7 Fantasy Clichés That Need to Disappear (For the Good of All)

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Right, I get it. Fantasy is a genre comprised of clichés that have transcended myth and legend just to end up being serialized in books or regurgitated on the big screen for our collective entertainment. Still, there’s a difference between an archetype and…

7. The Loyal Follower Eager to Sell his Life Dearly for a Person he/she Has Just Met

Novelists and filmmakers alike make the mistake of forgetting that the centaur or elfish thing or whatever expendable ugly is on the chopping block this time has just made the protagonist’s acquaintance in Act III. Writers often get away with this because the audience has been privy to the hero’s trials and tribulations from the start of the novel or film and thus take for granted that Loyal Sycophant Number 7, who is about to go all Mohammed Jihad on the bad guys, has never even had a conversation with said hero. (The excuse, of course, is always some vague prophecy we must assume this expendable creature fervently believes in.) The effect is something like this:

Hero

Hey, I just met you!

And this is crazy!

But I’m your savior—

So die for me, maybe?

Loyal Sycophant Number 7

Before you came into my life…

I missed you so bad.

Now other than in American politics (and pop music), where would we see such blind devotion to a largely unknown and doubtlessly misunderstood cause?

6. The All Powerful Technique/Magical Item/Elixir of Great Bullshit

This persistent literary ultimatum that stretches out plots and invites snores from fans and haters alike is really just a thinly veiled reiteration of the Grail quest.  Only in Fantasy is it impossible to heal the land and put the villain in his grave without first obtaining Ye Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

This works both ways, of course—the evil sorcerer cannot raise the Lord of Nothingness from his bier without a cookbook’s recipe worth of made up shit. He must then scour the land in an attempt to obtain the ingredients whilst cleverly evading the story’s hero at every turn, only to finally complete said ritual and have the hero defeat him anyway using the same bullshit iterated above.

 Lord of Nothingness

But how can this be!

I am the Lord… of Nothingness!

Hero

What the hell does that even mean?

(throws matter at him—in the form of a spoon)

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Lord of Nothingness

Bah! My only weakness!

Villain

Well, shit. Next time, I’ll try the

Lord of Magical Realism…

(This last bit was inspired by Joe Erickson of http://scifiandsushi.com/, who has been hating on nothingness since the 10th grade.)

I mean, if you think about it, even Excalibur is really just the metaphorical equivalent of a steel erection, and most All Powerful Weapons of Great Bullshit are allegories for Excalibur.

Maybe your hero shouldn’t need Viagra just to get the job done?

And I digress, but do you know what was really great about Kung Fu Panda? Po obtains a Magical Item of Great Bullshit in the form of the Dragon Scroll, and it doesn’t do a blessed thing but help him understand that there is no secret ingredient to badassery. (Badassery. Is that a word? Well, it is now.)

5. Evil Wizards with Portmanteau Names

A portmanteau—unless we’re talking suitcases—is a (sometimes nonsense) word created by blending other, familiar words together. The idea is that the reader will carry the connotations of the original words into the new, smashed up version. Portmanteaus can be as simple and universally understood as “smog” or as complex and nonsensical as those that comprise the majority of Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky”.

So where do we see this in Fantasy? Frickin’ everywhere. They range in quality from Darth Vader (Dark Invader) to Darth Sidious (Dark Insidious) to Darken Rahl (cringe).

(Note to Trolls: According to George Lucas in the book he wrote about creating Anakin Skywalker and the many drafts the original Star Wars went through, it is “Dark Invader”, not “Dark Father”. Lucas didn’t even know that Darth Vader would turn out to be Luke’s father when A New Hope was released in 1977. Do your research, trolls.)

Here’s a spot of logic—if your villains exist in a galaxy far, far away or an alternate universe, they don’t speak our language, and their names certainly wouldn’t be silly portmanteaus of our contemporary tongue. Their names, like ours, would probably stem from the dead languages of their ancient civilizations. (As long as you’re not feeding us long, unpronounceable names with meaningless apostrophes.) Only in YA Fantasy stories like the Harry Potter series can a writer get away with portmanteaus like Voldemort.

