Writing Tips

10 Fantasy Clichés and Ideas to Change Them

Walk into any book store, and you will find shelves and shelves of fantasy books. But the same clichés run through most of them, and many are so predictable that you only have to read the back cover to guess the entire plot. Now, while I don’t suggest getting rid of every fantasy clichés in your novel (if you do, your novel might not be considered fantasy any more 😉 ), maybe you can have fun putting your own twist on a couple of these age old clichés. So here is a list of 10 of the most popular fantasy clichés and suggestions to inspire you to change or twist the clichés to make unique, interesting novel ideas.

And while, of course, not all fantasy books include these clichés, many of them do. Now there is nothing wrong with a classic fantasy story, sometimes it is fun to let your imagination take over and do something different. If there are any fantasy clichés that really bother you and I forgot or if you know of any good fantasy books which break out from the basic fantasy mold, let us know in the comments!

10 Fantasy Cliches and Ideas to Change Them

  1. The Prophecy of the Chosen One

You know this one had to be on here, right? Plenty of fantasy books have some sort of prophecy revolving around a reluctant hero who appears to be no one and their journey of saving the world. Some examples are Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings), Harry Potter (Harry Potter), Aidan (The Door Within), Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle), and many, many others.

A couple of ways to change this: Instead of a prophecy about the hero, could you have a prophecy about a rising villain? What if the heir to the prophecy is a spoiled rich brat who has known about the prophecy all of his life instead of a humble farm boy? Or you could just cut the prophecy and *gasp* have the character motivate himself to save the world! This cliché is actually so popular that I had to write an entirely different blog post about how to twist this one fantasy cliché.

  1. A Medieval European World

There are very few fantasy worlds that are not based on Medieval Europe. Most fantasy novels, if you get rid of all the magic and magical creatures, you are left with Medieval Europe; the clothing, the social order (knights, lords, kings, and serfs), the castles, the weapons, and everything else is based on this one time period. This is almost a defining feature of fantasy, but it could be very interesting to twist this.

A couple of ways to change this: What is you had an Arab nomadic based fantasy culture in a desert? Or perhaps you could base your world on tribes in the Amazon rainforest? Wouldn’t that be really interesting?

  1. Names must be Finnish/Welsh/Celtic/Norse Based 

This cliché almost falls under the previous category, but I wanted to give it is own section. Eragon, Caspian, Moraine, Gandalf (literally “staff elf” taken from an old poem about dwarves), etc. are all from one of the languages above (or some closely related language). I’d challenge you to look up your favorite fantasy character’s name and just try to prove this wrong.

A couple of ways to change this: Why not have Spanish, Arabic, or Native American based fantasy names? If you are in school, you could even use your foreign language class to provide inspiration. Moreover, wouldn’t it be cool to mix cultures? We could have Arabic based names in a Native American based fantasy world?

  1. The Main Character Wields a Sword

On the rare occasion, we get the treat of an archer main character, but it is rare. Most heroes (or even mentors and main villains) are swordsmen. Why? I really don’t know or care, but we need to add some variety.

A couple of ways to change this: Archers are totally and completely awesome and main character material (Check out this cool video.) But bows and arrow are not the only other fantasy weapons out there. Of course, we could have an ax wielding main character, but what about quarterstaves (huge sticks that are pretty fearsome to see in action)? These weapons are not just for side characters– let your main characters have some fun, too.

  1. Only Bows, Axes, and Swords Allowed for Other Characters

There are other Medieval weapons, you know 😉 But we rarely see them in fantasy novels. While the occasional bad buy might have a mace, no other weapons are really seen.

A couple of ways to change this: I mentioned quarterstaves above because they are one of my favorites, but there are so many other fun weapons for both side and main characters. Why not add in some javelins, lances, quivers of spears, morning stars, halberds, fighting knives, or even blow darts? Research and find some obscure weapons, or go invent your own! There are plenty of other ways to kill people. Muhahaha!

  1. Governments must be Monarchies

Again, this cliché goes back to fantasies being based in Medieval Europe which– guess what?– mostly had monarchies. So let’s change that.

A couple of ways to change this: Can you have a republic or democracy in a fantasy world? Or perhaps a totalitarian government or a plutocracy? If you are writing religious fantasy, you could even have a theocracy. Or go a step farther and have different nations have different types of governments in your fantasy world. Not sure about what these governments are? You can do some quick research on Google or check out my blog post on types of governments here.

  1. Only Mythological Creatures are Elves, Dragons, Dwarves, Humans or a Variant Thereof

While a fantasy book will contain the occasional dryad or other creature and some authors will make up their own creatures, elves, humans, and dragons almost always get the spot light. Some fantasy books do make up their own creatures, but most of the time, those creatures seem a bit underdeveloped.

