Cliches in Fantasy Writing

February 9, 2009 in Best Of, Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

I haven’t done a post today yet, so I thought I would bring up something that’s been on my mind ever since I started working on my fantasy novel – the dreaded fantasy cliche.

Just to start things off, here are a few lists of fantasy cliches I found on the Internets:

The Grand List of Fantasy Cliches by Kathy Pulver and J. S. Burke

The Not So Grand List of Overused Fantasy Cliches by Amethyst Angel

The above two are the most commonly referred-to ones, but there’s also Risus Fantasy Cliches and another amusing site called The Fantasy Cliche Meter, which provides a litmus test on whether your characters are too cliched or not.

As a newbie to fantasy writing who hadn’t read too much fantasy before, I was terrified that my story was going to be too cliched.  After all, when creativity is not at its best, writers tend to gravitate towards things that they know, safe options, things that have been done before.  I wanted to go through these fantasy cliche lists and try to make sure that none of these cliches existed in my plot.  But it was just impossible.  Whichever way I looked at it, cliches were unavoidable.

So I’ve stopped caring about it.  I don’t really believe in cliches anymore.  With the fantasy book market saturated, just about everything out there has pretty much been done already.  All fantasy stories to some extent borrow from others.  The most common one is of course the Lord of the Rings, but even that is not totally original.  Just because something has done before, does that make it forbidden?  Does the writer who first came up with the idea have a monopoly over it?

The truth is, when you write it well and add your own creative element to the story, it doesn’t matter which supposed cliche is being used.  Was JK Rowling the first to write about schools for young witches and wizards or a Dark Lord preparing to return for the purpose of world domination?  Was Stephenie Meyer the first to write about a human falling in love with a vampire or a battle between vampires and werewolves?  It just shows if you do it well, no one cares if aspects of the story are cliched.  Readers only tend to notice, and more importantly, complain, if the cliche is used too blatantly or clumsily.

Some cliches are obviously worse than others (especially those from famous and successful novels), and if you use them, it will make your story seem like a complete rip off.  But apart from those types of deal-breaker cliches, I don’t have too much of a problem with them.  In my opinion, it’s best to put more effort into writing the cliche well rather than worrying about avoiding them altogether.