Don’t just write a name that you think sounds evil. Write a character that makes his or her name evil though action. Most Fantasy readers are quite intelligent and may be insulted when they figure out your process. The rift can grow even wider if it takes them a few years.

I mean, it’s almost as insulting as having a G.I. Joe villain named Cesspool.

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I slept with that action figure under my pillow. I’m laughing now at 30, Hasbro. You guys are dicks.

4. Orlando Bloom

Who decided this guy looked like a hero?

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Other than those eyebrows (apparently Tolkien’s elves have bad dye jobs that don’t include ye olde forehead caterpillars), I could grow more hair on my knuckles than this pansy will ever legitimately grow on his face. Russell Crowe could pick his teeth with this guy. Gerard Butler could Sparta kick him down the pit from Mortal Kombat wherein some intense acupuncture action would ensue, and that embarrassingly stupid skateboard stunt he pulled with a shield in Two Towers wouldn’t save him. And Arnold, well, even in his current deteriorated ex-governator state, Arnold could sail over him with the flabby windsocks of his arms all flying squirrel style and then take him out with a mere one liner.

Arnold

Krom is not amused, bitch!

You know what would have made Kingdom of Heaven (historical fiction, but close enough) the best movie in the known universe? Swapping out Orlando Bloom, who brought nothing to that role or that cast, for Heath Ledger.

We miss you, Heath. The world needs more protectors of Italian virginity.

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3. Heroes That Are Only Heroes Because Daddy Was a Hero

And A Knight’s Tale, another historical fiction flick starring the late great Heath Ledger, really brings me to my next point.

I’ve seen a rise in Fantasy stories wherein the reasoning behind the hero’s badassery or legitimacy is directly linked to his or her lineage. Essentially, one cannot be a hero unless his/her bloodline dictates this is so, and usually with a prophecy thrown in for good measure. It’s ironic that primogeniture, which is argued against in many of the works of the middle ages that serve as the superstructure on which the current Fantasy genre is built, seems to have resurfaced in the modern writing of “democratic” nations that claim to have abolished the idea of an aristocracy.

As Chaucer tells us, just because your ancestors possessed virtues that caused the people of their time to call them “noble” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better than a guttersnipe in Cheapside.

“But will himself do naught of noble deeds/ Nor follow him to his name he succeeds/ He is not gentle, be he Duke or Earl/ For acting churlish makes a man a churl/ Gentility is not just the renown/ Of ancestors who have some greatness shown/ Of which you have no portion of your own” (Chaucer, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, 299-304).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that much like my parents. There’s the genetics argument of course, but here we are discussing Fantasy, and you just threw in the s-word–science.

Some writers have caught onto this, but rather than creating characters that fight tooth and nail for what they get in life, they have instead spawned an entire generation of whiny protagonists with daddy issues. Or worse, they cheat the whole process by giving you a character who “appears to be of humble origins” but you find out was really a king or prince the damn whole time (e.g. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, Taran from the Lloyd Alexander books, etc.).

I like my heroes with a little dirt in their teeth, a little grit. Most of us do. Unless your prince-with-daddy-issue’s name is Zuko, and he’s got scars signifying he’s been through some serious shit, I’m probably going to root for the commoner selling turnips on the street corner to pay for his broadsword lessons with the local guards.

Image Where’s your stigma, Prince Charming? Reason number one this movie flopped.

2. Helpful Dragons

I think we all know who is to blame for inspiring the recent influx of rotten stories regarding dragons that want to be ridden into battle by heroes too weak to settle their own scores with our aforementioned portmanteau villains. Do a little research. A real dragon, as supported by thousands of years of lore, would rip your face off just as soon as look at you. Then he’d loot your corpse, make off with your virgins, and take a flaming shit on your kingdom.

Read a little further, and you might notice dragons murdering gods (say Thor, for instance) and gnawing upon the Tree of Life itself. The Great Wyrm doesn’t aid men in their petty squabbles. He ends them, and everything else.

I once had a bumper sticker that depicted dragons far better than many bestselling novels and blockbuster films. It read: “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and go good with ketchup.”

