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What are some of your least favourite fantasy cliches?
Marc Poliquin
Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 10:35 AM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


Hi: 

I've been slowly returning to fantasy after some time away.  Lately, I've been reading Brandon Sanderson, George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss (although I threw my hands in the air after a point with that one, and moved on).  I thought it would be fun to know what cliches in fantasy fiction annoy you?

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 1:10 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356


Oh, SO MANY!

My number one pet peeve? The feudal town where the only occupations seem to be member of royal family, soldier, thief, wizard and baker. Sometimes you get a token blacksmith. But come on, folks: where are the butchers, the tanners, the thatchers, the stonemasons, the bricklayers, the poor bastard who renders beef tallow for candles and oil? Where are the seamstresses, the spinners, the weavers, the potters, the cooks, the scribe that illiterate people paid to write letters for them? Who cleans up the horse poop in the street? You know there has to be a ton of horse poop in the street, and you know that a job exists for that. For the of all that is holy, GIVE US A SNAPSHOT of a BELIEVABLE civilization!!!

Also, another pet peeve: the child thief/orphan/slave who discovers his latent magical/wizardy/sorcery powers as he approaches adulthood.

I'm sure I'll come up with more! LOL!

Colleen




Marc Poliquin
Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 3:54 PM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


Or the child orphan with the strange mark...

I was browsing the bookstore shelves this weekend and saw a few legendary-assassin-takes-on-apprentice stories.

I do have a soft spot for thief stories, though.  Jimmy the Hand was one of my favourite characters.




Timothy Maguire
Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 5:37 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272


Personally, it's the corruptive dark magic, that can't be wielded for good. Once it crops up, you've got this very defined line between good and evil. I much rather more unaligned magic systems.

Marc Poliquin
Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 6:50 PM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


Which brings up another question: magic in fantasy novels.  What has been overdone?

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 10:29 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


Colleen, exactly why I love Raymond Feist so much (Marc, Jimmy the Hand is one of my favorites as well. My youngest son is james (which is my middle name) but he's a sneaky bastard, so I fully expect to call him jimmy the hand now and again when he's older)  because there ARE all those other people in his stories.

Agreed, I hate the latent talent youth.  I like stories in which the kid WORKS for it. For example, Gom Gobblechuck works his ass off to learn magic, even though he is a heritage case of sorts.

Overdone in magic systems?  The incantation. Harry potter was the worst of it, with set words to create set effects. I like systems in which there is flexibility, thought. My personal favorite magic system has to be Madwand. 


Marc Poliquin
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 10:34 AM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


I was impressed by Sanderson's Allomancy, although at times the pushing and pulling aspects of it seemed like a reworking of the Force.

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 12:55 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I've got one that is probably the most popular story line in fantasy/science fiction: the extremely talented otherworldly child. You know, the one where a kid from some other realm or planet or dimension has amazing abilities and power. They usually end up saving the world and having a mysterious past. They don't usually fit in with society, blah, blah, blah. You get the idea. The most famous has to be Superman. If you do fall into this trap, please let it be because you can come up with one truly memorable character that at least puts a crack into the mold. In pop culture, the film Megamind tried to do a spin on this concept, but I'm still a sucker for Goku of the Dragon Ball series. (What a weird little kid.)

Another was pretty much covered in the "Females in Fantasy" thread. This one being the damsel in distress versus the overly tough bitch. They seem to crop up more than I like in fantasy and SF. It is very hard to write characters that seem real to begin with, but sometimes it is like they don't even try. I want people. Not Princess Peach and GI Jane.

Next, the medieval-like world. Too much. Please, no. It is not Earth (unless its supposed to be), try something different.

As some side notes: If your character is royalty, play with it. I have characters in my book who are of royal blood, but no one has complained about it so far. This could be because one of them is dealing with the very real responsibility he has to his nation, and always has. Like the female character ordeal, people, not stereotypes. No one likes cardboard characters-from-a-can.

Magic (or magic systems) is another hard one. I suggest reading a ton of fantasy to see what other people have out there. (There is slam on incantations in Monster by A. Lee Martinez.) No, just don't read it, watch it. Fantasy based japanese animation gets pretty creative, and weird. Because its such a visual medium, it'll make you think about what your magic looks like if it's cast. Right now my husband has me hooked on Fairy Tail. It's about wizard guilds, explains how their magic system(s) work, and is pretty recent. Its also just plain entertaining.

Wow, that was a long one. I guess that's why I had to stop reading fantasy at a certain point. I've gotten back in with China Mielville. I'm in love.
Timothy Maguire
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 6:08 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272


Personally for me, I'm kind of fond to the magic from Rivers of London. It uses incantations as a mental crutch to remember the 'feel' of a spell being cast. As the wizards aren't idiots, fireballs don't use this system explicitly (as a side note, the trainer once notes that he took out a Tiger with one. A Tiger tank.)

As for other cliches that wind me up, I get a little annoyed with elemental magics. When you've only got the big four, all you really get is Fire and Air. For some reason, the rest tend to get forgotten (though of course, Avatar: TLA proves me wrong). Weirdly, I quite like Earth magic for some reason.

