August 19, 2019, 09:12:31 AM

Author Topic: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?  (Read 2920 times)

Offline ArhiX

We all know about some tropes that are common to fantasy genres. The chosen one and The Prophecy. Evil overlord of evil evilness and his Empire. McGuffin of Doom. World in Stagnation. Ect. Ect. Some are old. Some are new. We can not really get rid of them, because readers have certain expectations - people want and need Evil Overlords and Dragoning Dragons doing Dragon Stuff and without fantasy tropes, how can a story even call itself a fantasy?

I never liked a trio of "The prophecy", "The Chosen One" and "The Farmboy". I do not hate it but I often roll my eyes when I see all three of them at the back of the book cover. Usually books like this have a boy who dethrones a powerfull villain, and there is a prophecy about it. I Read it in a lot of books. Watched a lot of movies about it. Saw a bunch of anime.

I do not like it because usually we know something from the very beginning - the evil guy will fall and the boy will win. Also - they boy had little to no training, yet still was able to fight against powerfull, evil creatures - because you know - The Goofy Ride of Inexplicable is fueled by the finest Petroleum of Prophecy.
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I also grow constantly tired of "Hero Origin Story" or "From Zero to Hero". It is a result of modern day hero-movies. I saw so many spider bites, experiments and gamma blasts that it was refreshing to watch some "Blade" or "Van Helsing" movies, where Heroes are already grown up and kicking ass.

What I just love is "Power Gaming". Some of you propably know this term from RPG sessions that went overboard. You have seriously overpowered characters and fight against crazy powerfull enemies. So later books of Malazan were the definition of this for me, where we constantly had a god vs god vs god situation. When the story puts two characters against each other that I know are crazy strong I am in readers heaven.

So what are your favourite tropes? What are the tropes you hate the most? And are there tropes, that in your opinion are unfairly hated?
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Offline xiagan

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Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2019, 08:34:07 PM »
I don't think bad tropes exist per se, there are just some where a bad execution is more likely or more common.
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Offline Peat

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2019, 11:28:34 PM »
I don't think bad tropes exist per se, there are just some where a bad execution is more likely or more common.

I can't think of any right now, but I'm pretty sure if my brain wasn't fog and germs I could think of some old school stereotypes that are pretty bad full stop simply because they represent some pretty unfair views.


Uhm. Topic. I'll never get why people get so annoyed by elves, dwarves etc.etc. when I see them so little.
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Offline NedMarcus

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2019, 11:28:46 AM »
I agree with xiagan that there are no bad tropes, just bad execution of them. I enjoy all the standard tropes, if done well.

About knowing the ending—I think this is fine too, as long as the journey there is interesting. Actually, in most genres you know the ending almost as soon as you start the book. For me, that in no way reduces the pleasure.

Offline ArhiX

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2019, 09:27:45 PM »
I have to say that I am a bad person and it was a Trap-Post. I 100% agree with mr. Xiagan and I am happy to actually see that you all are so like-minded.

Ok. But now I do have to explain myself, don't I?

This post was inspired by a number of articles about fantasy tropes and how overused some of them are, and how writers should change or right away stop using them. There are several tropes, that everyone seem to condemn.

The Chosen One, Medieval Europe, No Progress - these were among the most hated ones and I was actually sad reading about it. Most of the books with "The Chosen One" played this trope in so many surprising ways. Medieval Europe is what I read in 90% of books, and what I am going to write - why? Because we should write about what we know. For real - I am not going to study a history of China for the next five years, just to write about asian-inspired world, because Asia is totally not my thing and I need to do my chores and study for the next biotechnology exam and I have work tomorrow. I will leave it to someone who actually has any idea about Asia - or better - was born on this gigantic continent. Or has enough time to learn something about it - sadly I do not but I still want to write.

No progress? Well hello? Most fantasy books or series treat about 10-100 in-book-years. Not much changed from year 100 to 200 - am I right? Besides - If I was to make a choice between a book with guns and a book with swords... I will always take one with swords. And dragons. Sorry.

After reading mentioned articles I started to wonder. Books that I like have said tropes. Stories I would like to tell have them. So I am actually happy and in peace after seeing your responses and responses from past subjects.
Cheers!
« Last Edit: January 21, 2019, 09:29:58 PM by ArhiX »
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Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2019, 12:23:10 AM »
I'm glad you're happy, hehe

I think it also depends on how much you read. If it's only a handful of books a year, everything will seem new to you; if it's around 100, then maybe some will seem a bit 'samey', and usually the people who complain about tropes belong to the latter group.
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Offline Peat

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2019, 01:33:18 AM »
Those articles are only worth reading if you want to make yourself feel angry (or maybe do market research I guess). There ain't nothing wrong with getting bored of various fictional devices that happen a lot - but making a whole damn article about them being wrong, like their subjective opinion of what's wrong is a big deal? That's some boring narcissistic shiznit. Screw that. Unless its really funny. Its like those big generic lists of "Top 10 common writing mistakes!". Just never good.

And tbh, even as market research, they leave something to be desired as there's still tons of people who do love the tropes and usually authors getting published using them.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #8 on: January 22, 2019, 03:19:15 AM »
An amusing thing related to tropes I've been seeing lately is the growing tendency for authors/fans to describe stories with "AO3 tags".

So, for the uninitiated, Archive Of Our Own (AO3) is a broad fanfic archive. To help people find the sorts of things they want to read, and avoid those they don't, authors add tags to their stories noting which characters in involves, any warnings (for death or violence or consent issues), but also authors add additional descriptive tagging. These might be things like "hurt/comfort", denoting that it's a story wherein something bad happens, but the characters get to make each other feel better about it. Or it might be things like "only one bed", if it's a story where, for whatever very serious plot reasons, the characters are forced to share a bed.