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1. Cute Things That Overpower Fell Creatures by Virtue of Being Cute

This lunacy takes many forms. It’s gotten to the point where it isn’t even ironic or funny anymore—it’s insulting to the fans that take a moment to think about it. If trained soldiers or armed bandits happen upon the young princess in the woods, she beats the snot out of them in what used to be this whole women’s lib/gender role reversal thing, but now, after so many times through the wash cycle, has faded to a form of reverse sexism.

Then there are cute short things that raze the homes of unsuspecting goblins and trolls, who were doing nothing more nefarious than lurking there in the dark when the vanilla folk broke into their vermin infested, underground biers, where they probably live because they are misunderstood.

Then there are the wiggly, jiggly, squiggly things of the nine realms that defy comprehension. They beat up an entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops in Return of the Jedi. They slay proud knights in the final round of Super Smash Bros. tournaments at co-ed baby showers through sheer button mashing. They embolden this evil cat who for the last fifteen minutes has fearlessly been trying to eat my biscuits without regard for the fact that I am 200 pounds of hurting machine (and 30 or so more of wiggly, jiggly, squiggly…)

For my part, I hope Star Wars 2015 contains a fifteen-minute scene in which a storm trooper mercilessly beats the Muppet out of a captive Ewok with a wiffle ball bat until he is ultimately forced to reveal the location of the Rebel base. Once we get there, of course, Leia will doubtless beat the Fett out of said storm trooper with a frying pan, anyway.

And women and children wonder why hubby/daddy would rather play video games than spend $40 to take them to the movies. This is why. Female editors wonder why male writers don’t read as much new material as their shapelier counterparts. This is why. The only legendary man allowed to kick ass anymore is… Santa Claus?

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(Face palm!)

Here’s a preview of topics I plan on handling in the future:

6. The soldier that avoided being a douchehammer by way of heroic death (No really, it’s not just Borromir!)

5. Too much detail (Come on, do we really need 50 pages about a feast just to get that it represents communion/a rite of passage? And there’s no sex in your book, but here’s your main character shitting in the woods!)

4. The heroic friend left for dead that returns to save the day at the very last second (usually accompanied by a horribly cheesy line).

3. Horse in a can (Wow, look at all these horses on the battlefield! Where were these when I was WALKING ACROSS THE WORLD?!)

2. Forced metaphors for your religion that keep your mediocre book selling.

1. Vampires.

Please leave a comment with the cliché that’s driving you crazy. I know I have merely scratched the surface here…

34 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, My Writing, Publishing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

34 responses to “7 Fantasy Clichés That Need to Disappear (For the Good of All)

  1. So only the rough, gruff, and hairy men make heroes? I can’t grow a proper beard either…I guess that makes me less of a man. Hell, Orlando can do a better job than me:
    http://www.google.com/imgres?um=1&hl=en&sa=N&tbo=d&biw=1920&bih=1085&tbm=isch&tbnid=ZAGXZHxtw6NNqM:&imgrefurl=http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v610/permanent-transition/movies/koh/%3Faction%3Dview%26current%3Dkoh_zo11-15_adult_viggo.jpg%26&docid=DES8pcPYehkIIM&imgurl=http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v610/permanent-transition/movies/koh/koh_zo11-15_adult_viggo.jpg&w=800&h=518&ei=uWWyUKqnCuHI2gWs0IHACA&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=444&sig=101343652655407593245&page=1&tbnh=135&tbnw=208&start=0&ndsp=76&ved=1t:429,r:75,s:0,i:333&tx=124&ty=78

    Is it his acting that you have an issue with? I’m not sure what your beef is with Legolas…since I don’t believe Tolkien described Elves as particularly hairy. Do you approve of the Hobbits simply because they at least have hair on their feet?

    In regards to #1, I’m sure it would make you happy to hear that I’ve been kicking the crap out of other players in Playstation All-Stars as…yes, you guessed it: Fat Princess.

    That’s right.

    I’ve kicked the crap out of Kratos, Dante, and Raiden with a fat, cake-eating monarch who generally requires her midget soldiers to carry her around.

    It’s still pretty funny to me 🙂

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    • Sorry for the long link in there.

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    • Back up ze train, sir. It isn’t a pretty boy issue. Scroll down and you’ll notice… Yup. Heath Ledger. He’s pretty. His beard in Knight’s Tale was obviously fake, but a lot of his jousting wasn’t. And he could ACT.