Marc Poliquin
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 8:08 PM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


I have to admit I'm a sucker for the medieval-like world.  I'd like to set a story in one, but I know a lot of people probably share your sentiment.  Decisions, decisions....

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012 11:24 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Tim, I agree. When it does come to elemental based magic, water and earth do have a tendency to be forgotten. (Good news, Melody uses water.) I'm glad you gave Avatar:TLA a shout out. What a fantastic little world it is. I recommend it for everyone, young or old. Just avoid the catastrophe of a movie.

Marc, I understand the draw of a medieval world, but try and make it different in some aspect. Maybe blend some cultural ideologies together to make your own. Feudal Europe and Japan have quite a few similarities in how they functioned structurally. Look into something like that. Just make sure its plausible (i.e.: it makes sense if you sit down and trace the development of your civilization).
Carl E Reed
Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012 12:19 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


Here’s my least favorite fantasy cliché of all time: the fantasy novel as reactionary, proto-fascist propaganda.

Example: “In the world of All Hail the King: Your King Knows Best! a dark force arises amongst dark-skinned/alien peoples to menace the righteous rightist Realm of Elitist Power and Privilege. Golden-haired Magi Child, marked by fate and destiny to be the savior of his people, comes to realize that only he—the most pampered and privileged of his pampered and privileged philosopher-king society—can 'Save the World'—for the benefit of his ruling power elite, of course.”

My second-least favorite fantasy cliché: the fantasy novel that’s been executed as a study in modernist social(ist) realism. In other words, the exact opposite of the novel described above—but with all of its heavy-handed propaganda, trite plot developments and one-dimensional characters mirrored and made uglier by having been rendered in lifeless, leaden prose—only with the politics flipped. Every aristocratic, educated or otherwise privileged character is a study in cackling evil or disinterested selfishness.  Every priest of Bah-gro-dah is a child-raping, woman-murdering serial killer; as is every Knight of the White Sword, Baron of the Evil Realm or minor functionary of the Royal Order. Idiots, sadists, cruel fools all . . . except for the long-suffering members of the proletariat.

Third-least favorite fantasy cliché: the everything-is-murderous-shades-of-gray novel. Almost every character does something hideously violent or cruel or destructive, followed by redemptive episodes in which these killers/torturers/sadists show us their kinder, empathetic side. Murder follows random (or calculated) act of kindness, followed by act of cruelty, in turn followed by demonstrative empathetic act until the reader finally tosses the book down with a “F#*k it; these people are all homicidal manic-schizoids! I don’t give a tinker’s damn about any of ’em; they deserve each other.”

So what do I like in fantasy? A novel that takes a political or religio-philosophical stand yet isn’t a one-note propaganda piece. At least one main character who is flawed but ultimately likable and heroic, who struggles against his or her baser impulses and instincts to do the right thing. Language that has a more lyrical, elevated or sensual/prose-poem style than normal modernist diction. Fantasy worlds that dare to show us people and societies that aren’t exact analogues of current societal norms and prejudices.

It may seem that I like very little; the truth is that I read and enjoy a broad range of writers and their works. Almost every Big Name working in this field has written one or more very-good-to-excellent novel (s)—or they wouldn’t be “Big Names” now, would they?—and their fair share of second- or third-rate trash.

The trick is to discern the difference, to seek out and learn from the best while inoculating yourself against the stylistic excesses, thematic mistakes, hackneyed plots and one-note (or hopelessly muddled) tones of the worst.                   


Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 7:39 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356


I am now eagerly awaiting the publication of All Hail the King: Your King Knows Best! LOL!

Marc Poliquin
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 7:47 AM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


All Hail the King: Your King Knows Best! 

If someone doesn't pick that up and turn that title into a game show, I'll be very disappointed. 


Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 10:21 AM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


ACK! I feel like I've got too many clichés in the works for my current WIP.

*le sigh*

But aren't the clichés what can grab potential readers - the typical "mysterious super child" being a familiar concept and the potential reader thinking "oh, I wonder what will make this different". The purpose of the writer is then to make sure that the story itself is different?? (I guess then it wouldn't be a cliché anymore... )

Granted that's only for plot clichés - I'm in complete agreement about the whole "only four different types of people living in a town" cliché...

My pet peeve cliché is the "bullied/oppressed child grows into valued friend of royalty and shows mercy on his bulliers because he's really that great of a guy"... no one is that great of a guy.

@Timothy Maguire - I've never actually read any fantasy books where magic is inherently evil, rather than a neutral force that is made evil or good by the user - do you have any titles? I'm interested to read them!
Carl E Reed
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 10:56 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


I agree with you there, Lisa! It's what the writer does or does not do with any particular plot that will keep it from sinking to the level of cliché—or not. 

They say there's really only three or four types of stories, anyway, right? A good writer can do an awful lot with deft characterization and a handful of carefully-considered world-building details. And playing against reader expectations.


