Fantasy Tropes I Love

 

orangutan list

Poor old genre fiction is often maligned- even by me 😉 Too often I talk about the downsides of tropes and themes I don’t like- so today, since I’ve got a lot of my Moaning Minnie opinions out of my system, I thought it would be fun to talk about some fantasy tropes I actually love!

hermione witch magic gif*Magic*- especially if there’s too much of it!! Which may sound weird to everyone- cos either you think like me “can there BE too much magic?!” or you think “welllll there are limits”. For me there are no limits! I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief for fantasy and this will always make me excited 😀

rhaegal dragonDragons– all the DRAGONS!! Now, I will admit, I’m a bit more discerning when it comes to dragons- as I said in my least favourite fantasy tropes post I won’t just settle for any old dragon. Still, that comes from a place of love, because I can’t really say it enough: dragons are my favourites!

 

Cgadget manool gadgets/magical artefacts– similar to the dragons, I’m not always into magical gizmo fixes all the problems/needs to be destroyed in order to save the world. That said, I do get a thrill when little magical objects find their way into the story and are shown off in a James-Bond-gets-his-gadgets kind of scene. 

zukoAntagonist turned ally– I just love redemption arcs. So, whether it’s an enemies to lovers twist, or an antagonist turned ally, I am super on board for this trope!! At the same time, I wouldn’t say no to… 

 

walder freyThe *just deserts* being served– as much as I love villains learning the error of their ways, I also enjoy them being punished just as much. Especially cos not all villains are created equal and sometimes it’s satisfying to see the Walder Freys of stories being served their own sons, Titus Andronicus style 😉

questQuests! A huge part of the fantasy genre is the hero’s journey and what better way to get them started than sending them off on a literal journey?! While I think this can easily go wrong or be done badly, I can still be tempted by a jolly jaunt into fantasy land. For me, this will never get old!!

 

Mirkwood_Peek_01Going into the *wilds* and coming back transformed– this is an age-old trick in folklore, which Tolkien drew on and famously made a part of the genre. It’s very typical to read a fantasy novel where the main character ventures out into the unknown (most often represented as forests) and learns something dark and twisted about the world or themselves. It’s a stalwart part of the genre- and I can’t get enough of it.

got-credits-picMysterious libraries/castles/schools– naturally, adding magic can make the mundane more special- who knew? 😉 Seriously though, some locations blend better into the fantasy realms. Personally, I really appreciate when buildings are transformed into something creepier and more enigmatic. Speaking of which…

casperGhosts and necromancy– blame Garth Nix’s Sabriel for cementing my love for this one 😉 Funnily enough, I’m easily creeped out, yet I still firmly believe the ability to bridge the divide between life and death is one of the best things about fantasy. It’s such a great opportunity to explore interesting and unearthly themes. I can’t quite get enough of fantasy books which draw up the veil and dance over this line.  

helms deep rohirrimAll hope is lost… oh no wait it isn’t! Also known as the “here comes the cavalry” twist. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I get all jittery when the author makes me truly believe we’ve reached the end of the road and then *DADA* reinforcements come at the last second.

 

And that’s all I have for now! What do you think of these tropes? Do you have any favourite fantasy motifs of your own? Let me know in the comments!

Tropes I don’t mind (and some I even like)

orangutan list

Okay, I’ll admit that title is a little misleading- cos most of these I really, really love. I just know some of these are not well liked- so please, don’t throw banana peels at me! (that’s my job 😉 )

daughter of smoke and bone#1 Forbidden Love– starting off with something nice and safe, I love the Romeo-and-Juliet style forbidden romances, especially where everything is at stake because of two characters falling in love… Alright, so not totally safe 😉 This one ties me up in knots, unravels me and makes me super invested in the story. I don’t care how much of a cliché it is- it gets me (nearly) every time!

to all the boys#2 Fake Dating– this is one of those romance themes that is becoming instabuy for me. Ever since I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before I have been head over heels for this trope. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it, I will always go back for more!

 

 

secret countess#3 Misunderstandings– okay getting to the first controversial one. Lots of people hate this one- and believe me, I get why- the thing is… I don’t hate it. I think it’s a staple of romance for a reason, partly cos (unfortunately) it’s realistic, but mostly cos it creates tension and reasons for people not to be together, without resorting to making the love interests terrible people (aka indecisiveness, cheating, and basically most of the ingredients for a typical love triangle). Also, it nearly always gets used in one of my favourite ever tropes…

carry on#4 Enemies to lovers– I’ll admit, I’m complete trash for this one. Think Simon and Baz from Carry On– there’s a reason I keep going on about that book! This one also ties into…

 

 

court of mists and fury#5 Secretly a sweetheart– nothing melts my heart more than seeing the soft side of a supposedly hardened character. And I know it’s not always popular, but I cannot get enough of the misunderstood bad boy (important caveat that they can’t actually be an irredeemable bad guy for this to work).

