Ranking the Worst Tropes in Fantasy- Inspired by Kate Cavanaugh

orangutan list

A while back, I was watching an amazing video on Kate Cavanaugh’s channel (an absolute gem if you like writing videos!) where she made bad fantasy tropes *face off* against each other to determine the WORST FANTASY TROPE. I loved this idea- especially cos I agreed about so many of the tropes- and wanted to do my own spin on it. Maybe I’m lucky but I just haven’t seen some of these tropes in a while, so I tweaked the list a little to be more reflective of tropes I actually come across (including some from my least favourites post). I’m also gonna rank these instead of playing them off against each other. This is cos, as much as you guys know I love my rants, I don’t hate all these tropes (some I even LOVE).

helms deep rohirrim

“Here comes the cavalry”- I love this trope. Keep doing it please.

learn language

Made up languages- unless this is done so badly that it makes me laugh OR is just a way to rip off Tolkien (which we’ll get to way down the list) I’ve no problem with this.

I am your father

Evil Dark Lord is secretly related to the hero– not only do I have no problem with this,  but I actually love when heroes have a deep connection to villain- so bring it on.

trade places supernatural

A life for a life– seriously no problem with this- it’s a good way to weigh up the cost of magic. Unless it’s reused often in the same story!

night king raising the dead

Character resurrection– I only dislike this if it’s done over and over, but it’s not nearly as bad as a fakeout (which we’ll get to). Also, it’s VERY COOL when characters are brought back from the dead in a creepy way!

orphan annie

Hero is an orphan– yeah, controversial opinion, but I’m usually fine with this as well. I know why people don’t like this one, because it is overdone (Pages Unbound do great posts on this) however I still can’t bring myself to hate it?

hunting

Opening scene is hunting to survive– to be honest, although this is coming up more and more, I still don’t mind it as an opening. It’s really not going to put me off unless it’s badly written.

hermione witch magic gif

Magic system with no rules/confusing rules– yeahhh this one will get my fantasy credentials ripped away BUT while I like well done magic systems, I’m less likely to be critical of it.

reluctant hero

Reluctant hero– as long as it’s done well, I think it can be fun. I prefer it to the bland milquetoast hero that jumps at the chance to save the day!

miss you

A character who is MIA for an entire book– Kate Cavanaugh mentioned this in relation to Song of Ice and Fire- and while I completely get her point and I’d miss the character too- I can live with this (provided we’re not led to believe the character is dead when they’re not).

whatever

Gratuitous sex scenes that don’t further the plot– erm I’m okay with some hot and heavy romance scenes… just as long as it’s well written! (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record now)

aang and katara

Forced romance between two main characters– I don’t necessarily associate this with fantasy- which is the reason it’s not lower on the list. That said, there are times when it really grates on me.

time turner

Time travel– I know so many people have a problem with time travel plots (which I get, cos, kinda interferes with logic a lot of the time) but it’s not going to put me off a book (though it doesn’t have me reaching for it either).

jon drowning battle of the bastards

Medieval (usually British) fantasy– I haven’t read one of those in a while… but that’s cos I’m very unlikely to pick it up at this point. It’s definitely overdone. We’re kind of drowning in these at this point!

prophecy

Prophecies– okay, yes, I could live without prophecies. HOWEVER, it’s not too bad if it’s kept vague. As long as it doesn’t say “X person is going to save the world”, then it can work. Although, I could still do with it being used more sparingly.

long lost heir arthur

Long lost heir– nah, I’m not into this (thank you, next!)

I'll tell you when I see you next

“I’ll tell you when I see you next”- oof I get why Kate Cavanaugh included this (like she says, it’s code for *I’m gonna die and never tell you*) THAT SAID there are things that are a lot worse- and one that specifically relates to this.

riddles

Bad riddles– I hate this, cos I used to do it in my own writing and I think I got the maturity to stop… so wish other writers would too! It’s okay if it’s not your forte- just leave it at the door! Just because Tolkien did it, doesn’t mean you have to (although, of course, if you write gorgeous poetry, be my guest 😉)

the magic was inside you all along

The hero has the magic in them all along– it’s cheesy, but I can live with it… sometimes. In Middle Grade. Maybe. (Please don’t do it).

student has become the master

Hero with zero experience suddenly is a master– this is kinda similar to the Chosen One (spoiler alert, that’s gonna feature on this list). Still, this is not as bad, cos there’s often some kind of training montage to have them learn (even if it’s too quick).

magic

Magic ex machina– this is when the characters into terrible situation- then (usually unexplained) *magic* comes in that saves the day. Similar to *here comes the cavalry*- except for some reason I find this one kinda takes all the tension out the story.