      I don’t think your beard issue has anything to do with a lack of testosterone. There’s a reason we liken you to a bear.

      As for the Fat Princess beating up Kratos thing, yes, that annoys me, but not as much as it confounds me. I don’t understand how it’s in any way gratifying to defeat a character that resembles yourself with a person who could be a poster child for The Biggest Loser. Is it masochism? An over developed sense of irony? Whatever the cause, it’s nothing a bolt of lightning from Cole can’t fix…

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      • I haven’t had the chance to try that game out yet, but if it’s anything like SSBB or SoulCalibur, it’s a matter of taking a character that has a high damage stat and direct attacks (because it makes sense for the character i.e. Kratos or Nightmare) and balancing that against a character that doesn’t have a high damage stat and uses indirect or comical attacks (because those traits don’t make sense on Peach or Fat Princess, or Kirby.)

        Game design, especially for fighting games, is balancing it so that everyone who comes to the game finds something they like, that compels them to keep playing the game. Nightmare and Mitsurugi are approachable characters because it’s very clear what they do and what they do well, and they’re designed accordingly. A technical character like Setsuka or Voldo is there when people want a deceptive and unpredictable character.

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      • Again, you’re picking characters based on game design. I pick them based on my fanboy status. I like Siegfried as a character. I like Wolverine as a character. I like Cloud as a character. That’s why I play as these guys. Cole and Dante will be my boys in this new beat ’em up, possibly Raiden, because I like them as characters. I would write fan fiction about them. People that just pick the easiest to use or strongest character are compensating for something.

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  2. Oh man.

    Oh man.

    Let me get started. ^_^ (Oh, and this isn’t “tropes that bother me” it’s “I take issue with your arguments because I am a Right Bastard.”)

    7. Have you got an example of this “Throw Your Life Away For Justice” trope you’re poking here?

    6. I’ll agree that a Holy Hand Grenade as a plot device doesn’t really work outside of YA fantasy anymore. However: what differentiates the use of the Holy Hand Grenade from Gil Grissom going back to the crime scene days later and finding that ONE RANDOM FINGERNAIL CLIPPING that cinches the case? Deus Ex Machina is poor writing no matter how you slice it, but that’s not something that’s only a problem for fantasy.

    5. I shall throw Highlander and “names that start with/include a hard C or K sound.” Overall, portmanteaus or, worse yet, smashing a couple nouns together to make a name (Skywalker or Oakenshield) is something that’s been overly done and really needs to Go. But if you’re not using real-world names (because it’s not the real world) and you don’t want to invent your own linguistic history (because you’re a goddamn writer, not a linguist) then yeah, calling your bad guy Darth Vader isn’t really that bad of a thing. Especially when your target audience IS eight-year-olds.

    4. Not every hero can be BALGUS-SAMAAAAAAA

    3. So, calling your hero’s lineage into play is verboten, because if you can’t say “Harry Potter is a hero because James Potter was a hero, like father like son” then you ALSO can’t say “Zuko is a villain because Firelord Flameypants is a villain, like father like son.” Zuko’s development throughout A:TLA is borne mightily on the dynamics of his relationship with his father, and with his uncle, and his evolution from villain to hero simply wouldn’t be the same if that dynamic wasn’t there. If you can’t call parentage into play (because on the one hand, the hero lacks agency because he’s just fulfilling his father’s destiny, and on the other hand the son is rebelling against the villainous destiny of his father, making it an atonement story) then you’re sealing off an avenue for characterization that can be really valuable. It’s better if there are differences between father and son, of course (the part where virtually ALL of the dynamics and relationships in the James Potter era were identical to Harry’s generation has always pissed me off) such that the reason the dad is there is because he has an impact on the overall STORY, but you seem to be making an argument where heroes can’t have parents because having parents invalidates any self-motivated characterization on the hero’s part.

    2. The product of your argument (where dragons are not god-like characters but instead raging boss-monsters) is Reign of Fire. By contrast, your argument destroys the possibility of Dragonheart, a film that, for the most part, tends to buck a lot of the tropes you identify here.