A couple of ways to change this: Why not center your fantasy world around selkies, centaurs, dryads, naiads, or some other mythical creature? There are even some lesser known ones! And don’t just include them, why not center your story around them? Also I’d highly suggest that you use an already established mythological creature— not only are there literally thousands of creatures but there is a lot of really cool history and inspiration. Here are two great links for researching underused fantasy creatures:

Epic, Underused Mythological Creatures for Fantasy Stories (Hannah Heath)

A Giant List of Legendary Creatures by Type (Wikipedia)

  1. A Complete Lack of Science

Most fantasy worlds completely or almost completely lack a scientific development past the Medieval age. (Are we beginning to see a pattern here?) I suppose authors assume that magic just replaces science, but what if you worked with both science and magic?

A couple of ways to change this: What if the scientists and magicians were in conflict, or your world combined the two “studies”? Maybe your world does not see science and magic as opposing force? Perhaps you could scientifically explain your magic?

  1. Medieval Technology

With the notable exception of the Urban Fantasy genre, fantasy worlds tend to be less technologically developed that ours. We’ve got air planes, internet, and cars, but what technology can a fantasy world have? Does magic necessarily have to replace technology?

A couple of ways to change this: Think about the basic ideas of your fantasy world, and then imagine that people worked on making these ideas and harnessing the magical energies better for a couple of hundred years. Could your fantasy world have unique technology instead of being stuck in its Dark Ages? This cliché ties closely into scientific development and scientific communities. Maybe figure out how science and technology might work with magic.

  1. There must be some Quest

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good quest. But does every fantasy books have to center around one? Must there always be a character/a group of characters who journey to complete some heroic action? Must the world always be in danger? And must that threat always be solved with a quest?

A couple of ways to change this: Why not center your fantasy books around a war between two nations and their battle strategies (with a “fair” win and not some magical item destroying the other side)? Perhaps your characters could be trying to unite a nation or trying to lead a rebellion in order to form a new fantasy nation? Or maybe after your character chases down the lost sword and defeats the evil overlord suddenly, they must not face the problem of actually ruling and saving a people who have been oppressed for generations?

But before you start changing all the fantasy cliches in your novel, I am throwing in a twist:

It is okay to have clichés in your novel.

In the modern world, uniqueness and individuality are heavily emphasized. This pressure to be unique is immense and oppressive, especially as authors, and is probably why you are reading this post in the first place. However, some clichés (even a couple of the ones mentioned above) actually point to truths about our world, and sometimes by twisting clichés, we can end up writing unrealistic fiction. In fact, Tolkien himself has some interesting thoughts on clichés that might surprise you. I don’t have the space here to get into a detailed discussion of what Truth and Tolkien have to do with fantasy clichés, but if you have the time, I’d highly suggest reading this post on Why it’s Okay to have Clichés in your Fantasy Novel.

Phew. So fantasy clichés. What do you think?

God bless,

Gabrielle

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74 thoughts on “10 Fantasy Clichés and Ideas to Change Them”

  1. This is a really thought-provoking post. My fantasy world avoids most of these, thankfully. Most of my names are just rare English names or names I’ve made up (Slade, Haven, Lial, Marba), and my fantasy world is both less developed and more developed; they don’t have cars or cell phones, but my main character (an inventor) makes a flying machine and small video communication devices. And that means I have a little science included, too. My main fantasy creatures are dragons and centaurs… But I must admit a lot of others, like the weapons and quest, are prominent in my story. Must keep that in mind next time I’m planning. 😀

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    1. I’m glad this post was helpful! And that is really cool about your fantasy world; it sounds really interesting to me! I would pick up your book if it was on my library’s shelf.
      But I want to clarify that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a fantasy novel which fits every single one of these cliches! You can have a wonderful fantasy novel with all these cliches. I am suggesting these ideas just to get other writers (and myself– personally, it was helpful to write these ideas out) thinking. It is always fun to vary from the norm 😉
      Oh, and when I said “less technologically developed” I didn’t mean that your fantasy world should have cars or air planes. I was just suggesting idea of how your fantasy world might develop on a different technological track (just like how you mentioned in your fantasy world a character makes a flying machine and a video communication device.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, that makes sense. And thanks! I’m hoping I’ll be able to get it published in a few months. Just sent it out to beta readers, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. 🙂 The entire post is making me want to start a new fantasy story, I must say. XD

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      2. I don’t know how to do my own comment, so I’m gonna piggy back off of this guy’s comment… anywho, this has been very helpful to me. I mean, I already thought of my fantasy world (Arkias) as being a high-tech but magical land with varied governments, but I never considered doing the archer main character. On another note, I would appreciate it if you would correspond with me, to assist me in the writing of my book. My email is:
        ergoproxy63904@gmail.com
        Again, I highly appreciate this site, and I hope you will correspond with me in the writing of my novel.