Franksword

Overpowered object– magical artefacts are great and all- I’m just not really into swords/rings/nefarious objects being the centre of attention.

info dump

World building info dumps– this one hits close to home, cos I’m editing this out of my story right now… yet, even if I sympathise with the urge, it’s not good. Poor readers- they don’t deserve this shoddy writing.

are we there yet

Pointless meandering/book travelling syndrome– I swapped this out for the endless side quest, because it’s something I see more often (and includes the overlong side quest). It’s another one I’m guilty of- and I hate it!

mcgonagall confused

Impossible to pronounce names– don’t get me wrong, much like made-up languages, I like funny or unusual names. ON THE OTHER HAND, the reason this is so high up the list is cos it can be taken too far. Don’t call your character Dhjoukn when the name you were going for was Jon. And maybe keep it in your pants a little if it’s something no one reading your book could feasibly pronounce.

angry gollum2

Ripping off Tolkien– I feel like a lot of the above tropes can combine to produce this one… which is why it’s so bad! Writers that do this *overload* their books with tropes. Plus, if I wanted to reread Tolkien, I’d just do that!

buffy shrugs

Strong woman doesn’t need saving– okay, yes, I took out the damsel in distress in favour of this, because frankly I never come across damsels in fantasy these days (unless it’s a male character that constantly needs saving because) Yet, I see this one ALL THE TIME! Like I said, usually accompanied by endless quests to save their love interest AND snappy retorts about how they don’t need saving. It’s… not endearing to read. Not saying I want the damsel back, only I don’t want to read this either. Not only did it get boring after the fifty-millionth Buffy ripoff, but I also feel like this has been used as an excuse to give female characters less characterisation, not more!

mushu trampled

Dragons that are just giant lizards– this one’s just personal. I’m really fussy about dragons in fiction. I’m all for interesting takes… but don’t push it. And, most importantly, don’t make dragons dull (somehow people manage to do that!!)

fake death

Fake deaths– yeah I can get on board with the odd resurrection- yet if you rob me of the impact of a character death, Imma be pissed!

minions die

Kill the big bad and all the minions die– this. is. such. an. obvious. plot. convenience. And I’ve no idea why it became a thing!! When would this ever happen in reality? I know it’s common in fantasy (or sci fi) but there should be *some* reason why this would happen. And I’m BORED of it. If you have to have the baddies run away and be routed, fine, I could live with it. NOT THIS!! NEVER THIS! So, writers PLEASE STOP!

dumbledore

The Dumbledore– okay so you know how I mentioned there’s something a lot worse than “I’ll tell you next time”? Well this is it. It’s one of the worst tropes because the character withholding information has no reason to do it! It just ends up being a ridiculous way to keep the main character in the dark when the information is readily available.

dr-evil

Evil for the sake of being evil– we all know this sucks, right?! I mean, it really, really, really sucks. I love when fantasy explores the nature of being evil, so when there’s a copout “they’re just evil because”, well then, here’s my response: *blows raspberry and tosses banana peel at writer’s face*. I hate I’d say it’s the worst, but there’s still one more…

chosen one

The Chosen One– yeah, this is my worst trope. I know some people still like it, but I was bored of it by the time Harry Potter rolled around. And it hasn’t slowed up since then. It’s *everywhere*. There are adaptations of frickin Peter Pan with this trope shoehorned in!! And why? Give me a character that has to do it for any reason other than *a prophecy said they would defeat the baddie*. It’s lame and takes away good motivations for doing the right thing. And gives the story too much inevitability. I don’t even care if a character is overpowered… just please not this. (Oddly enough, and to end on a more positive note, I eat up stories that flip this trope in any way… more of those please!)