 

darth vader#6 Redemption Arcs– this one can be unpopular, cos some people think it’s overdone… annnd I don’t care. Darth Vader, Snape, any other controversial redemption arc- I am *there* for it. For me, it’s a basic idea that if someone goes into the dark side, there has to be a way they can find their way back and if it’s done well nothing hits me in the gut more. More than that, I enjoy pontificating about how far a character can be redeemed (one great copout I totally approve of is for the baddie to redeem themselves and promptly die- yes, I’m sneaking in another trope that I am totally a sucker for 😉 )

the young elites#7 Descent into *DARKNESS*– kinda can’t include the redemption arc without talking about how much I love the opposite. Though this is done far less, I am so excited to read when a hero becomes a villain. Perhaps it’s because it’s like a form of *evil wish fulfilment*; maybe it’s because it’s such a fascinating way into the human mind. Either way, give me all the anti-hero story arcs please! 

game of thrones book#8 Moral ambiguity– well, if I like the last two, it stands to reason this would be on the list. Basically, I like the good, the bad and everything in between. Give me all the characters I don’t know whether to root for or simply hate (thanks GRRM)

 

 

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover#9 Dark backstories- including dead parents– yes, you read that right. I’m one of those *MONSTERS* that actually appreciates when the parents are killed off before the story begins or something nasty happens in the protagonist’s past… Really though, this can’t come as so much of a surprise given how often I’ve talked about the need for darkness in books and why bad parents in books can be totally necessary. I won’t go into too much detail, as I’ve spoken at length about this before, but I personally find it can be essential to a lot of storytelling and can be an exercise in empathy for the reader.

geekerella#10 Rags to Riches/Cinderella stories– here’s another one that I cannot stop reading! Every time I see a Cinderella retelling, I pick it up. And whenever a character goes from incredibly sucky circumstances to being raised far above their station- I eat that stuff right up! I’m a glutton for this kind of narrative!

 

red sister#11 Ridiculously overpowered characters or magic systems– this one’s a weird one for me to include, cos it skirts super close to the Chosen One line- and I’ve made it pretty clear I’m not a fan of that. That said, when there’s magic in a story, I want a bit of a show. I find it so entertaining when there is endless possibility when it comes to a magic system. I love when fantasy breaks all the laws of reality. And for this to happen, it means a lot of the characters have to be able to do the impossible. I especially love it if the protagonist in the world has multiple abilities that make them stand out from the crowd- like Fitz in the Farseer Trilogy and Nona in Red Sister. It’s not just that talented characters are interesting to me, I get hyped to see what they’ll do with all that power!

So let me have it- what do you think of all of these tropes? Do you love them or hate them? And which tropes (unpopular or not) do you secretly love? Don’t be shy!

 

Worst Fantasy Novel Plan- EVER!

*Lovingly made for all fantasy fans*

Ever wonder how cliche fantasy books get written? Well wonder know more, because this is the ultimate guide for writing the WORST fantasy novel imaginable! Enjoy!

pathetic fallacy sad-face-doctorBefore we get started we need a prologue about *mysterious forces* at work. It must be overladen with plenty of pathetic fallacy- make sure that wind roars and rain falls- you set that tone! Please note that this can’t have any actual bearing on the plot, because that would be daft. Instead, let’s flashback 10000 years, before the dawn of mankind, to where a magical talking rook-creature-thing lived. There- that seems sufficiently random and obscure. Now we can forget all about that and get to the actual plot…

*****

Welcome to the village of Farplace where nothing ever happens and say hello to this random farmhand Nut M Portant (Nut for short). He doesn’t have many hobbies, except horse riding, being the only person around who practices sword fighting with a staff, and visiting the old guy with the long white beard who lives on the edge of the village (watch out- he’s gonna be important). Also he spends a lot of time complaining how bored he is.

bored

wargBut then!- lo and behold- something dark and evil and wolflike (but with a human voice for convenience sake) comes to the village late at night and kills the Nut’s father, who, with his dying breath tells him to go to the old guy for help. It turns out that old guy is an important wizard known as The Last Wizard Standing (didn’t see that plot twist coming, did you?).

Yet Last Wizard is not feeling particularly helpful right now. He sends Nut on his way *immediately* without giving him any information or guidance, just an old sword.