    1. Here’s an article you might enjoy. (And that’s not sarcasm, I think you might actually find this interesting.) http://www.themarysue.com/reconsidering-the-feminism-of-joss-whedon/

    One major takeaway from that article is the idea that by having a powerful female protagonist, and having that protagonist display an ability to go toe-to-toe against predominantly male enemies and win, Whedon helps to enhance a nascent abusive tendency amongst those dudes who are likely to be violent against women. It projects an image of “she can take it” which justifies the abuse.

    I take issue with that argument on the grounds that if you can’t show women being powerful because it encourages men to challenge them, and you can’t show women being weak because it reinforces gender roles, the only way to avoid both pitfalls is simply to not use women as characters. There’s a great amount of rhetoric on that subject I take issue with, because it creates a model where even someone who’s lauded for being a very pro-girl creator like Whedon is incapable of creating something that some people won’t find flaws in. You can’t please all of the people (especially when some people will take any possible avenue in order to build a thesis) and yeah, people can have their opinions, but if it’s wrong to put men and women on the same playing field I don’t want to be right.

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    • Oh man, oh man. I was so tongue and cheek, and yet you didn’t get that at all…

      7) Go watch Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix (although Sci Fi) Trilogy, etc. Keep your eyes open. The example I had in mind was the general of Aslan’s army who had never met Peter before, but this is prevalent everywhere.

      6) My point was (and I thought the Panda reference made it clear) that having only one path to victory by means of an object as opposed to something viable about the protagonist is bad writing and makes the audience wonder what was so heroic about him/her in the first place. “I’m the hero because I have the mystical hammer of hallucinations” isn’t as compelling as “I’m the hero because I damn well deserve to be.” Your example makes that evidence the path to victory, but it certainly wasn’t the only path to victory at the beginning of the narrative.

      5) Darth Vader was at the top of my quality list. It was in descending order. Vader works. Sidious is laughable. Darken Rahl is insulting. This section was originally 700 words long, so I figured I’d cut it down a bit.

      4) No, but we’re getting to the point where no hero is allowed to be Balgus. Metrosexuality is becoming synonymous with heroism because not enough men read, and not enough men read because metrosexuality is becoming synonymous with heroism. It’s a vicious circle.

      3) When did I say heroes can’t have parents? I’m agreeing with Chaucer in saying that just because your daddy was a hero doesn’t mean you are, or should be. Too many writers fail to give their protagonists any substance and lean on the argument of their lineage. It’s bullshit. And I was advocating FOR Zuko, who is my favorite character in Avatar (sans Iroh), not against him. Slow down and read. Or better yet, read your Facebook where I was asking about his appearance in Korra two days ago.

      2) I loved Dragonheart, but watch that movie again sometime. There are reasons that particular dragon acts in the way that he does, and they correspond with mythology and Arthurian legend. Now watch Eragon. Compare the two. Understand what I’m saying here. Sean Connery’s dragon isn’t someone’s pet.

      1) This issue isn’t likely to be solved any time soon, and I agree that criticism will find its way into any example either of us could produce. I do think it’s funny, however, that you ignored the main thrust of the argument here and focused solely on the feminism. May your plushies rise up in the night and devour your soul.

      Humor, Crow. Humor. If you’re taking this much offense to a little humor, just wait until you get a rejection letter…

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      • Where do I come off as offended?

        Man, I don’t know what it is…

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      • It’s in the tone, the choice of arguments, (really the choice to always argue), the skimming of information before arguing, and the “rivalry”.

        And also because I know part of you wants to see a storm trooper beat an Ewok with a whiffle ball bat. And I know if a six-year-old girl with no training thrashed you in a fencing match, you’d be humiliated.

        And because you know I am guilty of every cardinal sin I posted on here, either seriously or satirically.

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      • Hypester

        Alright, honestly, I feel completely stupid here, but where the hell is the portmanteau in Darken Rahl? Dark in Rule? I don’t get how it’s so obvious that it’s insulting. Maybe I’m just being a Ted Mosby and pronouncing his name wrong. I always think of it as Rall, as you would pronounce ball. Sorry, this will just bother me forever unless someone addresses it.