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  2. Number 2 bugs me so much. I think so many modern fantasy writers fall into these cliches so much because it was first the great fantasy writers — CS Lewis and Tolkien — who crafted their worlds in this way, and now everybody’s trying to copy them.
    I do know of a series which defeats the number 4 cliche; The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan. The Ranger’s main weapon is their longbow, and if they have to get into close combat they have knives.
    One thing which I would like to see in fantasy is this: a Narnia-esque tale about the MC from this world going into a fantasy world which is rather undeveloped, and then returning to the same world later in the series, and finding it is ages later, and the world is technologically advanced so that there’s skyscrapers and speeders and whatnot technology. One thing that bugs me, as you mentioned in number 9, is the lack of technology in fantasy worlds.
    I had strayed away from the genre of fantasy last year, but now I somewhat going back, and during my worldbuilding I shall refer to your wonderful post. =)

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    1. That is completely true, Victoria! I read a book all about how Tolkien crafted his world from modern and Medieval people/languages of England (it was really interesting, too.) He and Lewis were genius, but you are right; now everyone is just copying their ideas.
      Really? My sister is reading those books and absolutely loves them. I might have to pick those up now!
      That would be really interesting to see; I would love to read a book like that. The only thing is it might be considered a “cross-over” genre (between Science Fiction and Fantasy), but that isn’t a bad thing right?!
      I’m glad I could be helpful, and I hope your fantasy writing goes well!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I really enjoyed the first book or two of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but then finding that most of the places they visited in future books were based on real countries (e.g. Scotland, China) really disappointed me. I guess I wanted more unique worldbuilding.

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      1. Interesting. I would argue that every single fantasy world is based on real places, even if the authors acknowledge it or not. Most are unknowingly based on Medieval European and that culture because that is where modern fantasy was born. So I am not sure what you mean by more unique world building.

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    3. I am currently working day and night on my novel Primordium: Clockwork Gods, and it is set in a world with a lot of tech and magic. Hopefully it will stand out and provide you with a great setting. I know I as well am tired of reading fantasy set in old worlds without progress.

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      1. The title is really expressive of the tone of the novel, I am really looking to break away and provide something plausible and fresh, but with a few boss to those who’ve paved the road before me, before us. I just hope I can pull it off! I am looking for strong writers to network with, if anyone is interested, my email is Justin.mathew.sylvester@gmail.com

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  3. My second NaNo has a sidekick/romantic interest who uses a quarterstaff, my third attempt has some attempt at technology in the more fantasaical land, and a temporarily abandoned Camp NaNo try involves selkies because WHO DOESN’T LOVE THOSE AWESOME CREATURES. =D A friend once had her character use a bola, which I thought was fascinating. And I usually make up my own names, like Riali and Arlan…mainly a combination of letters from my keyboard. xD Maybe I should try looking up ethnic names. Great post–informative, inspiring, and some other i-word (that I can’t think of right now and probably doesn’t exist) for a self-test.

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    1. I’ve always been interesting in the quarterstaff (probably because of Robin Hood and his men), so that must have been really fun to write. Did you have to “practice” with a giant branch to know how to writ about it?
      That is so cool that you love selkies, too! They are absolutely my favorite creatures ever, but I have yet to write about them….
      I’m glad this post was helpful; it was fun to write, too.

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      1. I’ve actually never heard of selkies before. They sound interesting. I don’t know if anyone else’s families are crazy enough to do this with you, but one thing you can do to learn what it is like to use a quarter staff (or any other hand-to-hand combat weapon) is to make them out of wood and give various weapons to your dad or siblings and fight them with the weapon you are trying to learn about. I used to do this a lot with my family and other rednecks we know. Quarter staves are actually a very effective weapon against about anything but a bow, though they require an immense amount of strength coupled with agility: the only way you do anything to your enemy is by crushing their bones, and with such a large staff, it requires a lot of agility to get inside their defenses, plus the fact that you have to maintain enough force during your maneuvering to still be able to crush bones, and then you must have enough strength to extract your staff quickly enough to block other attacks.

        One way to get technology and science in a fantasy world, even if it is still set basically in Medieval Europe, is to have a new type of matter, or a new element with different properties, or maybe a new type of energy (although that’s probably been done countless times), or even have your characters invent a new element or type/state of matter.

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      2. Thanks for your imput on quarter staves, Zane. That is very helpful!
        Fortunately, I have several friends (and my dad) who are willing to test out different weapons with me; though I have never tried a quarter staff (I think I found my next weapon project, thanks, Zane!) I made two wooden claymore replicas to test out with my dad (they are made of hickory, 56 inches long (including the handle), and about 2.5 pounds– so a bit light for a claymore but in the acceptable weight range for a longsword.) And right now, I am about to start working on a weapon I’ve invented for my book (though I have not included it yet), so I can see how it would actually work.
        Another note, when you get to Baehur and Mar’s duel on the ship (I think it is chapter 9 or 10), their duel is a direct recording of one which I had with one of my good friends (even the conversation was taken almost directly from ours.) Having friends to fight definitely helps when it comes to writing duels or battles.

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  4. That’s cool that you do wooden medieval fighting, too. My quarter staff is my favorite weapon to use (although it broke, and after gluing and duct taping and seeing how flimsy it still was and how fast it broke again, I think it’s life is over), because it is so versatile, and so effective, once you get the hang of it, but no one will fight me with it, because I am so good with it (and because they are afraid I will hurt them with it, which I must admit has happened before).

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    1. I’ll admit that no many people with fight me with the claymores either (pretty much is it just four of my friends and my father.) It is really easy to hurt someone with them, and it has happened before to me, too.

