Literary works have recurring elements such as the themes, images, or devices that are used to create and enrich a story and give it life, this is called Tropes. Tropes can sometimes feel like an impossible line to straddle on when using them for your fantasy story, but absolving your story completely of tropes deprives it of the fantasy touch that makes readers interested in the story.
So what are these common fantasy tropes?
The most commonly used fantasy tropes are divided into:
- Character tropes: All stories involve a character who shows aspects of human realities. This is also applied in fantasy to drive the arc of the story.
- Plot tropes: These are a chain of events that make the story’s narrative arc.
- Worldbuilding tropes: This usually covers the society, settings, and artifacts through which the story runs through.
These three will now be generally discussed below:
The Chosen One
When you have a single character who holds the faith of the world in solving the main conflict of the story, that character becomes the chosen one. They usually have special circumstances or situations going on in their lives, and could be unaware of their special calling at first. They are usually taken out of obscurity to fulfill a greater and single purpose and could be orphans, bastards born to a royal parent, or subjects that are propelled forward into the light by prophecy, or a special ability they have.
If the chosen one fails in their task, the world that depends on them falls with them.
The Dark Lord
The dark lord is the personification of evil in the world of fantasy. Their sole aim is usually to dominate the world and bring chaos to it with the desire to go as far as possible to see their evil succeed.
Dark lords are the antagonists of a story that brings out the better qualities of the protagonists. Without the dark lord, there is no conflict in the story and once the dark lord dies, the story is resolved.
The Secret Heir
A normal ordinary character or long-lost son who had become orphaned and was raised in squalor or a humble home discovers that they are the lost secret heir to the throne. The discovery of their new status drives the story forward.
Good vs. Evil
Every fantasy has a good versus evil story, but most have a clear line with specific characteristics that separate the good from the evil, leaving the readers with a clear understanding of both sides.
This is a prevalent theme in fantasy and is usually a cliché when it leaves no grey areas.
The Reluctant Hero
The protagonist finds themselves in a path or quest that they do not want to be a part of, all they desire is to return to their usual normal life, but continue on this quest out of necessity or obligation. The reluctant hero is often also the chosen one.
Fantasy literature embodies magic as the power of the fantasy world. It is the element that goes beyond explanation with a special ability granted to one or a few characters in the story that sets them apart from the rest of the characters in the story.
In fantasy, it is easy to explain away certain elements with magic. It allows the special character to achieve impossible feats with special powers. This magic could be inborn, given by a prophecy, or caused by a change in the world of the story.
The Waiting Evil
An evil that plagued the land long ago was locked away, never to be seen, never to bring chaos to the world again, until now when the evil arose or was released by some other force. The evil has now returned with vengeance to wreck on the world.
Damsel in Distress and Femme Fatales
A damsel in distress and a femme fatales are two tropes that fall at different ends of the spectrum. While a damsel in distress is a portrayal of a pretty but helpless and weak female who needs a stronger protagonist to assist her in her role, a femme fatale is a woman who is dangerous and causes harm to men.
Both of these tropes of women can be used effectively for romance in the story, especially as the love interest of the protagonist.
The mentor is mostly a renowned magician, warrior, or normal person with hidden talents or powers. The mentor finds the protagonist early in the story and helps them develop their abilities through training, teaching, or any other form that the protagonist requires to move forward with their quest.
Examples of a mentor in fantasy stories include Charon, who mentors Percy Jackson, Albus Dumbeldore who stayed by Harry Porter always, and Merlin who was the silent strength to King Arthur.
These are the different physical characteristics that define and separate races as a whole in fantasy. These characteristics distinguish them throughout the story. Dwarfs are generally, brash, short, and craftsmen, while elves are tall, masters of magic, and fair as the sun.
Also, evil character or race is represented by the monstrous qualities and are mostly less advanced in their culture.
When writing a fantasy story, the setting takes place in a world that may resemble
s our world in the time the story is set in but doesn’t take place in this world. It becomes a fictional world. Most fantasy writers draw inspiration from classical or archaic times to build their story world.
In the world of fantasy, taverns are the stops where information can be acquired and rest gotten. Taverns are places with lots of actions in it, different people can co-exist there just to have rest and fun, sing, and progress on.
It also naturally follows that a fight usually ensues in the chivalry of the drinks and singing.
Dragons are one of the most mystical creatures in human mythology that have great powers and are often seen as legendary creatures in fantasy stories. Dragons could either be portrayed as being friendly mentors whose powers are tied to the protagonist or greedy antagonists, but both ways, they are creatures with absolute powers.