Timothy Maguire
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 11:59 AM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272


@ Lisa: I'm honestly drawing a blank on books with corruptive dark magic, mostly because I skip them. For good books with that in them though, try David Weber's Oath of Swords (dark magic isn't corruptive, it's just easier) or Jim Butcher's Dresden Files (dark magic's addictive and mentally damaging. This also fufils the rule where I always end up mentioning the Dresden Files in any Book Country thread I comment on). You might also want to check out any Warhammer novels, though that's more due to everything being corruptive in that universe.

@Carl: In general, I find that whenever the writer's obsessing over politics the writing suffers and if you think your examples were bad, start reading Mil SF. I like the genre, but wow do you get some nutters. My personal favourite has to be 'resurrected SS save Germany from aliens' (if you're curious, yes, the liberals were in league with the aliens).

That said, 1984 and Animal Farm are classics of speculative fiction and they're both about as subtle as a brick to the face. The real challenge that a lot of axe-grinding writers miss is actually telling a good story with characters. Then you can get away with a lot.

@Mike: Personally, I think the trick with coming up with a good setting for a fantasy is to rip off a historical setting. Jim Butcher's Codex Alera (see what I mean?) revolves around transplanted magical Romans and I've seen a novel set in a magical version of the American Civil War. Poul Anderson wrote a pair of fantasy novels set in the '40s to the '60s magical America (with the sequel revolving around the space race) so I think it's more finding a setting you enjoy.

Anyway, heading back to cliches I don't like, how about evil fascist churches? For every really well rounded one, there's got to be a hundred that just scream 'I didn't want to go to Sunday School'.


Atthys Gage
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 12:18 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467


Re: corruptive dark magic, one example does spring to mind.  Something about a ring.  

Of course that was a pretty good story, and the whole question of whether the ring could be wielded against evil (nope) was pretty thoroughly explored.  And there was good magic as well.  Ultimately, LOTR was so dualistic it almost felt racist to me, but the same could be said of Narnia and other classics of the genre.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 12:37 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


@Tim: Oh my higher power(s)! My brother has stacks of Warhammer 40k books. Damn. I thought I'd never see that up here. Of course, between you and me, we've mentioned Avatar:TLA, Unicron, the Dragon Ball series, Superman, and then your rule about mentioning the Dresden Files. Ah, a site were nerds are welcome. (I promise I'll get back to your book soon.)

@Carl: Don't you love it when the ruler knows best. I feel like someone has been reading too much Greek drama and mythology. (Why can't the hero be the tailor for once?) I admit that I'm guilty of having royalty be my heroes, but it has nothing to do with the fact that they know better than anyone else. Like I said, find a way to work around the cliche to make it your own, and then it is no longer a cliche.

As for the homicidal manic-schizoids, I'm in complete agreement. If you're such a good person, why do you commit acts of violence? What ever happen to the character who is shamelessly brutal and never repents or wishes to be absolved or their crimes? Even if they help out the hero in the end, become a kind of antihero, why do they have to turn over their morals? I think that there is a kind of lesson to be learned from the writers who can't commit to a character's viewpoint. As hard as it can be, characters who are cruel are just as important as those that are kind.

The fascist church... ah, there is a good one. Again, so guilty.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 12:59 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


Re: "Anyway, heading back to cliches I don't like, how about evil fascist churches? For every really well rounded one, there's got to be a hundred that just scream 'I didn't want to go to Sunday School'."
..........................

Heh-heh! Now that's a hilarious, on-the-nose observation, Timothy!
.........................

And by the way (not to start an argument here, but . . . !)—I don't have a problem with writers as politically and psychologically astute as Orwell writing novels that are like "bricks to the face". (Catch-22, anyone? GREAT novel, but as one critic observed at the time: "It seems to have been shouted onto paper.")

What I find disappointing and hopelessly schloky are writers who don't do justice to their own material: plots, characters, worlds.

By way of illustration of one who (at his best) did everything right left me talk about Robert E. Howard for a moment. I'm going to assume you have some passing familiarity with his work.

In the course of my lifetime I've encountered countless literary snobs and far-less talented writers who dismiss his work as pulp garbage, lurid trash, one-note he-man characters and shrieking damsels-in-distress, etc.

How many of them paid attention when the Atlantean warrior-king Kull, brooding on his throne, thinks to himself (paarphrased): "A poet! Now there's a man blessed by the gods with real power to move men's souls." Or when another character (Solomon Kane? Conan?) sees a gorilla imprisoned in a cage and experiences a moment of piercing, poignant empathy and rage? How many missed the brooding, melancholic truth that (forgive me; again paraphrased) that: "Civilization is only ever a brief, aberrant interruption between periods of darkest barbarism"? How many of them miss the HORROR and the ANGER and the TERROR that infuses REH's writing; the sensitive poet's soul crossed with a warrior's unflinching code of stoic heroism in the face of violent death? There's a reason writers as talented and accomplished as Stephen King and Harlan Ellison sing REH's praises; they know—HERE is a goddamn WRITER! It's in the voice; it's in the man; it's in the writing!  

