I go through phases all the time when it comes to music, to reading, and even to writing. Right now, I’ve really been trying to write more fantasy. It’s not easy, since this isn’t my number one genre. In fact, other than dabbling in a little bit of urban fantasy, I haven’t written much fantasy at all.
But here I am now trying to figure out not if I should work on fantasy, but which fantasy should I work on. And here’s where I run into problems. Much like when I took inventory of some of my unfinished horror projects, I’ve realized that my unfinished/unpublished fantasy projects are riddled with cliché.
So here are 3 Fantasy clichés I found in my writing (and 2 more you should avoid.)
Fantasy cliché # 1: Portal to/from present America
Well here goes everything. What’s wrong with the manuscript I have sitting in front of me on my computer right now? It’s a story about a group of teens who find a portal to another world. A “fantasy” world. So while the characters are mostly interesting, and the plot is mostly original, I still can’t get past the fact that the basic premise has been done over and over in fiction.
And if I feel like I’m watching a remake of the 1980s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, then a literary agent certainly would as well. (But just for the record, the 1980s D&D cartoon was incredible.)
From Oz to Wonderland to Narnia, this theme is just too common if you don’t do something really interesting and original on top of it. And in my case, I think I have that angle, but it needs a ton of work for that to show through.
Fantasy cliché # 2: Medieval setting, kings and queens
I guess part of me wants to say it’s hard to call this a cliché, since the medieval setting is such a staple of the genre. But not all fantasy needs to take place in the same world as children’s fairly tales and the Disney movies based on them. Worldbuilding is such a large part of writing fiction, and writing fantasy in particular, that a writer should be able to create a world that isn’t a replica of old Britain, where we might not have castles, kings, and queens.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t do that (and I certainly have) but when you are creating that fantasy world of knights and princesses, try to create an element of uniqueness that will make your world stand out and not come off as a trope of the genre.
Fantasy cliché # 3: Save the princess
I know this worked for Mario in Super Mario Bros. and for Link in The Legend of Zelda and for a million other games, fairy tales, and fantasy stories. But not only is it a plot line that has been done to death, it’s also a pretty outdated one in modern entertainment, where the “damsel in distress” just won’t cut it anymore as women characters have finally become just as powerful as male characters in most forms of fiction.
I included this one in my list of “clichés I found in my own writing” because in one of my WIP novels, I realized I’m using this trope as well. She may not be a princess in the traditional sense, but a large part of the novel involves a girl getting taken by the villain, and the “good guys” rushing to her rescue.
So how do you get around this cliché? Well, that’s sure not easy in the revision phase. But in the prewriting phase it’s pretty easy: Just don’t do it. Find another answer to the question “What does your character want?” Just make sure it’s not a magic object. Which leads us to…
Fantasy cliché # 4: The quest for the magic object
I’ll tell you what: I appreciated Tolkien greatly for what he has done. But I’ll also tell you that if I ever hear “My precious!” again I just might see how the ground looks from my forth floor office. (Not really, no need to report me to any authorities. But I still really hated the Gollum stuff in the movies.)
If you write a novel or series where the characters go on a quest to find a magic object, do you know what the reviews are going to say? “Sigh. Another story about a quest to find a magic object.” For real.
So what do you do? I have no clue. Come up with something better. I thought of this one because I’m currently in the brainstorming phase of a novel I want to start and while trying to figure out what to do with the characters, one of the ideas that came to me was “Why not send them on a quest for a magical object?”
And that was what actually prompted this post 🙂
Fantasy cliché # 5: Die die die!
So I’ll admit I haven’t read any of the books in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, nor have I watched Game of Thrones. But for a while there I believe every person I know (and several strangers on the street) would come up to me and tell me every single little detail about the show. And the books. And how the books are different than the show.
Anyhow, while I was able to tune most of it out by covering my ears and “La La La”-ing away the noise, one big thing I picked up on was that people die. Lots of people die. All the time. People keep getting introduced and then dying. I don’t know for sure, but this link here (from April 2015) claims that since the first episode 133 name characters have died.
This was sort of a unique thing in fiction at first, but now I see other writers on Twitter talking all the time about how many crazy ways they can kill people. I don’t know…. Yes, characters die in fiction. But now all this killing just for the sake of killing just comes off as copycatting GoT to me.
So there you have it. I’m slowly working my way through a genre that is somewhat new to me, and I’m learning a lot about my weaknesses. I hope you’re learning a lot too, and if you’ve got any tips on writing fantasy, feel free to leave them in the comments section.