My Least Favourite Fantasy Tropes

So I’ve been looking at my stats for the year lately and I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve read *a lot* of fantasy in 2017. A lot a lot. And yet, as much as I clearly love fantasy, over the years there have been some sticking points for me. That’s why I thought it was about time I did a fantasy tropes post where I talk about some of the things I like least about the genre. And, just in case anyone thinks I’m going after specific authors, along with examples, I’ll be talking candidly about mistakes I made as a younger writer (though god-I-hope never anything like that last one). Let’s get started, shall we?

  1. mushu trampledDragons that are just giant lizards– or anything that tramples over dragonlore. I don’t know if I’m the only one that gets shirty about the representation of dragons in fantasy- but mannnn I’ve seen some dragons that read as stroppy teenagers (Talon), dragons that are little more than lizard people (Seraphina), dragons that can’t breathe so much as a noxious gas…. Okay maybe that last one’s not so important, yet I do have high standards for my dragons, so I’m not particularly crazy about it when they turn out to be lousy (except in discworld, where they are epically lousy). One thing I have learned is that labelling something a dragon does not make it a dragon.

 

  1. dr evil 2Mr Evil– yup one of my least favourite tropes is the obviously evil villain with zero motivations for his/her actions (oh let’s face it, it’s nearly always male) JUST GIVE THEM A GOOD MOTIVE GAH!! And make them three dimensional for heaven’s sake! Also, while we’re on the subject “born evil” doesn’t work for me- I find the best villains take a dark path by choice and have that possibility of redemption (basically Darth Vader is awesome)

 

  1. everyone i don't like is hitler“I think you’re a Nazi baby, are you a Nazi?”– Basically evil organisations that are supposed to be Nazi-esque yet aren’t all that scary or motivated by the same sort of ideas, but whatever, here’s the paraphernalia, that’ll do. This comes back to me hating lame-ass villains. I’m also not keen on the “everyone I hate is Hitler” bandwagon or hanging on the coattails of true evil to imply the baddies really are bad. It’s not good enough to just whip out the “fascist” label like in Lord of Shadows. If you wanna write a holocaust book/something really dark, go for it- no half-assed attempts.

 

  1. do you want some expositionNeedless exposition– The “I’ve done loads of work on world building so you need to read *ALL OF IT*” trope. Seriously, if it’s not plot expedient, cut it out. It’s just boring and it’s why I quit the Wheel of Time series after just one book. Which leads me onto…

 

  1. are we there yetPointless meandering about– this is what I like to call book travelling syndrome. Annnd I will admit, I coined the phrase specifically because it’s something I struggled with early as a writer (and still do to an extent). The problem arises from the simple thought process: “they’ll wander about, have adventures, it’ll be a blast”. What you end up with is not good. There are so few books that manage to pull this off (aka The Neverending Story) and yet it’s unreal how often this turns up in fantasy. I will admit, I always sympathise with the writers for this one 😉 (even if it’s still boring as eff to read)

 

  1. gollum scaredRipping off Tolkien– do I need to explain why this is bad? Before people get mad, I will say that borrowing is a natural part of writing and this is a tricky area to navigate, so take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt. This is a question of how much does this resemble Lord of the Rings. I don’t mind the odd elf, but maybe cool it on the orcs, hobbits, dragons, dwarves, ents etc. I’ll *hold my hands up* as guilty writer again- when I first started out I had a fair number of these (this is unintentionally turning into a what-I-did-as-a-teen writer confession piece 😉 ). But I grew up and realised *whoa I can do other things*. And it’s not just the copycat creatures. I’ve read whole books where I’ve genuinely thought c’mon this is just Lord of the Rings. An original plot point or two wouldn’t hurt. Speaking of which…

 

  1. the-one.gifThe *Chosen One*– especially if there’s a prophecy attached. This is something I’m sick of most of all, because it is literally done to death at this point. It was even shoehorned into a Peter Pan movie recently and Throne of Glass looks like it’s headed in that direction. Ironically, any play on the trope and I’m instantly in love with the book (you guys know how much I love Carry On, right?). If it turns up in a serious capacity… *groan*.

 

  1. dumbledoreThe Dumbledore– every hero needs a mentor- but why-oh-why must some parents/teachers withhold vital plot information because *reasons*- even if knowing it earlier could save the hero’s life!! For some reason they figure it’s better to hear this from the antagonist or something??? I never understood this one to be honest- it seems like a pointless way to build tension- when really it could be solved by the mentor not knowing all the secrets. (And for older followers, yes, I mentioned this in my YA Tropes post– it still really bothers me). And when it comes to useless tension, there’s nothing like…

 

  1. boromir deathThe *not dead yet* trick– I have a love-hate relationship with this one, because it’s something that can work if done well (all the different narrators in Game of Thrones mean that we’re often on shaky ground when it comes to who’s alive and who’s dead) BUT I feel like this can so easily suck and is something I see overused in YA. The biggest problem is if the character doesn’t matter or if it literally showed they got a ton of arrows to chest Boromir-style and just HOW?!? 

 

  1. FrankswordThe magical sword or any magical weapon really that’s given too much power– you know, the *special* sword, or the only arrow that can possibly kill a dragon, or the one ring (okay not that last one). I actually feel bad for all the magical swords that are attached to the hero and by proxy make them look good. What gets to me even more is how often these turn up in the most convenient of places, like tombs that for some reason were never raided, even though they stood in a deserted landscape for millennia- someone clearly never looked at archaeological history.