Wow I was surprisingly reasonable for a lot of that… But do you agree with me on any of these? What do you think is the worst fantasy trope? Let me know in the comments!

56 thoughts on “Ranking the Worst Tropes in Fantasy- Inspired by Kate Cavanaugh

  1. Haha, the gifs used for this post were great. Hell, what am I saying, this entire post was great. Honestly I don’t really have a problem with most of these. Except for maybe the ripping off Tolkien one, as that is truly a case of too much “been there, done that” 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am sick to death of the Strong Girl who Needs no Saving. It’s what’s driving me away from YA fantasy. Why would I constantly want to read about a teen girl who is basically insulting everyone around here and is already amazing at everything? How tiresome is that? Even Buffy had things she wasn’t good at.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Diana Wynne Jones wrote The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a travel guidebook parody that explores many fantasy tropes. It was originally published in 1996, but the revised edition, published in 2006, is generally easier to find. Not only is the book funny, it is dead-on about most fantasy stories. I don’t mind many of the tropes, some of which I find comforting. It’s almost impossible to write a certain type of fantasy without ripping off Tolkien, honestly. My made up languages look made up, though. That’s the only reason I avoid that one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh I’ve been meaning to check that out and keep forgetting- I love Diana Wynne Jones. Yeah for sure. And I do hear you a little about tolkien (I guess in that case, I’d rather people went back to the sources that he used personally, then make it their own) haha that’s fair- me too 😉 I guess I’m not saying people have to use it, just that I like it if they do (and it’s done well)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my gosh, the gifs are SO ENTERTAINING!

    So, I am sure you have said this before, but almost every single one of these can be done well, if it’s set up beforehand and grows organically out of the plot/characterization/worldbuilding. And every one of them can be done lazily. So, yeah, I like them all in their place.

    I kinda love made-up languages when they are done well. And I might be a little picky about this since I have some linguistic training. Usually, they are done well when the author has created a whole culture. And this ties in to unpronounceable names as well. There are ways to handle language issues so that they don’t trip the reader up every time. Spell your language more phonetically than the actual characters would spell it, include a (short!) pronunciation guide, stuff like that. Base your made-up language on a an actual one that you are familiar with. Or just use an actual language (like Welsh in the Dark is Rising series and in the Brother Cadfael mysteries).

    Pointless side quest does annoy me and can cause me to DNF. When I was younger, I had a lot more patience with books where the party split up and you followed two or more groups separately in different chapters. Now, I don’t want to have to work so hard to remember who everyone is.

    Damsel who does not need saving REALLY annoys me. But so does hero who does not need saving. EVERYONE needs saving at some point. Don’t make any character a super-competent, or they instantly stop being relatable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      Yeah absolutely- I think all of these can be done well (though I think I only ever like twists on the chosen one trope- it’s just not for me)
      And absolutely agree about made up languages. I’m drawn to them when they’re done well… but that’s kind of rare. I guess it’s good to just make up a few words that fit and go with that, cos it’s much safer. And that’s completely fair! I also think it’s a good idea to just use a real language/adapt an existing language!
      Ah I understand that. Haha! Same tbf! I just have a lot less patience too!
      Yeah it really annoys me as well! Completely agree!

      Like

  5. Great post! I kinda like fake deaths better than resurrections. It irks me when characters can’t stay dead. You died, stop coming back. Also, I love time traveling. Complicated names and made up languages have to make sense for me. If they’re just used as fantasy props with no background it’s annoying. And the chosen one burn out is real, no more chosen one books for the next twenty years please.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m not keen on gratuitous sex scenes either. Or when the hero/heroine is suddenly so good at whatever skill they just learnt that they can best masters of said skill.
    I’m fine with difficult names, seeing that my name is apparently pretty difficult to pronounce. But that’s probably just me :p