Sorry. I get a little emotional when I think of that talented, tormented soul walking out to his car and shooting himself in the head after his mother's death. The books Robert could have left us; the stories he had yet to tell . . . Tragic, in the fullest sense of the word. . . .

I've wandered a bit off topic, eh? But you see this is the kind of long-lasting impact authentic, heart-felt writing can have upon a reader if they dare to pour everything they've got into the words. People who dismiss Howard's writing as hopelessly formulaic and clichéd (some it is, yes—he was writing for the pulps, after all, having to please $%#! editors who oftentimes hadn't the slightest appreciation or understanding of the deeper themes and emotional resonances in Howard's work) aren't seeing what's on the page: they're regurgitating second-hand opinions heard elsewhere or striking pseudo-sophisticated poses they think will please their coterie of teachers, writer friends and literary mentors. 

They're the clichés, not Howard.
Timothy Maguire
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 1:05 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272


@LeeAnna: Just for you, I have come to the conclusion that Alex is going to refer to that moon as 'Mini Unicron' for the rest of the series. It's the kind of thing he'd do, to be honest.

As for the the homicidal maniac 'heroes' it's a side-effect of trying to make things edgier. It's hard to telegraph that kind of edginess without some display of violence and/ or unpleasentness and sometimes it's simply too easy to go for the cheap display.

As for Warhammer 40K, it's worth noting that's about the only time the fascist church has been necessary.....


Angela Martello
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 7:43 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


What an entertaining and enlightening thread! And yet another reason never to leave this site.

With respect to cliches in fantasy (and other genres) that are wearing thin with me, well, for starters, I can't stand any society - even those based on medieval times - that treat women as nothing more than one step above a cow or a piece of furniture (yes, I'm on the fifth book of Martin's Fire and Ice series. . .). Any female characters, no matter how strongly developed they may be, still have at least one moment where they - GASP - state/think that they are just women and that this is their lot in life, yadda, yadda, yadda. It especially irks me when an older woman will tell her daughter or some other girl that the only way she's going to get anywhere in life is by using her body to lure and trap (and maybe manipulate) a man of significant power and stature in society (or join a religious order). UGH!

I also have little tolerance for the "I'm so perfect and honorable, how can I not prevail" hero. I like my heroes to be flawed - just like everyone else. I don't have a problem with a member of royalty being the hero - or the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, or the gardener (heck, I always thought Samwise was the true hero of LOTR - not Frodo) - as long as that character is complex and well-developed, and as long as the story he/she is starring is complex and well-developed, too.
 



Brian Lowe
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 11:33 PM
Joined: 1/31/2012
Posts: 16


With regard to Robert E. Howard and LOTR, it should be remembered that if you do it first (or at least early on), it's not a cliche. It's the example that cliches are built on. And no one would create cliches on those examples if they weren't good. Certainly Howard has never expressly gotten his due (and Tolkien didn't for a long time), but if those stories didn't resonate with people, they wouldn't be copied. (I tried early on, and I quickly realized I was not REH.)

As to women in fantasy being presented as not as good as men, it's a balancing act to present a historically-accurate character to a modern reader. We have to take some liberties with history, or else there would be no story, but at the same time a character who exhibits traits and prejudices that are identifiably modern is going to lose his readers. Historically, women were treated (and raised) as inferior. This was a bad thing, but it's how it was. Now, a doormat makes a lousy character (let alone a hero), but any woman bent on making a better place for herself in the (medieval) world is going to have a tough go of it. There have been exceptions, and they are worthy of study, but even they faced heavy prejudice, and probably doubted themselves at times.

It isn't easy giving all of these competing (and sometimes contradictory) elements their space, but if you want easy, you're in the wrong place.



LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 12:17 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Brian is right. It is very hard to show women in a historically accurate fashion while making them strong enough for modern women to accept them as a strong woman. Women often were subjugated to a certain role, depending on the society of course. In Victorian England, it was customary for upper class and upper-middle class women not to exert themselves because of their "nerves" because they were too delicate. For a good example read "The Yellow Wallpaper" or "Story of an Hour." (I know, probably read them in high school, but there ya' go.) 

Now, think about our modern times and how we believe women should be independent individuals who are strong and sexy. I say it's just as bad. It is possible to write a woman who is tough and capable, while wanting to please her husband and raise her children because she believes it is her duty (or, God forbid, wants that kind of life). Why can't a woman want to be a good house wife? Can't that be an independent desire stemmed from maybe having a mother who was never around for some reason or another? The same rule applies to men as it does to women, or anything, anyone, else. Characters not caricatures.

@Tim: Mini Unicron? You have my approval. I do believe it fits the character very well.

And yes, it is very hard to write an edge to a good character without making them outright violent. I know. I'm working on it right now. (Perhaps you know with who.)