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  3. I would agree with many of the cliches you listed, though I think there are some instances when they can work. Sometimes cliches are things that people enjoy…as long as they are delivered properly.

    Even in A Knight’s Tale, the medieval tropes that were expressed in the film were entertaining because of the contemporary manner in which they were delivered. (“Foxy Lady”, The feast sequence dancing turned to rocking out, ect). You could say they distracted us from movie still having cliche’s such as: 1) Someone raising in rank due to hard work, or 2) The higher class lady getting with the lower class guy(or vice versa)…and of course, 3) The protagonist pulling through in the last moment despite all odds.

    We still enjoyed it immensely, though. Fantastic movie.

    As for my own cliches to add to the list, here’s one that I think we see all too often:

    The Quest. Sure, what would the movie be about if they didn’t have The Quest? Don’t mistake The Quest from an end goal. The end goal could be “To Survive” and it wouldn’t constitute The Quest. Its seems that all too often in fantasy film we must first define The Quest in order to give reason to the Heroes setting out. Similar to what you spoke of earlier: The Quest to obtain the Holy Grail, The Quest to drop the One Ring into Mt. Doom, The Quest to save the Princess in the far off castles. It’s nice to see movies like Tristan & Isolde (not exactly a new story), where the entire goal was to just settle down and be happy but there were forces that would keep them from doing that like….oh godammit…the fact that they were crossed-star lovers. Yeah, they’re everywhere.

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    • Tristan and Isolde predates Romeo and Juliet, but not Pyramus and Thisbe, wherein that version of the story originated. There really is nothing new under the sun.

      The Quest, rightfully capitalized, is a staple of High Fantasy, which is why I find myself enjoying Sword and Sorcery more. You probably would as well. An anime example worth citing is Berserk.

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  4. petit4chocolatier

    Laughing, I do like Heath and Orlando!

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  5. I’ve got to say I’m with Aaron B Rollins on the Orlando one. I think people look to heroes for examples to inspire them, and I think “you have to be a musclebound, violent twit to achieve anything in life” is getting tired. So that’s my nomination for fantasy cliches that need to die: the idea that only ripped macho men can be heroes at all. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are shortarses. Locke Lamora fights like a girl. Winston Smith (from 1984) is a pen-pushing nobody. Severus Snape is a poisoner and a spy. Variety is the spice of fiction.

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    • I’m not against variety. I definitely agree with you there. I just don’t believe for a second that Orlando Bloom could physically do any of the things he does in any of his films. It’s kind of like watching Matt Damon as Bourne. I can’t take him seriously.

      You’ll notice I didn’t say all heroes need to be Conan. Look at how Frodo, for example, plays his role. He isn’t murdering a thousand orcs while skate boarding down stairs. He isn’t wielding a two handed sword and fighting Liam Neeson in Kingdom of Heaven. He does what is within the believable scope for Elijah Wood. Snape was a fine example as well, but Snape doesn’t shine in physical combat. He’s a wizard.

      Bloom does in 90% of his heroic roles. The hero doesn’t have to be larger than life, but the actor has to believable in that role.

      I guess I just don’t buy that Bloom can fight. Period. I see it as a casting problem. I don’t have a problem with Legolas. I have a problem with Bloom as Legolas (and Peter Jackson for not making him dye his eyebrows!). And he’s supposed to be a blacksmith in Pirates… Um, have you ever seen a real blacksmith?

      I want to see Bloom go up against some of the guys he easily defeats in movies in real life. It would probably look like the duel between Menelaus and Paris in Troy. (Believable casting for him.)

      Let’s not confuse a writing issue (elves) with a casting issue (Bloom).

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      • Vaibhav Panchal

        I totally agree with you on the bloom factor. How could a guy that already look pansy enough takes on thousands of orcs. Even Harry Potter looks like a pansy. I also want my heroes to have a little dirt in their teeth. If there are any more elves & hobbits in fantasy these books will end up with heroes like those are in girly novels like “pretty little liars”. I don’t want that. But I fear it will happen because most of the fantasy novelists today are women.
        I would rather like my heroes to look like Clint Eastwood or Mickey Rourke. Who can actually take down three or four men single handed.