 

  1. pocohantus savages.gifThe “oh look savages!” trope– I debated over whether/how to put this on the list- but there’s no way to sugarcoat it and you all know what I’m talking about anyway. There is some seriously dodgy stuff in old fantasy- particularly from the 80s I believe- where there’s this kind of tribal tourism going on. I want to say, in fairness to the authors, there’s often this “surprise, they’re people!” moment (no shit Sherlock) which always makes me think the authors are seriously trying to be progressive… only trouble is, it was the eighties, it’s about as progressive as a spinning wheel in the 21st century.

Okaaay on that note- do any of you agree with me? Disagree? Have any of your own hated fantasy tropes to add? Let me know in the comments!

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141 thoughts on “My Least Favourite Fantasy Tropes

  1. Jacqueline Gualtieri says:

    I feel you on number five since I’m guilty of that too. It can be great when it’s done well, but it’s nearly never done well. Same with the not-dead trick. I love that trick almost as much as I hate it and I’m 100 percent guilty of using it.

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    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hehehe I’m really glad I’m not alone in that one either 😉 And I think I’ve accidentally done that too- the trouble is I never said that the character was dead, but people that have read my work have sometimes made assumptions… so whoops- I guess we’re in the same boat 😉

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  2. lnypublishing says:

    I agree with the “chosen one” and the “evil villain” part the most! Sure, “good vs evil” is what fantasy is all about but it doesn’t have to be a black vs white kind of fight. Good people have a reason of acting that way and bad people have their reasons that are logical in their minds as well. I think GRRM works really well around this concept in his Song of Ice and Fire 🙂

    Btw, I just started an author blog for my fantasy book. Do check it out at lionelsonny.wordpress.com cheers!

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  3. wattpadpromo says:

    My book has a slight ‘chosen one’ trope. Although it is *believed* to be the chosen to be dead, one of my main MCs has to decide whether or not to kill the person she’s been trying to find who is also the only true friend she’s had in awhile. Regardless this was a wonderful post, I noticed you didn’t mention Eargon in your post.

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  4. Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    I know I’m discovering this post super late but I wanted to say great choices!! Many of these are tropes I get annoyed at too (esp. chosen ones, pointless meandering about, the not dead yet trick and too overtly ripping off Tolkien!), though you’ve mentioned some I hadn’t even thought of, but now realise annoy me as well.

    I think you’re more picky about dragons than I am, but you’re right – calling something a dragon definitely doesn’t make it one! And there’s nothing worse than boring dragons that feel more like hastily thrown-in set decoration than an interesting part of the story. I think I don’t mind “born evil” villains so much, but definitely am not a fan of villains that lack good motivation e.g. if a character is just twisted and enjoys making others suffer or controlling people, I can accept that (and enjoy hating them), but if a villain supposedly has some elaborate scheme or end goal, but either the end goal doesn’t make sense, or none of the actions they take to reach that goal make sense, it’s really annoying. Then it’s just obvious they are throwing convenient challenges in the hero’s way and no one has actually thought through whether the villain’s actions make sense from their perspective. And I agree about the lame evil organisations too! As for mentors withholding important information, I hadn’t thought much about this but you are so right!! I read a book where a mentor wizard pretty much just said “I can’t tell you that yet” and it was infuriating because it obviously would’ve been in the character’s best interest to know it (it just wasn’t in the author’s interest for them to obviously 🙂 ). I also hadn’t thought about that “oh look savages” trope but now you mention it I have noticed some of that in older fantasy and it is uncomfortable to read… I often inwardly cringe when I realise a situation like that is coming up. Also re. special magic swords, funnily enough I mentioned disliking this trope in a post once and it was one of the main points people disagreed with me on… so it seems the special sword is still beloved by some! I have to say though, I never even thought about how silly it is that these magical weapons are often lying somewhere convenient in a cave that hasn’t been looted 😀

    Anyway, great post, and sorry for the epic comment!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hehe never apologise for an epic comment! It was awesome to get that!! 😀 thank you so much!!

      I’m really glad you related to those and that you thought the other ones were annoying too!

      Yeah I know I am *so* picky about dragons- so I don’t want to be too mean and say this post is definitely specific to things that bother me. Yes absolutely! And that’s fair enough about born evil characters- I know a lot of people are fine with that- and it just happens to be something that clashes with a lot of my own personal philosophies on life. Although, yeah, I can enjoy the occasional sadist (wow that sentence sounds wrong, but you know what I mean 😉 ) Yeah absolutely!! hahaha yes that is so annoying!! Yeah I’m the same with that- it thankfully doesn’t appear as much now, but I always find it cringey when I come across it in older works. haha yes I know a lot of people love that- and I can kind of understand their perspective-
      because I don’t always mind inherited swords, swords with a story, or there being a few swords that are generally regarded as better than others (eg Elven blades or Valaryian steel) buuut there’s a limit to how much I can take and it just seems that the chosen one must always have a chosen blade (that usually turns up in a cave somewhere) hahaha I know right!

      Thank you again for your awesome comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Daima Hussain says:

    I agree with and I get especially peeved by the dragons and Hitler stuff. I actually think it is disrespectful to those who faced that horror, and lazy to just label every villain Hitler, without plunging into all the horrible realities of that situation. I also dislike it because people use it cast the hero in a better light; even when the hero makes some very questionable decisions, he gets away with it because: “Oh, I am not as bad as Hitler so I must be a paragon of all that is good.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bryn R. says:

    Wheel of Time: Why use three words when a chapter would do?

    Though joking aside, I’m trying them again at the request of my spouse, but as audiobooks, and it’s much more bearable… I can zone out through the long-winded parts!

    Liked by 1 person

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