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  5. A couple of books you might really like would be The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, which is a fantasy novel with a Mongolian twist) and Linnet and the Prince by Alydia Rackham (a fantasy world with an Arabic style).

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  6. On the weapons thing: in one of my books, my main character is primarily a staff fighter (and when she does use a sword, it’s a scimitar rather than the traditional straight sword). Also, one of my favorite male main characters from another series uses a weapon that I made up myself, kind of a double-ended short spear, but with three blades on each end.
    Great post, and I’ll have to keep these suggestions in mind!

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  7. Great post!! This really inspired me at points for the fantasy novel me and my friend are writing. Also, I’m glad to see that someone else doesn’t think that a fantasy novel doesn’t HAVE to be based in the Dark Ages. Our story is set in an alternate world, but resembles modern times much more closely than the Medieval period, with modern clothing, names, and primarily modern living conditions. The biggest difference is that the technology and weaponry is either less developed, or developed in other directions than in our world.

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  8. One of the most annoying fantasy cliches, in my opinion, is “The Nobody Who Turns Out To Be The Lost Really-Important-Person.” I can usually call this in the first three chapters.
    (Now, I will admit, I am guilty of using this in my second novel. However, I did have the advantage of him being the lost prince everyone really just wanted to be dead for good. And as soon as he came back, the country started falling apart… again.)

    Great post! I want to go outline my current fantasy novel now, and flip a few of the cliches you mention.

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    1. Yes, I agree that is a really annoying cliche, and I think it can be applied to a lot of genres. But, like you, I have to admit that I do have one character (possibly two) which falls into this category. Thanks for adding this, and I’m glad it was helpful!

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  9. Visiting from GTW linkup!
    Great post! I’m in the process of (trying to) outline a fantasy novel, and this list makes me think. I really don’t know where to begin, so it’s great to know that there’re so many blog posts out there about fantasy, you know? Great post, great list, and great blog! thanks!

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  10. I would agree. Most fantasies could be improved by just changing a few stock elements, especially when it comes to weapons; I’m getting tired of the inevitable swords and bows. Breaking out of the usual character races (elves, dwarves, men, wizards) would also be a relief. Very good suggestions; thank you!

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  11. I love fantasy, both as a reader and writer, so this is right up my alley. This is a great post. I agree that fantasy clichés are becoming annoying, and I loved your suggestions on how to put a unique twist on what’s been overdone. I might have to employ some of those!

    In my current series, I used Arabic, Hebrew, and other middle-eastern languages as the primary source of names for one of my prominent races.

    As for books, check out Brandon Sanderson. He does a great job of tweaking fantasy tropes to give his stories a fresh twist.

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  12. Oooh, I love this post so much. It has given me so many new ideas and inspiration … I’ll be checking back to it frequently, thank you so much!

    While I enjoy The Inheritance Cycle, there were many cliches, which is why I don’t put it on my favorite fantasy stuff list.

    I think one reason why people tend to use Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian names (point three) is that they’re easier to pronounce and they’re just more familiar to the majority of people who will be reading them. Plus, the gender of a person is often easily recognizable from names like that (if it ends in -a, it’s usually a girl, for instance). Not that we should go with what’s easiest, of course, but, as a reader, I know I appreciate when the names aren’t too wacky. Still, a good point!

    Also, as others have said, Ranger’s Apprentice does a good job with the archer problem (I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much—it broke several of the fantasy cliches, even if the writing style itself isn’t spectacular). Brandon Sanderson often completely changes these things up—in fact, his Mistborn: The Final Empire deals with the question of “What if a bunch of people tried to overthrow the dark lord and it failed?”, which is a cool take on the typical “defeat the big bad king” theme. Anne Elisabeth Stengl does well with number 7—she has a unique version Faeries, time-traveling creatures called slyphs, and a really unusual form of dragons.

    So, yeah. Long comment. xD But I just loved this post so much. =D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really glad this post was helpful!
      I agree with your reasoning about the origin of fantasy names, but I also think that is also because fantasy really originated in those countries. The old tales (like Beowulf and the Norse poems) are really the origin of fantasy, and then when Tolkien and the Legends of Arthur made fantasy popular, they bolstered that idea.
      I just started reading Ranger’s Apprentice, and I do appreciate that it stay away from several cliches– and it is awesome that the “cool” characters are all archers. I read Heartless by Anne Stengl, and I enjoyed it; her dragons are really unique, but I have not gotten to her faeries, yet. I have heard so much about Brandon Sanderson of late that I really need to read his books now. Are they pretty clean?

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  13. Brilliant post, as always! A lot of your points made me think back to a book I read: Sinner by Ted Dekker. It’s an enthralling Christian ‘Fantasy’, based in modern (post modern actually) society. There’s tons of science, 3 ‘chosen one’s (from which 2 end up making themselves enemies to the greater cause). Riveting. I haven’t read the rest of the series, but I definitely recommend this as a read if your interested.

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    1. That whole trilogy is rather good, as is The Circle Trilogy by the same author and a tie-in book called “Green.” The former is more fantasy-esque than the Paradise trilogy but still rather atypical – it’s mostly set in a desert land, first of all. There are other differences, but I don’t want to give away too much. I can tell you though that the more you read Ted Dekker books the more your mind gets blown away – they all connect to one another in some way.

