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?


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).


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!


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.


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 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.


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!


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.


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!