shadow and thus chose that path, not a single orc or goblin was bullied into serving Sauron. Though i do agree racial stereotypeing of ALL being evil is annoyiing unless obviously (like in LotR Uruk’hai) the creatures are created purposly to be that way, or if the creatures or race is produced from evil (Wheel of Time Shadowspawn) then its fair enough. Sorry if this seems like an attack I dont mean it to be I do understand your point and its a good one, LotR Orcs was juat a bad example.

      • Avatar ntm4 says:

        Actually that is incorrect. The original orcs were elves that Morgoth magically twisted/tortured into their new form. But after that they spread and reproduced on their own and all their offspring were automatically evil.

  27. Avatar Lyka says:

    Thanks for this brilliant article..challenging…and thanks AshKB for your opinion…it helps a lot! =D

  28. Avatar Joe says:

    “Unjustified evil is boring. And so too is unmitigated goodness. That’s why Batman is better than Superman.” … come on, admit it, you wrapped a clichéd superhero comparison up in the hope we wouldn’t spot it, crafty.

  29. […] With apologies to my colleague Eric Christenson, who supplied a very thought-provoking article about fantasy clichés a couple of weeks ago, I think prophecy is a very useful method of foreshadowing in fantasy. I’m […]

  30. […] Christensen lists ten fantasy cliches that he thinks should be put to rest. Fantasy writers, what do you […]

  31. Avatar SIlver slayer says:

    I feel David Gemmel and Robert Jordan, although use some cliche’s have the talent to write around that and still produce fantastic fantasy, Fantasy is produced by all these old “overused” concepts but without these concepts it wouldnt be fantasy. As for the cliche of stange writing in The Wheel of Time, its not overused and does not depend on them, these strange words are in RJ’s world from and ancient language, noww he produces another language from a society known as the Aeil, their language inst all apostraphed everywhere and speeled strange in fact it borrows greatly from African languages, unless you want to call their language strange, further all the strange over apostraphed words in the Wheel of time are borrowed from Old Norse and Old English etc real old languages and thus arnt really that strange, but to create his language he wanted some real templates that look fantastical, it would be nice if some research is done into why an author has done what he’s done before criticising and saying its strange and apostraphes are overused.

    Some authors however like Rowling and Meyer, embelish their stories with many cliches but their writing and storytelling is mediocre (Ok rowling is better than Meyer and is better than medicre but far from the best) and thus the cliches ruin the stories due to heavy reliance upon these cliches. However writers like Stephen Erickson, David Gemmel, Robert Jordan, Peter V Brett and Rober E Howard and many others, include much of these cliches but weave them in in different ways thus implementing the concepts in interesting new ways that becuase of their talent and ability to weave their stories enriches their novels and from it they creat excellent sagas.

  32. Avatar Mara Bell says:

    This helps me set a path. I now look at the story I was about to write and realize that I was going to write a clichéd, typical fantasy story with no uniqueness. I am glad I stumbled upon this site because it helps me break those stereotype and archetype barriers into new, fresh lands.

  33. Avatar Bret Schulte says:

    This is a common phase that most storytellers hit at some point.

    You read so many books or watch so movies and get so tired of the repeated formulas that you decide to break with them and make something different.

    This is often creatively great, but commercially terrible.

    The problem is that your audience of non-writers has not read or seen as much as you and isn’t as tired of the formulas as you are. They like to know what they are getting. They expect elves and wizards to act a certain way, etc.

    There is a reason why the same fantasy, romance, adventure, horror, rom/com, etc. plots succeed over and over again.

    Also, most publishers and producers want to go with the tried and true when investing their money.

    All that said, there is also a great reward for anyone who comes up with a new cliche.

  34. Avatar Irrevenant says:

    I have a theory that there is a sweet spot for fantasy fiction. If your story is too traditional and cliched it’s boring. But if it’s too unique and novel with nothing familiar, you risk alienating readers.