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh yeah that annoys me when they get good at something too quickly as well. haha oh same! (I mean I don’t think my name’s difficult to pronounce, it’s just unusual, so I’m used to people struggling with it and therefore sympathise with character’s with difficult or unusual names 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ah yes, some of these tropes are so annoying (to me at least).
    I personally never like the resurrection/stuck in Limbo trope. I feel less invested in their lives or fear their deaths less, when they will just come back from it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I live for this post!! I really hate the evil for the sake of being evil trope, with no backstory whatsoever, maybe that’s why I didn’t like Scythe! I don’t like The Chosen One trope either, but I’ve been reading keeper of the Lost Cities series and it has The Chosen One and Special Snowflake trope but I still love it because of the amazing worldbuilding and magic system!!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Ah yes, the strong women don’t need saving trope. Usually a snappy line employed in some misguided attempt at feminism or giving female characters more agency, when all it really does succeed at is the opposite. Could work, maybe, if it was tied to an emotional issue to give more depth—framed as an inability to accept help rather than simply ‘I’m tough af and don’t need help from a condescending mAN like you’. But still a tired trope that I wish would stop.

    Gotta say my least favourite would be the lost heir trope though—I’m assuming this covers the MC is secretly the long lost prince/princess of the magical kingdom of Jandiska (looking at you Throne of Glass, ASoIaF).

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Ha ha, I love this post! I can stand most of these — it’s just the sheer volume of variations on the same theme that make me batty. Unpronounceable names are awful, and so unnecessary. The “I’ll tell you next time” and withholding key info (Dumbledore) are awful — especially since, as you point out, the 1st one means that the teller will absolutely die (or be cast into the fathoms of hell or some such thing).

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This post was soo good and I loved the GIFs you used! Oh yes, I hate the “I’ll tell you next time”, trope! Everytime I see it, I just try my best to stop caring about the character because I can feel that something is going to happen to him/her. And I’m also tired of the “Dumbledore” and world-building info dumps. It’s just too convenient.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think the issue with some tropes is that they’re, uh, tropes. I mean, I don’t mind if I read a book here and there with dead parents or a prophecy or whatever. Sometimes tropes are interesting or well-done or just fun! It’s when I read 10 books in a row and start thinking…”Wait, they ALL opened with a hunting scene” or whatever it is. Like the dead parents. I don’t *really* notice it while I’m reading a book, but when I tally up all the books I’ve read and 90% of the parents are dead? That’s weird.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah that’s completely fair! I do agree that the issue is how often it comes up- although I think for me it grates on me more if I never liked that trope to begin with (I’ve never been a fan of chosen one, going all the way back to one of my first encounters in Harry Potter- because I’ve always felt it can interfere with a character’s motivation- but it’s just gotten worse for me over time the more played out it is). But I do hear you about the frequency of the dead parent trope- that’s much too high. I guess that I find it less strange in high fantasy, as often the setting is tumultuous enough to justify having dead parents (and I read a lot of other genres that don’t cancel it out). I guess it also just doesn’t bother me as much as a trope, because as silly as it can be (and how in theory it shouldn’t be so frequent) I’ve always been able to see the utility of killing off the parents.

      Like

  13. Ooh such an interesting list! I’m with you on the chose one for sure! Also the ones where they always had the magic and/or it just shows up to save the day. Like in the original Grisha trilogy, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that one scene in the first book where her magic just shows up. But like you, for most of these, if it’s done well, I’m usually okay with it

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Love Kate Cavanaugh’s videos!! I haven’t seen this particular video yet, but I definitely need to after reading your post. Definitely strongly agree on the calvary one, lack of female characterisation one, and a quite honestly, most of these here! The Dumbledore, omg, what a fab name, and how ACCURATE. :’)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too! She’s great!! I’m glad you agree about the cavalry one (I was surprised when she said she didn’t like it). And glad you agree about the female characterisation one- I threw that one in, in place of damsel, cos I never see damsels, but see that all the time. haha thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Omg LOVE all the gifs in this post!! Darth Vader AHH DEAD. Also yes, I definitely agree that the chosen one is overdone. I love some of the stories where the MC kinda is but books are just far too saturated and similar to HP now that it makes it boring welp

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Fake deaths are THE WORST! In general I have no problem with tropes, only with bad writing. I can get behind and villain being evil for no reason if they’re written well, even if complex villains are more interesting. Really I just don’t want to read the same shit over and over again, so as long as authors mix and match their tropes in new ways I don’t care.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s