Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Few of my Favorite Fantasy Cliches

This is my 100th post! In celebration, I'd like to do something very cliche: write a post about my favorite fantasy cliches. (Cue applause.)

Also, please note that in my blog post, I've used male pronouns to refer to characters, since the majority of fantasy stories are still written about males. Hopefully someday the case will be different!

So, without further ado, I present:

My Favorite Cliches
To the tune of, "My Favorite Things"

Dark stormy nights and scales on dragons
Bright shining daggers and red glowing fire
Stacks of old parchment all tied up with strings--
These are a few of my favorite cliches.

Black or white horses and elvish lembas bread
Watch bells and beacons and Gollum with worms
Creatures that fly with the Nazgul on their wings--
These are a few of my favorite cliches.

Shield maidens in white dresses with swords at their sashes,
Arrows that barely scratch my nose and eyelashes
Silver white beards of wise old men who soon die--
These are a few of my favorite cliches.

When the Dark Lord rises, when the prophecy rhymes, when the hero's an orphan,
I simply remember my favorite cliches, and then I don't feel so bad (about my own writing)!

And now for a proper list of my favorite fantasy cliches.

1. Stock characters

Almost every single fantasy story contains an old man/wizard/wise person who imparts crucial information to the young hero, usually an orphan. Said young hero discovers he has magic powers or is the "chosen one," a fact that no one has told him all his life, and that the villains have only just discovered. Add in a handful of warrior maidens and a dragon or two, and you've got a regular soup of cliches. If you really need any examples of this, just look to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

2. Prophecies or curses

Speaking of the "chosen one," any prophecy or curse of any size or shape definitely counts as cliche. Particularly if the hero is the only person that the prophecy could refer to. And if the stakes are "the end of the world as we know it." So if you're dying to make your story as cliche as possible, please, please, insert one of these. I promise it'll increase the cliche-factor by ten. Don't believe me? Ask the dishes! (Reference to Beauty and the Beast, which by the way contains a prophetic curse.)

3. Medieval setting

Despite the constant use of Medieval costumes and weapons in fantasy stories, the hygiene and medicine of fantasy stories seem to be pretty modern. Because, really, where's the plague? Furthermore, there's always a journey that takes days or weeks to get to the destination, usually by walking or riding the same horse for days on end. Honestly, how do characters in these stories manage to get anything done when they must be dead tired from traveling all the time? Walking kills your feet, kills the horses, and can't be done constantly. I'm looking at you, Lord of the Rings.

4. Good versus Evil

So your hero is battling a "Dark Lord" or the "forces of evil" or must go through the "Dark Forest" and battle an army of ugly evil orcs? Wow, how original. But let me ask a question: why should darkness be the enemy just because it's dark? Couldn't that be construed as a bit racist? And why should the whole race of elves (or dwarves, or men) be good and beautiful while orcs (or other villainous force) are always evil and ugly? The real world has good ugly humans and bad beautiful humans. Why should fantasy be any different?

5. Unrealistic fighting

Hero learns swordplay in about a week and is suddenly a master at weapons of any kind, able to confront expert enemies who've had years of training to perfect their technique. Also, arrows never, ever run out, armor is feather-light, and shields are hardly ever necessary. Oh, and while we're on the subject, all wounds seem to be either a minor scratch or life-threatening. Don't heroes ever get paralyzed, or suffer brain damage, or have to amputate their arms?

That said, of course, these particular cliches are only cliches because they've been used very effectively in some of the greatest fantasy stories of all time, from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast. So should you really always avoid using cliches?

Well, on the one hand, if you purposefully try to avoid all cliches ever, you're just going to give yourself a horrible headache while you try to think of original plot devices and methods of transportation. On the other hand, you do want to think very carefully before inserting a cliche into your story.

If you do use a cliche, make it humorous and obvious, as Patricia C. Wrede does in her hilarious Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Or try turning it on its head, as Gail Carson Levine did in her amazing novel Ella Enchanted. Recognize the cliches in your writing--and run with them! Use them for your own benefit. It's the best way to write!

Have you read any books or seen any movies with cliches? Any cliche-breaking stories you'd love to share? What about in your own writing--love them? Hate them? Avoid them like the plague?


  1. It's funny how you managed to paraphase My Favorite Things to describe cliches. That probably wasn't easy to do. Also, very good points about the cliches. This actually may be surprising, but I have rarely had these cliches appear in my fantasy writing. Is that good or too far out of the norm? The one I would probably be guilty of is making my characters walk around a lot. Also, I usually like to turn some of my bad guys in to good guys in the end by some sort of interesting transformation. Is that a cliche? Thanks again for another thought provoking post.


    Tickle Your Cute Bone

    1. Thanks! Wow, that's awesome that you've dealt with these cliches so little! Makes me want to read your work - I love stories with redemption in them for the bad guys! And I'd say that it's definitely not a cliche in fantasy. More often, the cliche is that the Dark Lord is evil for no reason and will remain evil forever. Have you published anything? Thanks so much for commenting!

    2. No, I haven't published anything yet (I will someday though). I'm actually having problems with this one story. I just can't get all the pieces to fit together smoothly, plus I have problems with making my story interesting word wise. I think I have a good enough plot and characters, but whenever I try to edit the grammar and wording and such and I end up getting bogged down with how horrible it is and start all over again. I'm working on my fourth draft for the same story. But, in all honesty, I think it gets a little better each time. Have you ever had to rewrite the same story so many times to get it right?

      Hey, feel free to say no, but maybe you can read my story and give me some pointers on how to fix it? I really want my story to work out because it is my first and my "baby", but I'm getting frustrated that it is still not coming out right. At the very least you can tell me it can be salvaged or that its time to scrap it and move on.

    3. I can totally sympathize! The only story that I've ever finished had to go through at least seven very different drafts, and the novels I've worked on since then I keep reworking and rewriting and they still don't seem to flow quite right!

      Yes, I'd love to read it! Since I'm a bit tight on time, if you don't mind, I'll just give it a quick reading and give you comments about where I'm confused as a reader, or where character's actions/words don't make sense, or if anything is super suspenseful or confusing or disappointing. And also overall comments on the story as a whole, including how it lives up to expectations. Does that sound okay? You can email me the draft at siennanorth at gmail dot com.

  2. 'Arrows that barely scratch my nose and eyelashes' is the best. * dying with laughter over that song * XD

    1. Yay! :D *satisfied grin* *is also amused at the thought of arrows barely scratching my nose and eyelashes*

  3. Haha, these are so true! Great post idea!

    Although cliches can be annoying, sometimes I find them comforting when I'm reading fantasy, like old friends. Ahh...there's the wise old man and the epic sword fights...

    1. Indeed! It's really the reason why I keep reading Beauty and the Beast retellings, or watching new versions of the classics... I know how it will end, but the familiar atmosphere is so comforting and homey.


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Proverbs 15:1
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