The worst cliches in fantasy literature..?

#1
So!

In your opinion, what are the worst cliches in fantasy literature.
-the sort that make you grind your teeth when you come across them in yet another fantasy trilogy!

Let some steam out and tell (whine) us all about them!
***************

For me, the worst cliche is the sharpshooting archer. You know, the one that can hit a bird on the fly, or an ork's eye from hundred metres. I a dark. In a storm.
-I mean in reality you cannot shoot with precision with a bow. Not with wooden arrows. This is because every arrow is different and so flies differently.
-And also, an arrow bends when it leaves the bow, then flexes back to shape. This bend/flex makes the flightpath very erratic indeed.
And this means that sharpshooting archers are very unrealistic, and that is why they are so irritating cliche to me.

The second most annoying cliche is of course the bumpkin lad that just happens to find a retired swordmaster to train him. I mean this always happens!!! In every bleeding fantasy series!
 

João Ribeiro

Journeyed there and back again
#2
I really hate it when the villain is the guy with the sinister, wiry look. It just makes it feel so Enyd Bligton!
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#3
Don't get me started, I could go on for days. A few things come to mind:

*Dragons that disappeared, or all but disappeared, but are now making a comeback. Unfortunately, even authors I otherwise like fall into this trap (e.g. George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb).
*Dreams, especially when they're supposed to mean something.
*When the answer to everyone's problems is in some old book.
*Prophetic poems. Especially when they're repeated over and over again.
*Prologues. Especially when they give away everything about the mythology of the world and have nothing to do with the story. Or when they should be actual chapters (a la Robert Jordan).
*Unpronounceable names. Names with "y" instead of other vowels. Names with umlauts, apostrophes, and hyphens.
*Rape. I'm not saying it can't be included, but it often falls into one of two categories. (1) Female characters gets over it like it was nothing. (2) Female character is subsequently murdered -- or kills herself.
*Glowing and/or talking swords. (Sting from the Hobbit and LOTR excepted.)
*Tolkienesque dwarves and elves.
*Magic artifact in a cave. On a pedestal. May have been there for hundreds or thousands of years in pristine condition, only for the hero to find.
*Made-up languages. I can stand the occasional word when it covers a concept that doesn't exist in real life. But when there are made up words for breakfast, young man, husband, chandelier, etc. -- no.
*Special farmboys who turn out to be the long-lost sons of kings. Or any romance between a noble and a non-noble that later turns out to be A-OK because the non-noble is a special farmboy (or girl) who turns out to be the long-lost offspring of a noble house.

That's what I can come up with in 5 minutes this morning, anyway.
 
#4
The omnipotent hero. Where the protagonist can do no wrong. I think this is one of the major reasons I wasn't impressed with Kvothe and The Name of the Wind. I just about ended up despising the character halfway through the second book.
 
#6
What about teleports and dimensional gates, just when the character has to travel to the other side of the continent???

I mean the writer is so lazy, he just makes up a teleport, instead of doing it the long way and making the characters travel by land to their destination.

And every author does this. Just look at Wheel of time, for example. Muysterious gateways for far travel. Handy!


Oh, and I also hate unpronouncable names. Theyre not wxotic, theyre just silly.

And don't get me started on healing potions.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#7
What about teleports and dimensional gates, just when the character has to travel to the other side of the continent???

I mean the writer is so lazy, he just makes up a teleport, instead of doing it the long way and making the characters travel by land to their destination.
I agree that's kind of a cop-out. The Crown of Stars series by Kate Elliott has a bit of a different take. You can travel that way, but an undetermined amount of time takes place in the real world, so you could be gone for months but only *think* you've been gone for a few minutes. I guess it solves the problem of having to feed yourself on the journey, but stuff can still happen in the world while you're not around. Warrens in the Malazan books are another alternative. People can travel through them and not be seen in the real world, and sometimes it gets you to your destination but sometimes you get horribly lost or trapped.

Science fiction kind of does this too, though. Wormholes and jump gates and warp speed and hyperspace and whatever else you want to call it, it all amounts to the same thing.
 

Sotiris

Knows the real name of Lower Corte
#8
What about teleports and dimensional gates, just when the character has to travel to the other side of the continent???

I mean the writer is so lazy, he just makes up a teleport, instead of doing it the long way and making the characters travel by land to their destination.

