We have all tried to avoid clichés in our writing. Clichés are overused ideas or tropes in any form of media and to have a clichéd character just feels lazy when you're writing. However, with most ideas already being done-to-death, there comes a time to realize that some clichés are just enjoyable to write and to read. Which is why I will be discussing with you some great clichés in fantasy writing. Let’s check them out!
1. Chosen One, Prophetic Protagonist
A classic cliché is creating a character who has a larger role in the plot than is expected. A character who has to carry so much responsibility because the fates have decided they were the chosen one. As such, the chosen one must now come to grips with their responsibility and must stop the bad guy, save the world.
Quite a famous cliché to start off with, but this is simply one of the clichés that just works. Not only is it interesting and fun to write a character who carries so much weight in the story, but it is the fact that the other characters know how important the chosen one is that makes it even better. A character they are forced to help or face dire consequences. It really makes for some interesting interactions between the chosen one and the other characters.
Whether you love it or hate it, the ‘chosen one’ cliché has been popular and used by writers of various skill levels for long time and even today.
2. The Parentless Protagonist
The poor protagonist in any fantasy, but more so than that, the poor parents. Yes, another great cliché is for the protagonists family to be wiped out in one fell swoop. Why you may ask?
Well, most likely it is tactical. It isn’t fun and in fact, it can be quite awkward, for a writer to create scenes between the protagonist and their family. Thus, the cliché was born to kill off the protagonists family, most likely at the hands of the antagonist. It is an easy backstory for the main character.
Afterall, it has always worked in literature. A blank slate, an average person or kid. Frodo from Lord of the Rings was an orphan, Harry Potter from his series, Percy Jackson from his series and even Jon Snow from Game of Thrones.
Do you notice something similar about all these protagonists as well? Yes, they are all chosen ones. Bonus points for having two clichés in one.
3. Good and Evil
Now let’s discuss a more broad cliché. The fight between good and evil, light and dark. A story as old as time, the morally just fighting the morally corrupt. A cliché that works because it also runs in accord with today's life as well.
We have laws that govern us, keep us in line and those who break the laws are often bad people. However, there are some novels who wish to escape this cliché, write something that is more in the grey area than in the light or dark.
A popular example today would be Game of Thrones, with its characters who all have their faults, their bad traits, poor qualities. As such, every character is either a lighter grey or darker grey at best. Of course, those who have finished saw what kind of ending that gave us.
That is where the clichés comes in to save the day. Good vs evil has often given us satisfying endings. The characters you like, the characters who stand on the side of good, live happily ever after or at least save the world if they don’t. The bad guys lose, get sent packing or get wiped out. I know it sounds a bit blunt to put it that way, but it is a cliché that has done well for itself.
Once more, look at the examples I mentioned earlier.
4. The Troublesome, Old Man
I believe this sarcastic title suitable in describing the cliché. I am referring to the mentor, the wizened old figure guiding our orphan chosen one towards the climactic showdown of good versus evil. A cliché which people love. A character that also turns out to be the most interesting in these cases as they are the most experienced.
Typically, this character of mentor is an old man who seeks the greater good for all, known to have a grumpy demeanour or memorable temper. With that personality also comes an air of mystery, what they did in the past is uncovered or it leaves the reader wondering.
Gandalf, Dumbledore, the Spook etc. These characters will always be a lot of fun to write and if written in moderation, a lot of fun to read as well. Be sure to keep them in mind if your character has nothing pushing them in the right direction as it is often the responsibility of the old mentor to throw the orphan into the world in order to save it.
5. The Dark Lord/One/Shadow/King/etc
We cannot discuss the good side and its clichés only. Let us discuss the ever famous trouble-making, bent-on-destroying-everything, pale-skinned, dressed-in-black antagonist. The antagonist trope of the ‘Dark Lord’ has always been used in every piece of fiction which revels in the cliché. The Dark Lord, a symbol of evil, the figure head of immoral doings. A name whispered, never spoken, a powerful being which can bring about the end of the world.
A classic cliché whose only apparent weakness is orphans. I talk mockingly, of course, but it is writing that is often inspiring. The ones who have lost everything, the ones who would sacrifice themselves to save others, the chosen one is a perfect cliché counter to this popular villain trope. These encounters are often anticlimactic for this reason, but still satisfying, if that makes sense. No matter how much this protagonist struggles, the reader knows they will win. More than that, if you made your protagonist the chosen one, everyone will know that the protagonist will win. It is established from the very beginning of your novel or series that it is the chosen one who will defeat the dark lord in the end.
However, you can still write a fantastic book even if you use all these clichés and more. People enjoy reading them, I enjoy reading them. The reason these ideas are being used again and again is because they are simply great ideas that will last as long as there are books.
The moral of this article is that you should never feel ashamed of using a cliché. Using a cliché doesn’t make your story unoriginal. Many artists have painted the same subject, but the ones who paint the subject in their own style are remembered. Use your clichés, but make sure it is your writing style, or your book will never stand out.
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