I recently wrote a blog about the clichés in the horror genre, it was fun to write and so I thought I might have a look at the clichés in another genre that I like to dabble in. That being Fantasy. Fantasy stories are full of clichés, so much so that it would take far longer than I have to discuss all of them (that and I’m sure you’d get bored are the first eighty).
So today, I want to discuss my top fantasy cliché, but as I am limiting the amount I’ll talk about I thought I’d talk about the biggest cliché in the genre (in my humble opinion) rather than any of my personal pet peeves (which can be obscure at times).
Biggest Cliché: Archetype Characters.
Characters are the heart and soul of all stories, or at least they should be. You can weave the most wondrous setting, and have the most dramatic plot, but if the charters carrying said plot and walking around said setting are cardboard cutouts then your audience is going to be bored.
A lot of fantasy stories have large casts of characters, these are epic stories after all. in these situations, the core cast are usually ok, they are reasonably fleshed out and explored. But the minor characters suffer, they become cardboard cutouts that could be dumped in any story and not change at all. I understand that when your working with such a large cast you cannot flesh out every character, your audience would die from old age before getting to the exciting part of the story. So I can forgive very minor characters being cardboard cutouts, hell I even think it works in some situations, as the audience can know and understand a minor character without the author having to spend time and page space writing them a detailed back story.
But what I cannot forgive (Rawr!) is the core cast of character’s being clichés. In this situation, clichés are archetypes of the fantasy genre, the characters that appear in so many fantasy stories that they could be in any story and would still be who they are. You could put them fighting Whitewalkers and they wouldn’t change a jot, or you could have them exploring the Mines of Moria and they’d be exactly the same. Seriously, someone living in Westeros should be completely different to someone living in Middle Earth.
Such clichés can include, but are not limited to:-
The Orphan/Chosen One
The orphan whose secretly a great something-or-other, it can be a king, a wizard, a dragon riding badass, they just have to have a secret destiny. Usually the protagonist, this plucky orphan will be a perfectly normal person until one day their destiny comes calling for them. Bonus points if they’re an orphaned farm boy. Extra super bonus points if someone calls them some variation of the chosen one at some point.
The Wise Old Dude
There’s also the wise old dude; this chap is usually the one who finds said orphan and brings them into their destiny. Not always though, sometimes the orphan comes across them a bit later, in which case they will probably reject the orphan for a while until they somehow prove themselves worthy of teaching. Bonus points if this person is a wizard of some kind. Extra super bonus points if they were once a great man but became disenchanted for some reason and the Orphan/chosen one restore their faith and they then die tragically.
The Feisty Girl
This has to be one of the worst offenders in my book. I love strong female characters, but I’m so fed up with the feisty heroine whose usually got a reputation for being a total badass but the minute the story gets going they forget all their badass skills and become completely reliant on the hero, while still maintaining the feisty attitude. Bonus points if she wields a bow (I hate this, bows are seriously hard work and require a lot of physical strength to wield. Archers became physically deformed (kinda) due to the epic muscle power in developed certain parts of their body but not others, think giant chests and one giant arm. Bows are not the default weak girl weapon. Give the girl a bloody short sword or something).
I’d love to see female strength being portrayed in a different way, give me a female character who’s not a feisty badass, but instead emotionally strong, or clever or anything really, just don’t make her an angry badass. You don’t have to be pissed off to be strong. Terry Pratchett was awesome at writing strong female characters, go have a read of some Discworld and see what I mean.
The Evil Dude
Lastly, the evil dude. A lot of fantasy stories are about the journey, they focus on their characters relationships with each other and their own internal growth. The destination isn’t all that important and neither is the purpose of the journey. It’s just the background motivation for the story. BUT that is no excuse to not put any effort into your villain.
I love me a good villain (bonus points if they are sarcastic) and it irritates me beyond belief when certain stories miss such a great opportunity. A good villain can be a fantastic counterweight to your main cast, they challenge your main cast, take them out of their comfort zone, and let them grow. This can be done so well which is why I am sad when I see the following.
“I’m evil for ….reasons” ok, so the villain is evil because the plot needs him to be. Theirs no motivation, it’s overly simplistic and its boring.
“I’m secretly related to the protagonist,” Seriously Star Wars did it, everyone else copied them (I imagine star wars probably copied it from somewhere as well but you know what I mean) now stop it. It’s overdone and boring.
“I killed your father/Mother/Brother/Dog etc,” Don’t epic villains have better things to do? Also why so inept, if you’re going to kill a family kill the entire family don’t miss one. Also, why the hell bother with this? How does killing this family help your super evil master plan?
“I’m massively incompetent and make lots of mistakes” HOW DID YOU BECOME SUCH A THREAT IF YOU’RE A DUMBASS?
My rants aside, try not to see your characters as good and evil, no one sees themselves as evil, everyone thinks they are the hero, your villain should be no different. Hell, even Thanos thought he was saving life by destroying half of it.
Like I said above archetype characters have their place, but that place is not in your main cast.
Which Archetypes do you love or hate?