The protagonist and antagonist of the story mostly battle over a single item that has overwhelming powers in the bid to claim ownership over it. The possession of this all-powerful item becomes the conflict of the story, which can either be used for the destruction of the world or the saving of it, depending on who possesses it.
Every hero needs a follower or companions that accompany them through their journey. These companions have to be extraordinary and possess some abilities, talents, or powers to aid the protagonist through the journey of the story. Some of the companions are usually born of royal blood or are characters with high standing in their world.
This is where the journey of the protagonist begins. The quest takes in the entire story and begins due to a prophecy or a supernatural occurrence in the fantasy world.
Protagonists in the fantasy world advance from ordinary to extraordinary overnight. They could go through special training that brings out their skills or extraordinary powers, or their magical powers could be triggered by an event that occurs where they have no choice but to manifest their true self.
The entire journey the protagonist goes through brings them to one hidden truth, a revelation that they perhaps did not know. They learn about their true identity, their origin, and whatever heirloom is left them. This revealed truth becomes the catalyst that grows the protagonist through the story.
Now that we are acquainted with the common tropes of fantasy stories, let us find ways to make these tropes our own in our stories.
Use the reader’s expectation against them:
Tropes are generally overused and can be predicted, with readers guessing ahead how they will fit into your story. Instead of giving them that satisfaction, use it against them by going the opposite way of what they would assume the story to be.
When readers expect that a good character that is noble will remain that way through the story, you can turn that good character slowly through the story into the anti-good character. This makes a story less predictable and boring.
The best way to deconstruct a trope in a story is to have a detailed examination of the flaws to show the consequences that can arise in the real world. When you examine a trope according to the reality of the world, it creates an avenue to write a story that will be relatable, original, and thrilling.
Deconstructing will give core meanings to the elements of the trope.
Defy the Norm
There are certain norms that characters that have light skin are assumed to be good, while the dark or ugly ones are the evil ones. Defy these norms and flip them to create situations that would be interesting and deep for characters. By doing this, you create an outstanding story and fresh expectations for readers.
This means to shine a spotlight on it, to let the readers know you acknowledge that an element of the story is a trope, but also making the readers marvel in disbelief that the cliché still created suspense in their minds. It assures the readers that the trope was not a poor attention to detail, but it is a possibility to happen in the realm of the story.
Fantasy clichés to avoid
As with every story genre, these tropes can become susceptible to clichés when not used rightly or overused. Here are a few clichés that should be avoided in fantasy.
- Stereotypical characters: Characters are the true part of the story, and in developing these characters in fantasy, do not succumb to clichés or the stereotypes of creating perfect, noble, and flawless characters. Giving your fantasy characters relatable human qualities endears the readers to them.
Make your characters unique and original even if they have to be the orphans who become royalty, let them be interesting, original, and necessary to the story.
- Don’t oversimplify the ‘good vs. evil’ dynamic: Keep in mind that the fantasy world also does not exist in black and white. Give the world some grey and blurry lines. The good character must not always remain a good character, and the bad character can sometimes be changed to have some good traits.
Make your characters realistic and believable to the readers, and do not oversimplify them. This does not mean you should avoid the good vs. evil dynamic, but to avoid the clichés, pay more attention to both sides and make their moral and grey ambiguity exposed.
- Setting: A particularly common cliché in fantasy is the adoption of the medieval European-style world by most fantasy writers for the setting of their story world. From the clothing, to weapons, to the architecture and social structure, it is mostly a cliché of the same European medieval period.
While this is a widely used setting in fantasy that lends magic and mystery to the genre, use this setting in creating aspects of a world that are more familiar to your readers.
The best way to completely avoid this cliché is to create a unique new setting synonymous with the culture of the place you are writing from or about. Read about cultures around the world, run your imagination free with them and give your setting its own true originality.
- Love triangles: The fairy tale romance of love at first sight. This is common in young fantasy novels that are widely read that one would wonder why it made the list of clichés. But if a love triangle is not expedient in the story but is included to add romance to it, it makes the story unrealistic and will not give your readers the same effect an actual romance story would.
Although these are listed as clichés, they still have the elements to be used, explored, and utilized in new, unique ways.
Writing a world that exists only in your story but closely resembles the real world can be a tedious process. Though it is a fantasy world, it should still imbibe the reality of the world that the readers live in to help give them a connection and better understanding.
Tropes, therefore, are necessary to flesh out your story but when overused, tropes become destructive to your story. Do not include all kinds of tropes into your story, read through and find which trope fits perfectly into your story ideas.