Also at the same time an elven woman with an unpronounceable name (something like llwellgenlle). She’s from an order of Only Women-No Men Allowed (seriously keep out!) comes to the village seeking the slayer of the wolfthing (shall we just call Swargs- from the old tongue title meaning It’s A Warg- and be done with it?) She’s totally not allowed relations with ANY MAN- which means she’s perfect for a prospective love interest.

sword fightingNut runs into said love interest just as he’s coming out of Last Wizard’s hut. He is instantly struck by her beauty. Conveniently- for the sake of the plot- a Swarg pounces just as they cross paths- but Nut really easily smites the beast! (very important to note here Nut’s amazement as he’s never handled anything more than a practice sword before). The female falls into his arms in a swoon.

swoon.gif

“Hail fair maiden, I thee help!” he says to her (note: always mess up the syntax for conversations- we don’t want the dialogue to be too comprehensible).

She responds in her native tongue (he understands- naturally- even though till now he’s only spoken “common”- keep up!) (any and all translations must be done by the reader using the helpfully provided dictionary in the glossary)

“Ah fair maiden!” Nut goes on in common, for the reader’s sake. “Never fear- I have thee saved, thou wilst now be my love interest and have no need to speak at all, except for the occasional incomprehensible word, you are most welcome.”

Last Wizard comes out of his house and applauds. “That was all a test- congratulations!- you’re not dead- that means you passed!”

Yay! That’s a relief, isn’t it? As we let that sink in, Last Wizard explains that he has some very important information (though he’s shaky on the details cos *reasons*) pertaining to a quest because of a prophecy that he can’t remember the exact details of…

prophecy.gif

“Prophecy? What prophecy?” Nut asks, emboldened by Last Wizard Standing’s words.

“Prophecy- oh er- mumble bumble… Yes it’s important… but I think the soup’s burning…”

Okay so that’s enough explanation. I think it’s a good time for the Priestess/Elf/Love Interest to announce she was looking for him too- so she’s joining the quest as well. And it’s probably a good time to infodump about why she thinks it’s important to save the world- something about the trees talking and the origins of Village Farplace came and some crucially-non-crucial stuff about magical creatures… (be sure to include as much of your world-building notes as possible here- you never know how many opportunities you’ll get and you must make the most of every. single. one.)

so damn bored

wizardAlrighty then, time for the quest! Make sure to bring this forgetful wizard along for the ride, but make sure he forgets anything expedient when asked and only use his powers when you’ve written yourself into a particularly tight scrape you can’t get out of with logic (it happens). You now have the perfect plot-foil. You’re welcome 😉

Where are we going? Who knows! How long will it take to get there? Doesn’t matter! Just make sure to include these landmarks on the journey:

  • A secret cache of weapons in a not-at-all well-hidden tomb (make sure to describe weaponry and helms in excruciating detail)
  • A very beautiful, peaceful place they can rest (but not live in permanently) that’s home to the elves- preferable to visit after a run-in with some more swargs and norcs (not orcs- keep up!)

rivendell

  • An inn where they drink yummy yummy mead (actually I have had this at a fair once and can confirm it’s pretty darn good, so I get why people in fantasy drink it now, but I digress…)
  • blanked out writingA place where “natives” live- description is blanked out for offensiveness (no I didn’t actually write this bit, what do you take me for?) Here they learn important *lessons* they never thought they would from *insert ambiguous term* people.
  • You can also pad out this section with creatures like: A dragon with a hoard, some friendly dwarves, sex goddesses, a thieves guild, a rebellion, goblins, riddlers, ents, basically anything from Tolkien you’ve not managed to rip off yet.

smaug 4

Please insert intermittent exposition because, as the author, I’ve done all this work on the world building and you need to hear all of it damn it!

mordorFinally they arrive in scary, scary Ochaye- which is supposed to be the villains’ lair, but this early into the story you’ll only get a projection of him. We have the opportunity to drop lots of very mysterious truth bombs like “I killed your parents… something… lost prince… something something… chosen one.”

That sort of thing- make sure it whets the appetite, but doesn’t actually reveal anything too expedient this early in the story. Oh- did I mention- this is obviously going to be the start of a series (of an indeterminate number of books). But don’t worry- you won’t get a sequel for years cos this is a fantasy… Annnd I’m leaving it there.  The projection of the baddie disappears in a cloud of smoke. I’m sure I’ll continue this one day, but in typical fantasy fashion I’m gonna go focus on writing something else now. (Maybe an anthology of all the backstory I couldn’t squeeze in…)

Voila- you now have a terrible fantasy novel! Leave it for three years, let your readers stew, and come back when they’ve lost interest. 

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!