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  7. holdontoyourpants

    How about how the hero always, ALWAYS falls in love with the D.I.D. (whoever she is) and somehow at the end she always falls for him right back; is it not possible that these people really have nothing in common other than daddy’s payroll (or whatever else lead to this rescue?)

    And, after watching 1968’s Sword of Sword’s yesterday (entirely in chinese and with no subtitles) I realize how often, even in stories where all of the characters are killed off, somehow there is a baby who remains unharmed in any haha.

    Either way, your writing makes me want to have a better harness on the english language structure. Thank you for the entertainment, as usual!

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    • Thanks for your kind words, and great examples! I had entirely neglected the child as the new hope cliche. My favorite way out of the romance arc you’ve described is the love triangle, which has been executed so poorly in recent years that it should have a place here with the others.

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    • Jo

      or… because they already loved each other. or they have instant chemistry. not a bad cliche. and doesn’t always happen. Shrek and Fiona didn’t like each other at first. the Tenth Doctor saved Donna and they NEVER got together. and that’s a huge trope in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

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  8. Nergal Enki

    I think your missing one:
    the cliche: The Happy Ending.
    This may seem odd at first but think about it. Movies are so centered toward the great happy ending that people get mad when it isn’t a happy ending. Now the idea of a great epic story is that the hero prevails. But lets be realistic. The villain is often someone who is or could be just as- if not more powerful than the hero. The villain CAN win…

    But that’s why they make sequels.

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    • I’ve often felt that the villain works a lot harder at what he/she does than the hero. Sometimes, it’s like watching the bad guy build a castle, albeit an evil castle, out of Legos only to have the hero come and kick it over just before the last piece is in place!

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  9. Anonymous

    Other cliches I’m bored of:

    As you listed, Horse in a can pisses me off. I’m tired of journeys from one end of the world to the other, all the while horses are everywhere as if they are some cheap commodity that is given away like candy.

    The hero that is supposedly pacifist yet has no qualm with slaying every orc and goblin he comes across. He doesn’t even think before he acts on his violent urge to kill them and there never seems to be any repercussions, because orcs.

    Can there be a situation in which neither the hero or the villain wins? Maybe they have to come to a concession? Or maybe the villain isn’t murdered, he is just thrown in prison or exiled. Maybe the villain isn’t some dark lord of darkness with magic powers of DOOM.

    The monolithic culture of humanoid creatures like elves and dawrves. I think this also goes hand in hand with creatures wanting to sacrifice themselves for heroes they had just met. This seems to stem from a past in which we used to sum up racial minorities by a series of stereotypes.

    This leads to the cliche that all humans are white, unless they happen to be evil bad guys. And all of this takes place in a setting that resembles the UK.

    This also leads to a simplistic view of politics and race/ethnicity in fantasy. Fantasy authors make clean cut binaries to throw their characters into, and the government is just this static thing that is there. There never seems to be an active government with a working economy. People just seem to have feasts and go on adventures. When characters do act, the government never reacts, unless you’re a thief.

    This poor grasp of what war does to a nation, it’s people, and it’s economy. War is portrayed as bothersome, but writers never seem to grasp how brutal war is for civilians who aren’t involved in battle. ESPECIALLY civilians in warzones, or civilians under occupation by enemy soldiers. War can even be glorified on the soldier’s end. After battle, main characters tend to shrug it off like “meh, war”.

    LOVE TRIANGLES! And whenever a male is interested in a female, he always gets the girl. Can’t there be an instance in which she doesn’t return his feelings, or she has other plans? I blame this on Nice Guys™ feeling that girls owe them more than friendship because they did nice things.

    I’d also like to point out that there is no such thing as “reverse sexism”. Sexism is sexism, and reverse sexism implies that there is a normal type you can reverse from. Creating a princess that has a wimpy appearance and can kick ass is really not so different than some wimpy farm boy taking up the sword because of ‘destiny’ or ‘lineage’ when he’s never fought a battle in his life, Eragon. And honestly, with female characters, you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    From my experience, this sort of thing is produced commonly in both sci-fi and fantasy (and in movies) by male writers who struggle with writing a gender that is not their own and are trying to run away from the damsel in distress trope. While understandable, it gives us flat female characters that no one cares for. Often times they act like emotional children and are heavily dependent on everyone around them despite their physical strength. These writers just have a poor grasp of femaleness and resort to writing extremes, filling in the blanks with female stereotypes. This is why fewer women read comics, play video games, and engage in other media considered traditionally for men. We can’t relate to the character we’re supposed to relate to.