    I suspect, in fact, that there may even be an offset effect: the more novelty in your story, the more it needs to be supported by recognisable elements that give the reader some familiar ground beneath their feet.

    It’s a common rule in writing Sci-Fi that you get *one* new “leap of faith” thing per story. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

  35. Yes this! I am so freaking tired of the chosen one trope, I want to hear about the characters that become heroes on their own because they have to or because that’s just how things worked out. Better yet, I want to hear the sidekicks’ perspective watching their friend become the hero and trying to help out the best they can. Can we send this article to all publishers asap?

  36. Avatar BDG says:

    I think some of these really should be dealt with, specifically: 4, 5, 6, and 9 mostly because they deal with nasty folk-beliefs that exist today in our media, cultural and general Western Societies and are rooted in racism, sexism and intolerance. Others I’m not to sure about since they go back to age-old literary traditions. I for one really like examples 1, and 8 since I really like Greek epics and works that riff off them. I think in modern fantasy we could do well with trying to replicate these tropes in a less cliche fashion. The others can work if given enough skill and depth. A powerful being who is inherently evil might be a little to much christian for me but I see how it would be terrified an just because you’re a chosen doesn’t mean you’re not flawed. Unrealistic combat is the funniest part of superhero comics and action-fantasy books and the wise old wizard could be interestingly explored. The strange spellings I really never had problem with if there was some kind shared imagined loose grammar involved and not use just to show how exotic your setting is.

  37. […] Faction posted ten fantasy cliches that need to be done. I could not agree […]

  38. Avatar kelpeterson says:

    I feel like a dork saying it, but also bound to point out, as HISHE notes, there is one other reason Batman is better than Superman: because he’s Batman!

    Yep, dork moment over. On a more serious note, nice list of cliches. As the writing professors say, there’s no such thing as an original idea, which is why it sounds like the same old, regurgitated story if you don’t present the idea in a fresh/new/entertaining way. Thanks for the fun post!

  39. Avatar Xen says:

    Magic Without Limits.

    This one is tricky, and I can’t really see where you’re getting this from; modern novels seem to have all sorts of limits on their magic. I really think it depends on what kind of tale you’re trying to tell. For something like “The King of Elfland’s Daughter” the magic had limits yet it didn’t. It was mysterious.

  40. Avatar AngmarBucket says:

    “That’s why Batman is better than Superman.”

    Pretty sure this statement falls under “cliche” by this point, honestly.

    (Also, citation needed.)

  41. Avatar K. Wodke says:

    You just effectively destroyed most of the plot points in a story I was thinking about writing. But thank you for that! It will be a better tale now.
    Seriously good article.

  42. Avatar Terry says:

    I have issues with number 7.

    I guess considering what Szeth does in Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings must make it a bad book then with terrible tropes. But then, the 1183 five star reviews, 202 four star reviews, and only a total of 45 one AND two star reviews COMBINED kind of make the point null and void. Szeth not only destroys 8, or is it a dozen opponents? (I can’t clearly remember, I lost count) He also heals his wounds magically while fighting. And there’s NOTHING remotely realistic about his fighting. The man literally manipulates gravity to walk on the walls and on the ceiling. Sometimes, the craft of a storyteller is bigger than the trope/cliché.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      I agree with this 🙂 The article is lighthearted and obviously not going to apply in ALL circumstances to every novel. I imagine Sanderson could start a novel with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and end it with ‘they all lived happily ever after’ and make it a piece of art worth 5 stars 🙂

  43. It’s always good to read something like this and realize that I was on “the right track” all along. Thanks for the very informative and insightful post.
    I’ll be returning.

  44. Avatar Charon says:

    On point 9 – oh no, that fantasy religion is reactionary! That’s so unrealistic! Real religions are never reactionary, because otherwise they wouldn’t have followers!