I garnered from my brother that there was a pretty nasty fascist church. Especially when my brother and his friends are running around in the backyard shooting at each other with air-soft guns screaming, "For the Imperium!" It's like an episode of The Big Bang Theory. (You know our mom ruined us when the fist illegal alcohol we can think of is Romulan Ale. And BAM! Star Trek.)

@Carl: I agree that most critics are just trying to impress other people. Those who actually practice the art of story telling may know better. (I'm not saying will always know better.)

A recent example I can think of when people think of good versus trash is the year 2009 when Cameron's Avatar came out. That year you had District 9, Star Trek, and Moon. 3 other SF films that got some pretty public exposure, that were good. What do people laud? What do people award? Avatar, that sparkly piece of pretentious trash. (Sorry if I'm getting ahead of myself. Every student in the English department snarled about it for weeks. We had very heated debates where we ganged up on those who thought it was good. It got ugly, I'm ashamed to say.) The worst part of the movie, the reason why it is so good for this thread, it is soooooooooo cliche. Haven't seen it? Watch it, and I will have to say no more.

Marc Poliquin
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 10:14 AM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


Has anybody been reading The Name of the Wind? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on Rothfuss's world building.  He's been lauded for it, from what I can tell, but it's feeling very generic and vague to me. 

Angela Martello
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 1:20 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


With respect to women characters and historical accuracy - from my perspective, if it's a fantasy novel set in a fantasy world that happens to have medieval-like qualities to it with respect to fashion, food, level of technology, types of jobs, and so on, it doesn't necessarily need to present women as they lived in, say, Medieval England. It's a fantasy world - why can't the women be equal to their male counterparts? If the author is building a whole new world, the
female characters don't have to always be the weaker sex, the damsels in distress.

If the fantasy story, however, is set in Medieval England, then I can see the author striving to present the female (and the male) characters as historically accurately as possible. The same would be true if the fantasy story took place in Victorian England or Ancient Greece or any other time period of human history.




LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 3:17 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I agree, Angela, but what if the author wants to present a world without equality to analyze human nature, or what not. Sure, in my work I have created a world where men and women are treated more equal in some cultures, but not in all. I've even flipped the roles and had a society where men are subjugated. I get that you're tired of seeing fantasy where women are subjugated, but as a child of SF, which has a tendency to more mirror real life situations so they can be analyzed, I find it hard to believe that the genders would be equal. I see it in fantasy all the time, but then the plight seems to be gone. The female characters become gender neutral. Men and women aren't built the same. They don't think the same. There would be conflict. That is my problem when they are "equal."
Angela Martello
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 4:07 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


Hi, LeeAnna,

It definitely is a balancing act with respect to how to present women (and men) in fiction without the characters becoming caricatures or just plain dull. I agree, sometimes the male and female characters are so much alike, you forget that they're male and female. Gender neutral characters can be (at least to me) just as much of a cliche as the damsel in distress/women as property cliche. (Unless it's a scifi world where there are no genders or in stories where the whole issue of "gender" and what it means is explored - then gender neutral, if done right, can be very thought-provoking.)

You're right, men and women aren't built the same and they don't think the same. I certainly know my physical limitations. I'm not as physically strong as my male friends or family members and do rely on them to do the heavy lifting (and take care of my car - something I absolutely have no interest in learning to do ). But, 25  years ago, when I was very much into lifting weights - heck, I was strong - very strong. I had to be. I was one of a handful of female graduate students in a geology department. Back then, geology was a very male-dominated discipline. We needed to prove to the male faculty, the male students, and ourselves, that we could keep up with the men in the field with the hiking, climbing, and hauling around rock samples. So I do think it's possible for a female character to have physical strength. Again, maybe not as strong as a companion male character, but strong enough to hold her own when necessary and not to always rely on the men in her world to "rescue" her.

I also think you can have more equality between the sexes (especially with respect to social, economic, and political norms) and still have plenty of male-female conflict.




LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 4:54 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


No, I understand where you're getting at. I write female characters who "hold their own" (or at least attempt to) even though their male friends are stronger. Even if the political/social/economic atmosphere is attempting more equality, there are reasons why some things are the way they are.

Here is my example. I'm all for women in the military, but the reason why its such a strong male profession is because societies risk killing off a crucial generation if they send their women to war as well. This damages the chance of a civilization's survival. Essentially, men are expendable. (Sorry guys.) Now, while this doesn't really apply in our modern times, if you're setting your fantasy in a medieval village, especially during a violent time, your girls should not be going to war. I can see where they could hold their own with bows and arrows, swords and axes, to defend their homes, but more than one defies economic logic.

Historically there were societies where the women were strong, but not quite equal. Take the Spartans. Their women were trained just as well as the men, but not for fighting. It was so they could have strong sons. To even get a wife, a man had to subdue a woman. As awful as this sounds, the man could also get the shit kicked out of him since the women were strong. (Ah, belligerent societies. How delightful.)

