When fantasy readers pick books to read, they expect to read something that would not only help them quench their thirst for stories, but also evoke their imagination to weave and momentarily live in the fantasized world of that book. A great disappointment comes to such readers when they find too many clichés in the book to wing their imagination freely. Nobody likes unoriginal, loose or ill-fitting content. In this article I am going to discuss a few clichés that are commonly found in the work of aspiring writers. In presence of those clichés not only it becomes difficult for them to gain a fan following, but also to find a published to get their work to the book stores.
It has become a common element of many fantasy novels, where the protagonist is destined to perform a miracle and fulfill a prophecy. The aftermath of introducing such a prophecy is that your reader knows the outcome of your novel. Now, why should one continue reading it, if they already know the end? Let’s imagine you introduced a prophecy/destiny early in the novel, and even if the climax of your story goes far away from it, the reader doesn’t know it. All reader can think is that you’ve a predictable storyline and thus they’d decide to put the book down.
Also, if your protagonist is an orphan who is pre-destined into being a savior is another cliché that must be avoided. Especially, when their destiny is related to or modified by something in the past in which the protagonist’s parents were involved. Harry Potter, Luke & Leia from Star wars, Eragon and Murtagh from Inheritance cycle, and a billion more protagonists were orphans destined to a greater end. It has been done too often to become a cliché.
The utmost powerful antagonist
Fantasy novels have been featuring Evil antagonists that are too powerful to be contained by entire armies, or a horde of quite powerful characters on the side of the Good, for example, Sauron and Voldemort. It is acceptable to have a ruthless king or blood-thirsty monster as an antagonist. However when your antagonist has no clear reason to be evil, and acts that way only because your protagonist needed someone powerful to prove his/her supremacy over the entire world’s armies, then it’s just another cliché that must be avoided. Evil is evil for a reason, and you should be clear about it.
The white bearded old geezer
You can no longer reply upon an old wizard who’ll accompany and mentor the protagonist for the entire length of your fantasy book. It has just become too common that the protagonists finds themselves in a dire situation when an old geezer shows up with a staff or wand in his hands, flashing a lightening blot on the heads of all the adversaries and taking them out with the blink of an eye. No doubt how deeply people might love Gandalf and Dumbledore, they wouldn’t want more of them in your book. Consider originality.
Contrasting appearance of the good and the evil
Having a dress code for characters, armies, races or kingdoms is a different matter. But when appearances become stereotyped it gets out of hands. For example, the good side wears white robes, while the evil side wears black. Or, good races are fair and beautiful while the evil side is ugly and dreadful. Take for instance George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire where it’s hard to judge a character based on their dressings or their lineage. All individuals are unique in their own way, and that’s what people like about the series. Martin has successfully avoided the cliché.
Another cliché in your book might be the inability to create distinct appearances for the individuals of a race. All dwarfs and all elves resembling each other with same appearance is a cliché to avoid. All organisms have striking dissimilarity between every member of the community, then why not in your characters and races?
A sexist approach towards female characters
Take care that all your protagonists aren’t males. And, that your female characters aren’t either sacrificial lambs, powerless souls under the dominance of a male character, or someone who needs to be rescued all the time. Why cannot your female characters do better than that? Find them unique roles, may be as strong and relevant as the protagonists themselves, or even your stories protagonist’s role.
Unrealistic fighting sequences and even more unrealistic healing
Maybe your story is set in a magical world; even then it would be difficult for a character to be able to fight a huge number of powerful opponents together. He/she has to tire out, take serious wounds, get defeated or even killed in such a fight. How can you explain your protagonist coming out of it without a scratch or without an injury that wouldn’t debilitate them for life? And, why would the opponents wait to attack the protagonist one by one, rather than attacking at once and get it done quickly?
Also, accept it that the herbal medicines in those times weren’t so potent to let your protagonists recover with such efficiency. If your fights were so real, or the results were real and perhaps a little disappointing for the readers and protagonist, it shall look realistic. Again, Martin in ASOIAF allows his characters to take grave wounds even from simple fights, and they do die.
Healing a dying character to full health, or reviving a dead one isn’t really a good choice to make. Sometimes, it might do well with a relevant situation and appropriate explanation to it. However, if you overdo these things a reader would find it difficult to take and might just get bored of it.
It is apparent that magic forms an integral part of fantasy. Though, if the magic in your story get out of limits you’d be in a tight spot. If your character can wipe out an entire horde of Orcs in a second, why not defeat the antagonist with it? If they can revive a person from death, why not do it again and again and keep all the good things alive? If they could grow a tree with the wave of a wand, why not solve the entire food problem in the world? Or, if they can magically produce gold coin to pay a bribe, why not keep producing gold and do some good with it?
Magic should have its limit, so that stories become believable and you’re able to explain yourself if needed.