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  14. Thank you so much for this post! It did an awesome job putting into words a lot of the problems I have with fantasy books I read… or try to write! My parents will suggest something to pull me out of a sticky wicket in my writing, but often the suggestions will be one of the above cliches.

    Number 4 was one of the reasons I enjoyed Hunger Games and Ranger’s Appretice was the significant use of archery. Archery is a hobby of mine, but I rarely come across it in books and even more rarely come across it properly done. I would also love to see more spears, because I’ve always considered them to be one of the most effective weapons. (Particularly after watching Through Gates Of Splendor! Er… or whatever the movie based on that book was named.)

    It is interesting that the generic fantasy setting is European Middle Ages. That’s a comfort zone for me… until I actively decide otherwise, that’s where my novel will be based. If a novel is from a middle Eastern, Asian, African or American settig, chances are I won’t realize it until someone tells me to my face. A fault of my own, and one I hope to correct!

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    1. I am glad that the post was helpful! There is nothing wrong with using cliches– if you have read any Tolkien, he draws most of his ideas from Medieval stories. But it is always fun and interesting to change and do something different.
      I think the movie was End of the Spear. Honestly, I have never considered spears one of the most efficient weapons, but I have been tossing around the idea of one of my characters using them.
      I would really love to see fantasy that it based on some other culture! Tolkien started the (modern) tread for fantasy using the European Medieval ages, but I would love to see something different now (even though I absolutely love Medieval Europe myself).

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  15. Hi! I’ve… never posted on a blog before. Ever. But I am now because this is about books.
    So for the one about science – have you read the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane? Practically every act of magic is defined by science of some sort. I’m not arguing with you or contradicting what you said, because it is mainly true. I am just telling you there is one out there.
    Plus, I feel like recommending a few books (if you haven’t already read them). Just by looking at your blog site, I think you might like The Word Changers or the Angel Eyes trilogy. The former is fantasy (set in a book – which is cool within itself) and the latter is a… realistic fantasy, if such a thing existed. You should also read Tandem – simply because it is an awesome book, not that it is in any way connected to my previous statements.
    Okay, so I know I turned this comment (under your post, so it should probably be about that, or at least WRITING) into a “books you should read” list you probably won’t ever read anyway (or have already read), but hey – they’re books. And in my experiences, you can’t go wrong with books.

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    1. Thanks for all the book recommendations, Moryah! I always love getting book recommendations, but I don’t get around to read all of them. However, I will definitely look those up and put some of them on my list.

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  16. Very interesting, and your suggestions are inspiring, thank you.

    Though I have to say, as a Finn, I haven’t noticed there being so many Finnish names.Or themes, for that matter, even though Tolkien was enamored with Kalevala… it never caught the fascination of people like the stories of King Arthur. I have to say the other epic stories, like Siegfried, Roland, Odysseus etc. are also quite under-developed as fodder for Fantasy… or the Bible, for that matter. I would appreciate Russia as a new frontier for fodder. Very rich mythology there, mostly unknown to everyone else.

    Also, Caspian is most probably taken from the Caspian sea, which is named after the Cas tribe, which is not Finnic, Norse or Celtic.

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  17. There’s a very short fantasy book called “The Bonemender,” by Holly Bennet, in which the main character is actually a 30ish year old woman, not a teenager like most fantasy cliche main characters are. Also the plot centers around a war between her own country and another’s rather than some sort of quest, she is not a “chosen one” in any way shape or form, and a lot of the tension is built around her beloved and her father going to fight in the war and her fear that they won’t return. Of course, there are some typical cliches – Medieval European based culture, elves, no technology, etc. But even magic is a limited concept and the elves have a very distant role in many ways, making the story mostly focused on the humans, their every day struggles, and the struggles surrounding the war.

    At least, that is how the first book goes. I found out recently it is a trilogy now but I have never read more than the first book, did not even realize it was intended to be a trilogy.

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  18. I was greatly helped by this for constructing m plot. But I have one question to ensure if this is very cliche.

    Peace was only restored temporarily as time goes. But no one ever did know that it was a bait to start all out war, but every thing these students/fighters want to undercover was just items of their study on the 2nd generation, but it led them to finally awakening the spirit and finally restored back peace all those 9 generations.

    well, I really enjoyed seeing the archer vid… it really helped though. This also can be really essential to amateurs and younger writers ^-^.

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    1. Hum. It could be cliche– it seems similar to some dystopian story lines that I know, but if you emphasize the fantasy aspects and add a few plot twists, then you could make it unique. And it is important to remember that not all cliches are bad 🙂

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  19. This article helped to point out some cliches and things I could work on in my story(And I think medieval stasis is THE most annoying fantasy trope/cliche ever!). I want to know if you think my plot idea is still cliche though…

    So, for years there has been a lot of tension between the two biggest countries of the west, and when a long-lost heir(who is NOT one of the main characters!) returns to Pandora’s throne, war breaks out. One of the protagonists(there are more than one) joins Pandora’s army with a will to win and no combat experience, even though her mom doesn’t want her to. She(the protagonist) is super patriotic and thinks that Arcadia is all bad, but not everyone looks at the war the same way – and each side has dark motivations and secrets…

    So what do you think? Is it cliche? My story is still totally in the planning stage, though.

