JM Williams

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SHARE: List of Fantasy Cliches


While looking around for publishers to send my work to, I stumbled on this post which is linked to in Silver Blade/Silver Pen’s submission guidelines.

I have posted about cliches before. These are one of those things (like adverbs) that editors get unjustifiably hung up on. Like first-person POV and present tense and adverbs, cliches are fine, as long as they are warranted. It is simply important to recognize why you are using these things. If you have a clear reason why your story should be in first person, go ahead and do it.

With cliches, it is important that the reason your concept ends up a cliche is not due solely to laziness and lack of creativity. You should have a reason for perpetuating a oft repeated concept. Contrary to common belief, just wanting to write a story about a farm boy with a sword and a wizard mentor is justification enough. But in understanding the risk you face in incorporating such cliches, you can force yourself to do them better (I will take cliched good writing over original drivel any day, any time). It also can motivate you to give your cliches a bit of an original twist. Maybe your wizard is a young girl instead of an old man? Maybe your sword is a trident? Things like the wise mentor and the symbolic weapon are root components of the heroic tale tradition. You don’t have to cast tradition aside because a few editors took everything they learned in Writing 101 a bit too fundamentally. Literary Terrorists, the lot of them.

That being said, having a list like this does help you see when bits of your writing are headed toward cliched areas. At that point you should give the line or the concept a second thought. Is it necessary? Is this the best way to shape the idea? If you can easily answer “yes” to these questions, keep it. If not, it might be worth attempting a change (if the attempt fails, you can always go back to the original).

I don’t agree with all of the points on this list. For example, what is wrong with “spunky/feisty/spirited heroines” or “handsome/rugged/dashing heroes”? Those are aspects that make characters heroic. Fantasy is about powerful, dominant characters. What is the alternative? Submissive heroines and boring, ugly heroes? Why the heck wouldn’t you want your heroine to be spirited? The alternative is Bella from the Twilight movies. You give me a fantasy heroine, and I will show you how she fits at least one of those three adjectives above.

Another one is Fantasy societies based off of the “Celts or Norsemen, Romans, Samurai or Spartans.” This in not a cliche, this is a key aspect of fantasy itself. Fantasy is borrowed from our own history; it always has been. How do you expect an author to create a believable world if she does not draw on what actually happened in our world? Borrowing from history is almost essential, and of course authors are going to create empires and strong cultures based on those cultures that were successful in real life. Trying to take some obscure tribal culture that failed in real life and suggest it to somehow be an empire in your work just falls logically flat. History has shown that certain types of polities work and others don’t. Using that understanding in your writing is not a cliche; it is essential.

There are certainly more points that I disagree with, but again, this is to be a guide rather than a rule. You can decide for yourself which you are willing to break and in what case.

Enough of my blabbering, here is the link to the list:


by Kathy Pulver and J. S. Burke

Inspired by the “The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés” by Jon VanSickle.

This list, like the SF list that inspired it, is intended only to list various cliches common to the fantasy genre. It is not our intention to say these ideas should never see the light of day again (though some we could do without). Rather, we’ve compiled this list to amuse and educate…READ MORE

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