YEP, it's trope tagging.

And as fanfic authors and audiences move more comfortably into fiction, I'm starting to see this happening for published books. For instance, when an agentsib of mine had her forthcoming Tor.Com novella, "Silver in the Wood", announced, it included a list of "applicable AO3 tags": "Many Feelings About Trees; Hurt/Comfort; Protective Dryads; Monster Hunting With Your In-Laws; Now That You’re in Tree Jail; Bring Your Crossbow; Bad Hair Centuries; You Can Never Have Too Many Sharp Knives Or Warm Socks; What A Beautiful Library You Have; Faustian Bargains (Implied)"

It's a bit like a dotpoint list version of a blurb, except that it includes terms that speak to common fiction elements - tropes. So that people can avoid stories that contain elements they don't like, and wallow in the stories that have things they enjoy. Everyone wins.

To get back to actual point: tropes are just things that occur more or less commonly in stories. Enjoyment of any specific one is subjective. All of them can be done well or poorly.

That said, I don't know if there's any that a book of the fantasy genre MUST have in order to be a book of the fantasy genre--unlike how a romance-genre book (as opposed to a story with a strong romantic line) MUST have a Happily Ever After (or Happy-For-Now) ending.

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Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #9 on: January 22, 2019, 09:09:49 AM »
^ oh wow, that is super interesting, I had no idea that existed!
I can see how that just feeds the idea of tropes ::)
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Online Magnus Hedén

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Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #10 on: January 22, 2019, 10:15:13 AM »
It depends to me. Like xiagan says, execution is important. A well-crafted story will be a good read pretty much no matter what else is going on with the setting, tropes, etc.

Having said that, I do get sick of it when things are too samey, too recognisable. I think we can easily fall into a comfort zone of reading stuff we're 'used to', and I think it's a trap for the mind. I believe the best things happen when we're surprised and a little bit uncomfortable because that snaps us out of just droning on.

Case in point: I had a grimdark fantasy phase, and when I look back at it there are only a few books that I can mention the name of or who wrote them. They all kind of merged in my mind. Now, I enjoyed reading those books, but when I can't even tell one from the other, I don't think I'm getting the creative stimulation I want (need?).

So more and more I like stories that break the mold in every possible way. That's dangerous territory, though, because I don't want the story to be broken, and unfortunately, a lot of writers don't know the difference. If you write something that's surreal and tells the story backwards (for example), you need to be hyperaware of how to structure a story to compensate.

Additionally, to me some tropes get tired because they're negative. For example, if you lock yourself down to writing fantasy set in a medieval Europe setting, you'll be locked into writing a society where women are considered property. At some point, I feel like it becomes an excuse not to imagine that anything else might be possible. But I've realised how refreshing it is to read about societies that are structured in a completely different way. Unfortunately those are still relatively rare, and if you haven't read one, you may be under the impression that they don't exist. Because you're comfortable where you are.
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Offline Neveesandeh

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #11 on: January 22, 2019, 10:38:46 AM »
I often claim to hate 'Chosen One' stories, and I've never intended to write one, but there are actually several I like, and there are many ways to put a unique spin on it. And I guess if I really hated medieval Europe settings I wouldn't have spent hours on end gushing about 'Dark Souls' to anyone who will listen.

The tropes that tend to annoy me are more technical than anything else. I hate bland protagonists the reader is supposed to project his or her self onto. And I hate the hero's journey. If someone does a unique or subversive twist on it, I would be interested, but I have yet to come across too many of those.

Having a fantasy race, usually elves or vampires, who are flawless and perfect in every way is another thing that gets on my nerves. One of the things I really liked about 'Skyrim' was taking this to the logical extreme and not so subtly portraying the high elf group as fantasy Nazis.

My favourite tropes are probably weird creatures and monsters. They're the main reason why fantasy is my favourite genre. I really appreciate it when an author lets their imagination run wild, even if the resulting story doesn't make much sense.

Offline Peat

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #12 on: January 22, 2019, 11:22:45 AM »

Additionally, to me some tropes get tired because they're negative. For example, if you lock yourself down to writing fantasy set in a medieval Europe setting, you'll be locked into writing a society where women are considered property.

This isn't true because we're writing fantasy and can therefore change certain elements of the historical period being used as a base, such as women's rights. Which is generally softly done in the majority of books with a medieval European setting.

Offline DrNefario

Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #13 on: January 22, 2019, 01:20:17 PM »
There was a time, (David Eddings,) when I went seriously off the Prophecy plot. And another time I went right off the lazy stereotyping of fantasy races (probably D&D this time, and racial stereotyping is another fault of the Belgariad).

It's always a reaction to consuming too much of something, though. Read something else for a bit and it fades.

Online Magnus Hedén

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Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad?
« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2019, 06:19:27 PM »

Additionally, to me some tropes get tired because they're negative. For example, if you lock yourself down to writing fantasy set in a medieval Europe setting, you'll be locked into writing a society where women are considered property.

This isn't true because we're writing fantasy and can therefore change certain elements of the historical period being used as a base, such as women's rights. Which is generally softly done in the majority of books with a medieval European setting.

I may have expressed myself poorly. I do not mean that it's impossible to make changes to the setting. Of course a writer has the freedom to change or challenge the historical setting.

But the end result either resembles medieval Europe enough to be a trope or has been changed it enough that it isn't. And I have a problem with medieval Europe as a trope.
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