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    1. Your story doesn’t sound all that cliche:

      1. the long-lost heir is not a main character and the story isn’t about trying to get him safely to the throne, I assume.

      2. The protagonist has blind patriotism it sounds like which will set up some very interesting character development and realization when she is exposed to the dark secrets and motivations each side has. Maybe she’ll start to see the 2 Kingdoms as different shades of the same gray and change sides? Maybe she’ll become disillusioned with the kingdom she serves and lose some self-identity? Some good elements for your story there.

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    2. My personal opinion is that it looks pretty good. However, the idea of a female protagonist joining the army against her parent’s wishes (especially if she turns out to be naturally talented or even become one of the best soldiers through hard work and if she ends up saving the heir) is a bit cliche. But I think it is almost impossible to avoid any cliche. I think the best goal is to break a few cliches, give your readers unique characters, and use good writing.
      Good luck, Eugenia!

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  20. It’s not a book, but for inspiration on fantasy based on other cultures and featuring science and technological development, the cartoon Avatar: the last airbender and its sequel, Avatar: the legend of Korra, are pretty good examples. The world features several different countries based on imperial Japan, the inuits, Korea and Tibet; there is a steampunk inventor character whose inventions are used by both the good and bad guys; during the last airbender, the setting’s magical abilities are used to kickstart and industrial revolution, and the legend of korra features a level of technological advancement comparable to the 1920’s; also, in the last airbender, one of the main characters’ weapon is a boomerang, and the bad guys in the legend of korra use bolas, lassos and electric stun gloves.

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  21. Wow. Honestly I am kind of mad (at myself) right now. I am currently writing a fantasy novel myself, of which does have most of those cliches. I need to say thank you for this information.

    There are a few things I cannot change of these cliches, such as the setting is actually Wales, so there are a lot of Welsh names. But I would love some input on some good ‘different’ technology for my world. There is not a quest (at least not that I know of) so yay there!

    Once again BIG THANKS FOR THIS!!

    ~Rayhne

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  22. This is really interesting! I have to admit that I’m guilty of 2 and 3. But then again, the fantasy world has been created by the main character who uses her Celtic heritage as inspiration, so maybe I can justify my use of those two??
    I’m not sure if my story is cliche:

    Eleri has a strangely-shaped birthmark on her arm that reminds her of a dragon. She spent months creating a fantasy world called Serendipia, basing it off of her Celtic heritage and dragons. After the disastrous end to her brother’s birthday, she is sucked into the world and learns of the conflict between Serendipia and Querencia. Because she has this birthmark, she is deemed the one who can help stop the war.
    After making many mistakes (turning away from an enemy and getting hit with a spell that puts a halt to any training for several weeks, being reckless and nearly setting dragons on a murderous rampage through the village, etc) she prepares to lead Serendipia into battle. Just because she is the main character, doesn’t mean she’s safe; she is killed in battle and the Serendipians narrowly win. Eleri doesn’t come back, she simply ceases to exist in her home world.

    Nyah… that actually sounds really cliche now that I write out the plot like that XD

    One thing I really hate in fantasy novels is the fact that there always has to be a love interest that is usually taken hostage by the bad guy. This probably happens a lot in other genres, but it’s something I’ve noticed.
    There’s also the totally-not-human-creatures-that-look-like-humans-and-have-pointy-ears.

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  23. I found this list via Google and I think it’s got some really great points! Also, I apologize in advance for the longevity of this comment lol

    I will say though, I think you did miss a few clichés.

    —The monolithic race and culture. Typically in most fantasy things I’ve seen or read, ALL of the main races are all white with white European features. If there are dark-skinned characters or creatures, they are either the “exotic beauty” and mysteriously mystical for no actual reason, OR they are the “inherently evil” ones, more aggressive and definitely not the hero (ie, a Drow elf or orc) types. When there are brown characters on the hero’s side, they can’t BE the actual hero, they must be the comedic relief side-kick (ie, Grover Underwood of the Percy Jackson films, Sunny of Strange Magic, Donkey of Shrek, etc). Sometimes, they might even die for the hero. You never see a dark-skinned afro-latina warrior princess with kinky curls (and apporiate armour) or even a black prince with dreadlocks… or a non-white anyone really, LET ALONE dark-skinned, in fantasy stories and films. Honestly the only high fantasy type of thing I can even think of where the main characters are non-white persons (besides the HBO cartoon fairytale series) is the Avatar series (LOK and TLA), The Black Knight with Martin Lawrence, or Galavant with a non-white princess. I suppose one could also count Elena of Avalor or Miraculous Ladybug now though.