    This isn’t always the case though. Take G.R.R.M. for example, he writes a good female. Katelyn Stark is strong without being a kickass warrior, it would be ridiculous for her character. Cercei, constricted to a gender role in an era that is very unkind to women, uses it to hold onto her power and play politics. Brienne of Tarth is a huge ‘homely’ woman. It’s realistic that she would be capable of fighting in a suit of armour because she has the large muscular figure of a man.

    I’d blame female writers for the rise in metrosexual heros. Female writers can also struggle with writing masculine characters. This resorts in them writing what they know. Plus, they probably consider it more attractive to them. With all of this, you end up with a girl in a man’s body, or a boy in a woman’s.

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  10. I have to ask this question of all articles that I see that list cliches in fantasy fiction: then why bother writing if it’s going to be seen as a cliche? I say this because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at my word process and thought about ideas and the word comes up like a pop-up window error, “Cliche!” “CLICHE!” “CLICHE!” “CLICHE!” “CLICHE!” So there my question stands.

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    • The best answer I can give you is to just be aware of them. I tried to provide my readers with some alternatives, but eventually they too will be overdone. In my own writing, I try to innovate as much as possible or at least write with the understanding that these archetypes have been seen before. As most of the Fantasy action in The Wolf of Descarta happens virtually in a Sci-Fi universe, I was in a unique position to satirize Fantasy cliches while still using them because there’s a “meta” layer to every scenario in which they are involved.

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  11. Pingback: Mascot Time! (The Wolf of Descarta Art Contest) | pikeknight

  12. To the above posters who think women can’t write, I’d have to respectfully disagree, seeing as I myself am currently a fanfiction writer moving into the original fiction category. I have created original characters and I don’t make my stories all about romance, I do everything possible to make them the least bit contrived. Of course, things will be difficult when I write fiction for real, but I’ve already done quite a bit in setting up my own terms, my own character’s respective pasts, etc.

    Don’t kid yourselves into thinking all girls are romance writers, because my primary aim is to aim for just telling a good story and to reflect on the morals of the world and of ourselves. Being a girl doesn’t mean you can’t be a good writer. I know a fanfiction writer who has written at least 900,000 words and she has the style of a master writer. I will follow this blog since it seems interesting enough to warrant a go.

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  13. Okay, so I know this is now a fairly old post, but it made me laugh and suggested some questions. I noticed that somewhere above you said that the hero shouldn’t just be the hero because he was weilding the Weapon of Doom & Destiny (or the hammer of hallucinations, I think it was), but because he deserves to be. What kind of character “deserves” to be the hero?

    (Also, I feel obliged to point out that blacksmiths tend to be wiry, not muscly, relying on their sinews more. But I say that as a girl who once had a crush on Orlando Bloom).

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  14. Okay, so I know this is now a fairly old post, but it made me laugh and suggested some questions. I noticed that somewhere above you said that the hero shouldn’t just be the hero because he was wielding the Weapon of Doom & Destiny (or the hammer of hallucinations, I think it was), but because he deserves to be. What kind of character “deserves” to be the hero?

    (Also, I feel obliged to point out that blacksmiths tend to be wiry, not muscly, relying on their sinews more. But I say that as a girl who once had a crush on Orlando Bloom).

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  15. Pingback: The Ultimate List Of Movie Clichés For Screenwriters | The Screenwriting Spark

  16. Emil

    Honestly my biggest pet peeve is when /everything/ is European. Do people not realize that other areas of the world existed during the medieval period? I feel like an Asia based one would be better and have a more diverse culture since Russia, India, Afghanistan, and Japan are all included in the continent. If your fantasy continent is mono-cultural it gets boring, or if all the cultures are nearly indistinguishable. I’m honestly bored with fantasy worlds that are just rehashings of Middle Earth.

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