I get that you want to see women that are physically stronger, but my personal pet peeve are stupid women. If they aren't muscle, or are, then I want to see some brains. Anything. Even self awareness is a step up. They don't have to be a genius. I sit there too often thinking, "Yeah, I get it, you're stubborn and kick-ass, but that was really, really stupid." I don't care if they have to be saved, as long as they're attempting to pick a lock or climb out a window (only to fail, of course), they just need to be proactive. Thats what Fantasy is missing. Proactive women.

As for gender neutral societies, 4 words: Left Hand of Darkness. A must read.
Angela Martello
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 6:12 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


Loved Left Hand of Darkness. Read it so long ago, though. I think it's due for a re-read. There might be a copy somewhere in this house (if the pages haven't disintegrated!), if not, I'm sure I can get a copy for my Kindle.

Too many books, not enough time!

Yes, BRAINS - smart female characters (without the she's-so-smart-she's-a-total-dork stereotype, please - goes for men, too). And, yes, self-aware, proactive women would be a refreshing change from so many of the female characters I've encountered in the past.


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012 12:32 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Self-aware women are so few. Even if she's completely inept with a weapon, or even magic, it would be nice to see a girl who knew it and compensated for it in other ways. Common sense would be nice. Maybe a jack-of-all-trades type who can fix a saddle and dig up the ingredients for a good potion. I don't think characters with support skills get enough respect. Heroes need them too. This character doesn't even have to stand in the background all the time. This girl, or even guy, could be the idea-man. The one with the plans. Hey, maybe thats the cure for the common fantasy hero.
Joseph M Kurtenbach
Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 6:20 AM
Joined: 11/27/2011
Posts: 9


Quite an interesting thread!  Reading some of the responses here reminds me how many cliches I could be accused of harboring in my own work -- when looked at only cursorily or from a distance...like boy coming into magic ability, or elemental magic system, or one I didn't notice mentioned here yet -- dragons attacking a human (or elf, or whatever) population. I'm reminded how easy it would be for a potential reader to be immediately turned off by reading a log-line/pitch sentence or synopsis that may truthfully describe some of these fantasy tropes used in the story, but are not carefully crafted so as to make clear how the story sets itself apart and avoids crossing the line into becoming cliche.

Many of the comments here rightly state how important it is, in the story itself, to keep characters, world-building, and plot three-dimensional.  Make the story uniquely your own, and continuously work on improving your craft.  Know what's been done before so that you CAN set your own work apart, yet still be able to use those common constituents of fantasy that you may love, like dragons, or a young wizard apprentice.

And then do your best to write a hook/description that doesn't make the whole thing sound like a pile of cliches!
Harper Wade
Posted: Sunday, March 4, 2012 9:35 PM
Joined: 2/25/2012
Posts: 20


I can deal with latent talent in youth tropes, but I don't like seeing it paired with extreme ease regardless of situation or motivation. Just because someone has natural talent with something doesn't mean they'll put it to use or study what doesn't come naturally--I like to see balanced characters. If they're going to have a boatload of natural talent, maybe have them be a little lazy or unmotivated. Another option, which I'm using in my story Unfit, is to have a character with talent, but they are hesitant and nervous to the point that the abilities are obscured for quite some time. 

I'm thinking my favorite magic system is The Charter from Garth Nix's series starting with Sabriel. There are words, symbols, movements, sounds, etc, to elicit certain responses, but it's also malleable to the point of being unknowable: things change according to the user's intention and any given symbol's slightest nuance. Such a good series. 
Rachel Russell
Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 4:44 PM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 27


I've been reading a ton of YA, so the cliche's I'm listing are the ones I've been running into in this category.

1. The womenfolk must have heaving bosoms and shapely hips.
2. The menfolk must be dangerous and brooding, but have a sensitive side.
3. The main female is undeniably attractive to every single male she encounters.
4. The "strong" female goes to pathetic mush where her love interest is concerned, and all common sense and/or morals get tossed out the window.
Timothy Maguire
Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 9:24 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272


I think it's probably more accurate to say that these aren't exactly cliches you'll find solely in YA writing, but rather cliches you'll find all over the place. I know I was rebelling against most of those when I started plotting Scales, but that's just me.

Marc Poliquin
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 8:52 AM
Joined: 1/9/2012
Posts: 67


Hi, folks:

Just wanted to pop in and say thanks to everyone contributing to this thread.  As I mentioned, I'm reacquainting myself with the fantasy genre, hoping to avoid making some of the mistakes you have been talking about, and I'm thoroughly enjoying your observations.


Theasion
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 9:04 AM
Joined: 11/24/2011
Posts: 4


Ah, so many cliches. I'm amazed no one has touched on one of the oldest (or you have an I'm too dense to notice). The one of the Dark Lord plotting to overthrow everything. What's his motivation? Well he's dark and evil don't you know, and that just makes him darker and eviler and...stuff. The guys who fight him? Well they're the good guys because...well they're the good guys. So it's the dark evil meanies vs the goody good good guys and that's all the motivation you see. *le yawn*.