    The fix for this is not only extremely simple BUT also extremely needed and loooong overdue: Create a world of diverse creatures with varied skin tones (whether human-like or blue, green, orange, etc) and cultures. Lighter skin and straight hair shouldn’t equal the hero, something/one pure, and inherently good, just as darker skin and course and kinky hair shouldn’t equal the villain, something/one sinister, and inherently evil…. yet it seems in a lot of fantasy and mythology that is always the case. As I said, there are some that have broken the streak, but the ratio is still quite unbalanced.

    —Secondly, the (sometimes talking) animal side-kick. If it isn’t the token sassy black character kicking at the hero’s side, it’s the “cute” little pet animal that whole-heartedly loves the hero and comforts them when the plot calls for sadness (sometimes both, in the case of Shrek). Usually the character is supposed to be regarded as cute, fluffy, or loveable, but ends up coming off as annoying, corny and generic. I’ve noticed most movies, stories, cartoons, and whatelsehaveyou following this trope seem to have a gaping hole where another character should be, but they don’t want to spend time fleshing out a full character and developing them into the plot, so an annoyingly “cute”, fuzzy, often earth-animal based creature who rarely has an opinion of their own and blindly follows and loves the hero suffices. I think Miraculous Ladybug makes it work because the small fairy/spirit guide-like creatures called kwamis act as a sort of soundboard and extra conscious for their chosen person. They add the right amount of cute and caring, yet sarcastic and realistic to the situations. They are treated and developed like the other characters, with their own opinions and thoughts, and you want to care about them. I’d say that’s the fix. 86 the cutesy wootsey sidekick creature and create a well-thought out character who has a reason to travel with the hero, that isn’t just blind following because they adore or are emotionally taken by said hero. Or just have no sidekick at all.

    —Also this situation:

    >”Well someone has to be here to protect the lady.”
    >”I can protect myself.”
    >”We’re talking actual danger, here, girly. Leave it to the men.”
    > *the female character ends up having to fight and/or save the men and is more skilled at combat then they are.
    >*smug look on her face like it was nothing*
    > *Every man is shocked and impressed and now wants to bed her even more then they already did*

    That happens entirely too, too much.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~

    As far as your list goes, I’m guilty of a few things in the story I’m writing/illustrating, but I try to at least uncliché-ify things. My story revolves around elves, but I am not actually that familiar with Tolkien’s lore, nor the Norse or Irish myths of elves, so I pretty much made everything up myself based on what I like and what makes sense. I did pull a little from the pre-established elf lore, but to keep some things familiar (pointed ears, equating my races to others like forest elves, sea elves, etc). But the entire planet (that is not earth) is only inhabited by Elves and earth animal-like creatures. Even though they don’t live on earth or have anything to do with humans, I keep my elves human-like because it’s what I know and what I enjoy writing… also I spent all this time coming up with the races, names, territories, histories, characters, backgrounds, customs, culture, fashions, economy, laws, etc….at this point I’m too lazy to have them too far from humans in biology and whatnot.

    I was inspired by my long lived love of Neo-Victorian, as well as my adoration for Assassin’s Creed, and my world has it’s roots in a sort of mash of Gothic and Renaissance eras along with Victorian a la Steampunk. There is a bit of magic (although banned and unable to be practiced without a specific type of object that has been destroyed) and of course Steampunk calls for reimagined current technology in Victorian fashion (ie, a “laptop” that’s actually a slate chalkboard and writing pad in a wooden box), but I tried to keep things simple for sake of avoiding a deus ex machina situation with either magic or technology. Plus I just find it more fun to write about the country folk hanging up their clothes to dry and my MC not being able to call up her family on a cell phone or take a cab to the nearest airport.

    Anyway, this list served as a good way to keep myself in check and I’m lad I stumbled upon it (and that you wrote it)!

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  24. Also, I’ve noticed that in most movies/books (either fantasy or sci- fi), the good guys are humans or very human looking, and the bad guys are ugly monstrous creatures. What if that was changed and both sides were human looking (but not) or were actually very strange looking? What of the protagonists and antagonists were the strange/ creepy ones and the humans were side characters? I’m currently not working on any fantasy projects, but I’ve started some before. I just had this idea and I hope someone might be able to do something with it! 🙂

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  25. Thank you for this post. I’m currently planning my first fantasy story and I was wondering if a magical object is consider a cliche as well. I was giving my husband a synopsis and he mentioned that it is, with the likes of The Mortal Instruments, Marvels Infinity Stones, The Deathly Hallows. What are your thoughts?

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  26. This is rather old, but I wanted to point something out that you linked real quick.

    Lars Anderson is a trick shooter that spread misinformation. Many of his techniques that he claims to have “rediscovered” are actually still in use today and have been for a very long time; the other half of his techniques aren’t historically accurate at all, and many of the “facts” he talks about are misconceptions, inaccurate, and/or flat out lies.

    Archers of the past didn’t actually shoot their bows the way Lars Anderson does, and many archers who have studied their art for decades have already debunked his claims time and time again. Heck, a quick google seach will bring up many different results of people debunking his claims.
    Nothing against what you’ve wrote, I just wanted to point out that Lars practices trickshooting and not historical archery, and that his claims of his archery being historically accurate are mostly all false.