    Thanks. Truly. I needed a great laugh today 🙂

  45. […] suffers from falling into typical fantasy cliches as well.  Harry himself is the absolute epitome of cliche fantasy heroes.  Orphaned as a child by […]

  46. Avatar Janet Van says:

    If your setting is along the lines of medieval high fantasy, and you throw in armies and conflict, you are going to be creating orphans. Entire Family Gone is a perfectly rational reason why your main character gets kicked out into the world where her real journey begins.

    Copying another work’s orphan — poor little hero boy besieged by evil/stupid relatives — yeah, I don’t want to read that any more, either. Creating an original voice and plausible, consistent execution are what I’m looking for, regardless of who the main character is.

    Not everything mentioned here is a cliche; we all too often conflate cliche with trope, and without tropes, there wouldn’t be many road markers that help us relate to a story. Without tropes, there’d be no TV and only a handful of films and books.

  47. Avatar buck wade says:

    I’m not a fan of the prophecy and chosen one trope, but the trope can be used, like in the percy jackson and heroes of olympus series, as a HOW something is going to happen. So you’re saying that if a weakling is male, it’s cool, but if they’re female it’s sexist? And nowadays the only way to make something original is execution, since every story element has been used to death.

  48. Avatar Ana says:

    I do agree with you on some of these things such the pretty heroes and ugly villains, the stereotypical races, and men front and center. But, I believe that to make a story or fairy tale too realistic by taking out the epic fighting or the chosen hero takes away from the fun of it. As you said yourself everyone dreams, especially at a young age, of being special and often times their only way of becoming that is to escape into a story.

    • Avatar Ana says:

      Also, I’d like to add that at this point it hardly possible to come up with completely cliche free stories, since there are sooooo many stories out there. 100% originality is impossible. (Not saying that you’re wrong on all of your points, I do agree some things are just used too much.)

  49. Avatar Drahal says:

    Thank you very much. I’ve been collecting data on good clichés to use on my book on purpose :D. Of course all of them will have an interesting twist.

  50. Avatar Hansen says:

    I don’t like it when elves are referred to as Aryan and in a negative context. Fantasy is not about metaphors for racial supremacist ideas. I don’t see anything wrong having a beautiful white skinned race dressed in white and an ugly evil race dressed in black. The problem is that it is a cliché, not that it is supposed to represent Europeans and dark skinned people in the real world. This is a pattern that have always been present, and would still be even there was only a single race on earth, no matter what race that would be. When I read Tolkien and stuff as a teenagers and saw such movies, not once did I draw connections between the evil races and black people.

    And about the Dark Lord. When a villain is supposed to be evil just for the sake of being evil, I agree that it’s not that creatively done. Why did he kill all the men, women and children in the village? Because he is evil, and that’s the kind of things those who are evil does. But, that’s exactly how Satan/Lucifer is portrayed in Christianity, and other incarnations of evil in other religions. Which makes you think. These religious concepts are kind of childish. An evil being laughing his ass off when billions of souls are tormented for all eternity. Sounds pretty simple minded to me.
    It also allows you to get away with a typical Dark Lord in a fantasy, as long as this is a character in their religion and not a real villain living amongst them (unless if we are talking about fantasy where the gods and devils in their religions are real).

  51. Avatar Megan says:

    Overall I agree with most of what you wrote, however I find fault in number 6 as a cliche for fantasy. As a woman I do agree that when I come across a female character who does nothing but look pretty it annoys me to the point of tossing what I’m reading and ripping apart all I see around me, I have not actually seen many of those in the fantasy books I’ve read.
    The ‘Snow Whites’ are mainly seen in romance-centric books, which a good fantasy novel is not. The over-all plot of a fantasy novel in everything I’ve read has been ‘defeat the great evil’ with romance on the side.
    If anyone knows of some fantasy out there where this isn’t the case, supply me with the name so I can eat my words. However the female fantasy characters that I can think of off the top of my head were plenty strong. For example: the women of The Wheel of Time who did so much more than looking pretty; Simera, though she’s not human, and Shaiara of the Enduring Flame Trilogy are complete bad-asses in my view and the villain of that series, Ahairan, is also a woman; The Obsidian Trilogy Idalia Tavadon was far superior to her brother who was the main character and was the one who began teaching him what he needed to know; And though I have not read The Lord of the Rings myself, I have learned enough about it to know that Arwen is not some push over just because she loves Aragorn.
    To conclude, I think it is not the authors who are not giving their female characters any credit to their abilities but it is those who are reading a novel and come across a woman who is a love interest or a simple healer or who could barely be considered a supporting character that refuse to give these women their due.