Another one is linked to the idea of natural talent. It's the utterly misguided belief some writers get that natural talent makes you an expert at something. Therefore we have the young hero (almost always a 'young hero') who has a 'natural talent for swordsmanship' and therefore becomes a swordmaster in all of 30 minutes. This is not just silly its fundamentally wrong. There is a reason all warriors in the past, such as Knights, Mamlucks, Jannisaries, Samurai e.t.c started weapons training at very young ages and that is because it takes so damn long to become very proficient with a weapon. This is something that magic can suffer from as well. 

Another matter as well is the setting of fantasy. It's almost always taken from Medieval France and England or an amalgamation of the two. Always knights in glorious plate mail and longbows everywhere. Supreme kings and downtrodden peasants. You rarely get stories that take the influence from say, the Reconquista, or the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Empire.

I'm of course not saying all books are like this, Guy Gavriel Kay especially is very good at taking historically varied events and writing a damn good fantasy setting based around them. But too many authors simply write about a culture that in all intents and purposes is just mediveal France and England.


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 11:45 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Thank you, Theasion for backing me up on the medieval France/England bit. That is a major niggle for me. I've come to calling that world Middle Westeros because that is what many of the writers who us that setting are trying to achieve. Talk about a cliche that is 40 years running. Now a world based off of the Ottoman Empire, that would be cool.
Theasion
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 12:31 PM
Joined: 11/24/2011
Posts: 4


It is a really annoying issue. An its also limiting. France and England are incredibly familiar to many writers (who are often English or American). However more distant cultures provide a wealth of interesting things you can look at. They operated on different thought lines and moralities than we did in many ways. Having those in a story allows you to explore them. Instead we pretty much just get very western issues, or the typical fight against evil.

I mean there is a famous story about the Persian court. Where Greeks are taken to and asked what price they could be payed for eating their dead parents. They say no price could be payed that would make them do it. The Emperor then brings a far off little known Indian tribe, who eat their dead as a means of respect. They're asked the same question accept eating is changed to burning (like the Greeks did) and they give the same answer, no amount of money could make them commit such an attrocity. What the source is meant to be telling us, is that just because something is the opposite of the way you live, doesn't mean its not a legitimate way of living.

However we never see such a take on this in fantasy. Now cannibalism is an extreme example. But generally when cultures meet in fantasy, they're defined by the standards of western Europe, namely France and England. An if they're different, they're usually the bad guys. Not simply another legitmate culture, they become part of the evil 'other'.

Even the great man Tolkien himself does it. I've no intention of getting into charges of racism, and I do absolutely love his work. But the very western Gondon, Rohan and the Dwarfs and Elves, are juxtaposed against the exceptionally evil Mordor. But then Mordors human allies, Khand and the Easterlings, are both based on eastern cultures. Now Tolkien doesn't actually do a bad job of fleshing them out and giving them motivation. But since so many people copy Tolkien, and more importantly don't put as much effort in, you get these disperate none western cultures as constantly being the evil 'other'. 


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 8:26 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I agree. When writing my world I tried to think of other ideas that I could bring in to make things different. Now, while it is more western because I eventually want to bring in the theme of settling new land (the frontier), I did bring in the restrictions on gunpowder like in Meiji Era (sp?) Japan so I could explore the impact of technology. Cultural differences aren't the only things that can be taken from. Historical events, or the repercussions, can be looked to for inspiration as well.

This is where I have to admit that I see my dwarves as more Appalachian than Scottish. Anyone up for some moonshine? (I need to find a way to work that in.)
Halford
Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012 12:27 PM
Heh, I love a good Scottish Dwarf LeeAnna - maybe that's just me. Familiar accent and epic beards -- what could be better?

In defence of the western medieval culture around in a lot of fantasy, I'd say that (personally, at least) it's more about an interest in that time and culture drawing people to fantasy where it tends to be prevalent, rather than people simply writing it out of laziness or racism.

That said though, there are certainly cliches that get on my nerves. My personal favourite type of character tends to be someone that already has the strength or talent, and I get to decide if I like them based on how they use it, not by the simple fact they have it. So, things like "chosen one" orphans annoy me, or street urchins with a sacred destiny, etc. Actually, destiny in general.

There are quite a few cliches in my own stuff that probably annoy people though: an amnesiac character; two princes; that good old ancient time when everything was better and left ruins everywhere; the occasional semicolon; tyrannical empire, and so on. But no Elves - just immortal humans that are pretty much elves. Why? Because I wanted my MC to have a beard. Not kidding.



LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012 1:32 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Halford, why can't you have elves with beards? I have fat elves. Yes, fat elves. They live in some seriously cold weather, and I didn't want to play the all magic card. So, as a solution, some of them have some serious fat on their bones, and I wanted to see fat elves. I think my same elves have facial hair, but I have to look at my notes.

As for people centering fantasy around the UK, there is a historical reason for that. I may be partially wrong (so feel free to correct me), but if I remember right England, or Albion as it was once called, was also referred to as the Land of Giants by the Greeks. The legend goes that when Chronos/Saturn had his balls cut off and thrown across the earth, the semen and blood created giants and elves.(Blood from bad guys has a tendency to grow creatures in Greek mythology.) Even in England today there are some pretty strong beliefs that the fairy folk inhabit the country side.