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  27. I’m so glad I found your website! You’ve pinpointed all the irritatingly “canned” aspects of the fantasy genre. I have a few fantasy story ideas floating around right now…just lazy about doing all the “world building” required. I also like to write historical fiction, but I like the freedom of invention fantasy provides. One of my not-yet-written stories is a retelling of Snow White in a vaguely English or Germanic kingdom in which the dwarves are an ostracized and persecuted race who hide in the forests (not sure if this is cliche…it reminds me a little of a certain part of Prince Caspian, especially since some talking animals do make an appearance later). The main character’s evil stepmother (totally cliche, but I am retelling a fairy tale!) hates her stepdaughter Margaret and uses her own dark magic to frame Margaret as a witch. In this small medieval kingdom (totally guilty of that one), magic is feared and distrusted because any good forms of magic have been lost. So Margaret is taken to the forest to be killed…where of course the executioner chickens out because of her extreme youth and innocence and leaves her to the wild beasts. She is found by a trio of dwarves, who at first distrust her but end up allowing her to stay with them. One teaches her archery, another weaving, and the third wood lore. Her stepmother finds out she’s alive and tries three times to murder her. Margaret’s life seems to have a mysterious protection surrounding it. In the end, her stepmother settles for destroying her beauty, which was what she had envied all along. But the beauty within Margaret’s soul is as strong as ever…and then I think she ends up marrying the emperor’s son or something, but I haven’t quite finished it. It follows a lot of the cliches but it would have some themes about prejudice, persecution, and what happens to those who stand out (i.e. Margaret for her beautiful appearance and the dwarves for their difference from humans). I’d love your thoughts…I know this is a pretty old comments thread but I just found it!

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  28. I hoped my concept wasn’t cliched, and now I’m assured that it isn’t. The magic in my world can only manifest in objects when they’ve been through a very unique ordeal and in magical creatures. A defining characteristic is that people can’t weild or control magic in my world. Also it takes place in Turkey by the Black Sea and a few characters are Bulgarian or Romanian immigrants 😉

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  29. The mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson breaks many of those cliches while still holding some others and is therefore a prime example. The sequel series does likewise and expands on defying most cliches. For instance it has a prophecy but it takes all three books to learn that it’s not who they think etc. It has a rebellion in the first book that causes more problems to be dealt with in the later books. Their “magic” is aligned with science and is the main weapon of choice (being able to swollow and “burn” metals to allow them to push or pull on metal, soothe or riot others emotions, etc. and then the laws of opposites).

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  30. *laughs nervously* Oh boy. . . .I have 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10. Not sure about 8 and 9, especially since I’m still in the baby stages of worldbuilding.

    I’m especially bad at fantasy names. I used real Norse/Russian names for my fantasy novellas.

    If you want more detail, be prepared because I might go into plot details as well.

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    1. That is okay! As I mentioned at the end, cliches are not inherently bad 🙂 But now that you are thinking about them as cliches, it might help.

      Norse or Russian names both make great fantasy names. The biggest problem you need to watch out for is making sure they are pronounceable to an English speaking audience (unless you plan on writing in Russian).

      Good luck with your worldbuilding!

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  31. Wow this post really helped a lot! I’m so upset that I didn’t find it 2 years ago when I first started my fantasy novel. I’m in the process of remaking it due to the multiple cliches that were imbedded into the storyline. This gives me a very detailed list of cliches that I could avoid or twist to my liking. The Science and Magic one really hit me hard. For all these years I’ve never really thought about that. You’ve given my story a whole new light and plot/backstory! I’m so glad I found it. Now my world is far more structured than it was 2 years ago. Back then it was just about humans called Codes that could use magic or have enhanced abilities because of numbers on their arms. Now however, my story is centered around my main character who is dragged back into a world that banished her and she slowly starts to learn of their history and what happened to her to get her banished from it. Although she is the main character, she decides to not get involved when she finds out the antagonists plan (who her friend that is the other main character, but she doesn’t realize it’s him because when you’re truly friends with someone you have this sense that you can trust that what they say is true and that’s the human quality I gave my characters). That’s the big plot twist I could think of because my original one was the villain being her mom, haha. The story switches to the secondary characters trying to be heroic and stop the antagonist from completing their plan but they fail because there’s only two of them and it’s not realistic that they can take down someone who has more years of experience than they do. As I mentioned before my story had barely any structure and the cliche were magic replaces science was mentioned in this list but it works well with my world in explaining the history of my world and I thank you for giving me an idea. In their society she learns that those who are called Codes are descendants of humans who found the secret to branding magic to their souls with numbers instead of symbols because magicians refused to share their information with those who don’t practice their ways. Which leads to my new plot line where science is slowly being forgotten because of a war between mythical beings and magic users ensues and humans. The victory made by humans ends in the destruction of their government and the end of a true world of magic. Which sparks the first Era of Codes and the start to a new society. True descendants of magic are oppressed and sent to the mountains where they can practice what little magic they have left. This world is actually slightly based off of our American History and this list has given me a way to make it my own as a young author that still has a lot to learn. I’m excited to read more of your work since it will really help me improve my writing because I’m a young aspiring author at the age of 14 who cannot pay for a writing coach, haha.

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