  52. Avatar Sarah.S says:

    So you make some good points like not making only men front and center. I also hate the insta magic fix. Making my main character who is female and a witch/human. Magic is a tool not a toy and throughout the story and sub stories about her cousins I find ways to drop in things that put the magic in the background as just one of several tools or weapons and make clear overuse or dependence is a stupid thing to do. A stupid thing with real consequences.
    Batman is better then Superman!!! But he is also an orphan and Buffy was a good example of female heroine but she was also called the chosen one so don’t these examples kind of contradict what you are saying?
    The religion thing? Crusades and inquisition.
    Oh crap… I just realized something. I have completely failed to create any characters of strong church base views that are not in some way of the crazy burn the witch persuasion. Crap you have a point. I will fix that.

  53. Avatar Brad James says:

    I totally disagree, with every comment, and here’s why. These cliche are why people read the book in the first place. They for the structure of the story. it’s not so much the cliche that are the issue, it’s the timing and the delivery that are the problem. There are only 7 notes on a musical scale, but, most songs only use 3 notes/cords, with a 4th dropped in at just the right moment. Thousands and thousands of songs are written with these same cords. It’s not the cord that make the song, it’s how they are used, along with the timing. It’s the little nuances by each writer that bring these basic structures together.

    Buffy over Snow White? Sure, you may pick Buff, but you’re picking her not for her sex, but for her character role.
    Batman over Superman? Superman does not need a side kick, props, tools, or violence. Both roles are completely opposite. Batman is fighting violent gangs in one city run by evil gang bosses, Superman is fighting for humanity. Besides, they’ve never done a good Superman.

    Sure, fiction is very cliche, but when it is done right, it works. it’s not what you put into a story that matters, it’s how well you pull it off. Instead of making these cliches the focus, try to let the focus be on the credibility of the characters and their skills to problem solve.

    I will concede one point, when it comes to a powerful wizard in fiction, he is always too selective with just when he will save the day. If he’s got that much magic ability, why did he allow them to get in that much trouble, that many times, when all he had to do was wave his magic wand? He can blow a hole in the side of a mountain, but he can’t blow the chain off a locked door? It’s these inconsistencies with cliches that need to be focused on, not the cliches themselves. Tolkein could have had the eagles carry Frodo, or just the ring, to the volcano right from the start. It would have saved a lot of lives. But then, we would have no story.

    Wow, just noticed that this is quite a late post. Oh well. Sorry.

    • Avatar Sarah says:

      I completely agree.

      Quite frankly, I get really tired of it when people complain about clichés and tropes in fiction. I am well read and read across genres. I can hoestly say that when people try too hard to go against the cliché, it often as stiff. For example, I recently read a series in which it was clear the author was trying to introduce diversity by introducing a gay couple. It was quite obvious from the reader stand point that the author wasn’t really comfortable writing as a gay person and had zero idea what it would be like to be in this woman’s shoes. However, she was so bent on writing in diversity that she did it anyway and it failed miserably. I personally think if we want different viewpoints in fiction, we need to focus on diverse authors. Only then does the viewpoint really change because we write what we know. Clichés are only annoying when done poorly.

  54. […] within this story feels forced or unbelievable and it did not feel cluttered or bogged down with common fantasy tropes. Typically when a character manages to worm their way out of sticky situations, it can feel fake, […]

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