As for my dwarves, I keep thinking clogging, moonshine, coal mining, and Kentucky accents. Have no idea why. It could be my aversion to cliches. They give me hives. I'm getting ready to rewrite my introduction of them, so we'll see what happens.

I have another one, the dislocated royalty. You know, the prince/princess who lost their kingdom and want it back so bad that they would do anything for it. Or they are self exiled and want nothing to do with their kingdom, only to be called back. Or they're illegitimate and want to be recognized. Yeah, they all pretty much fit in those slots. I have seen some that are outside the mold, but they're rare. Most of them need a "gold crown."
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 2:29 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


4. The "strong" female goes to pathetic mush where her love
interest is concerned, and all common sense and/or morals get tossed out
the window.


Now, to be fair, I see that go both ways, and a lot of people, male and female, DO go insane when their love interest is concerned. (The Taran series by LLoyd Alexander is an excellent point, it just takes the female lead longer to go nuts then the male lead)

As far as Middle Westeros (love it, stealing it) goes, blame Lord of the Rings and D and D. that became the common accepted "fantasy" realm.  I do like the idea of fantasy's set in other areas. I have seen a lot set in Arabic worlds though, (The Blue Sword comes to mind)


Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 2:31 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


As for fat elves, the comic series EverKnights did a fat dark elf, and it was fantastic, as she was cast out for being overweight, and they made fun of the trope of skinny elves. (My favorite part was where her being svelte made her MORE attractive to a particular character then her slim sisters, much to their chagrin)

PureMagic
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 9:26 PM
Joined: 12/1/2011
Posts: 35


I just skimmed this thread fast, and I am loving some of the comments.  I will have to take some time are really read each post with more care.

I will say that I think even cliches are okay in writing, so long as they do not feel like cliches.  I know that sounds dumb, but I think it makes sense.  You can use themes and ideas which have been done before, what makes them cliche is when you fall back upon them relentlessly.  If they feel like a natural part of the story, then it is just reality.  My parents are getting ready to retire and move to Florida.  In a book that might be cliche, but that is real life.  That is what people do.  The same can be said for the cliches of fantasy novels.  My current book uses magic which is based primarily on the elements.  Why?  Because that is how it was meant to work.  I don't feel like it is cliche because I know that the story will bear it out as something which simply is.

Woops, that got away from me.  Sorry.  My least favorite cliche in any story: the relative who is supposed to be dead but who returns at the end of the story alive and well (and usually as an extraneous villain).  With very few exceptions, this drives me batty.  It is very rare occurance when this does not aggrevate me to the point of throwing a book out the window or walking out of a film.  Sure it can be done well (Darth Vader springs to mind) but most of the time it is crap, plain and simple.

Trivia time - during the filming of "The Empire Strikes Back," the line that Hamill is actually reacting to in that scene is "Obi-Wan Kenobi killed your father."  The final line was dubbed in later.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 10:20 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


And when Luke screams, "No! It's not true! That's IMPOSSIBLE!" he was reacting to Darth Vader telling him he'd found Luke's secret porn stash and recorded a series of Banta care-and-feeding videos over the formerly XXX holo-tapes.
 
:::tip-toeing away now:::   
PureMagic
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 9:06 AM
Joined: 12/1/2011
Posts: 35


Thank you for my early morning chuckle, Carl.

And don't worry about Luke's stash - he has a back-up copy stored in R2-D2.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 6:13 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Even though the other line was dubbed in later, people still quote it wrong. Darth Vader never says "Luke, I am your father." It is only, "I am your father." I'm more into Star Trek where as my husband is a Star Wars guy, and I'm the one who keeps correcting him. Yes, I know that probably proves who is the bigger nerd, but I'm totally proud of it.

I thank you both for the laugh, and bringing out the geek in me. I needed it.
Angela Martello
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 8:43 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


I'll admit it - I waited in line with a bunch a kids at a department store to "meet" Darth Vader (don't even remember what the promo was; probably a line of Star Wars kids' clothing). No idea who was in the Vader suit (way too short to be THE Darth Vader), but I waited all the same. . .

PureMagic - I don't think it sounds dumb to say that cliches are okay in writing as long as they don't sound like cliches. Aren't there supposed to be something like only 36 basic plots out there and a similar number of plot devices? Cliched characters, plot points, settings, situations inevitably will crop up in our writing. To paraphrase Gandalf, "All we have to decide is what to do with the cliche that is given us.” Take the cliche and weave your writing magic around it and turn it into something unique.


Robert C Roman
Posted: Saturday, March 17, 2012 7:38 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


*agree* on the idea that cliches aren't in and of themselves bad. As TVTropes has said - tropes are tropes because, by and large, they work.

That said, it's a little like cooking. If you make something daring and new, it doesn't have to be perfect, because it's got originality. If you make something that's been done before, you're now being judged not on originality, but on execution.

 

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