And every author does this. Just look at Wheel of time, for example. Muysterious gateways for far travel. Handy!
I think that WoT is not a good example of convenient teleport/gateways. It took five or six books for the weave to be rediscovered and from the beginning of the series Robert Jordan tipped that old weaves and talents are being resurfaced (as the Wheel turns and history is repeated again and again). I do not think that the rediscovery of gateways were a plot device but a world-building one. You could say that Portal Stones or the Ways were examples of "handy" teleport, but even those contributed greatly to the world's mythology and built.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#9
I think that WoT is not a good example of convenient teleport/gateways. It took five or six books for the weave to be rediscovered and from the beginning of the series Robert Jordan tipped that old weaves and talents are being resurfaced (as the Wheel turns and history is repeated again and again). I do not think that the rediscovery of gateways were a plot device but a world-building one. You could say that Portal Stones or the Ways were examples of "handy" teleport, but even those contributed greatly to the world's mythology and built.
And the Ways weren't always all that handy. They were filled with all manner of nasty things and, as I recall, it was difficult to find your way around if you didn't have the proper knowledge.

Still, there are a lot of series that have some sort of plot device for traveling long distances (Harry Potter, Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time, etc.). Some of these are much better than others, and the plot device is certainly better implemented in some books/series as opposed to others.
 

Haven

Became a Faceless Man
#10
The omnipotent hero. Where the protagonist can do no wrong. I think this is one of the major reasons I wasn't impressed with Kvothe and The Name of the Wind. I just about ended up despising the character halfway through the second book.
Bit harsh dont you think ?? Considering how Kvothe has ended up in the present, he seems to have got a ton of stuff wrong :p

Anywho on with the topic:

1) Prohetic Visions/Prophecies/Seers etc etc: These really spoil the damn story and make it predictable..its ok if the vision is cryptic and unintelligible but that rarely happens. The future is made,not decided in advance.

2)Generic Elves(mysterious,long lived generally better than humans etc ),Dwarves(the drinking,axe-wielding kind),Orcs(you know) and ESPECIALLY Vamps and Werewolfs(Seriously, enough of these two ): Authors have been beating these horses for WAAAAAY too long and its now just sickening, it was ok in LOTR coz Tolkien was the first guy to use it, but not any longer.

We REALLY need some new races which are radically different from the generic crap we read(Martha Well's Raksura are a notable example).

3)How quickly protagonists seem to learn practically every skill known to man(and not man)kind, half the protagonists go from farmboys to sword and magic wielding warriors in the space of months..i mean really ??

4) Speaking of farmboys....them too. Every damn protagonist seems to grow on farms these days. Its so cliche, which is why everyone these days likes to read about damaged protagonists like in First Law Trology

Thats about it for now, I have waaaay more hidden away somewhere.
 

TomTB

Super Moderator
Staff member
#11
4) Speaking of farmboys....them too. Every damn protagonist seems to grow on farms these days. Its so cliche, which is why everyone these days likes to read about damaged protagonists like in First Law Trology

Thats about it for now, I have waaaay more hidden away somewhere.
I grew up on a farm. I'm still waiting ...
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#12
For me the cliches that make me want to beat the author over the head with their own book are talking dragons, farm boys destined for greatness, and dark lords. Too often fantasy writers forget that a plot can literally be about anything they want. Why does it have to be about some warrior taking up the sword against some incredibly evil dark lord or about saving the world at all? Speaking of which evil and good seems to be the most obvious and common cliche. That's why I like Steven Erikson and George Martin so much; they are above the good versus bad guy's type of thing. I've been reading a fantasy book recently in between classes at school that contains the first two cliches I mentioned and a dream to top it off. So annoying. I'm only reading it because I received the book as a gift for Christmas.
 

Jon Snow

No Power in the Verse can stop me
Staff member
#13
The Temeraire series has talking dragons but they are far from cliche. Good solid books.
 

Haven

Became a Faceless Man
#14
The Temeraire series has talking dragons but they are far from cliche. Good solid books.
Well i agree completely with you there, Temeraire is one of the few series Dragons talking is actually done in a meaningful way unlike....hmmm...Eldest, where Saphira's POV scenes are reminiscent of a really massive,retarded cat.

Can't wait for tyrant's blood!! Though the synopsis made me kinda sad :-(
 

Amaryllis

Journeyed there and back again
#15
Fantasy cliches. Hm.

I'm going to note here, that I am okay with cliches to a degree. It's more about presentation. There is literally no fantasy trope in existence that will stone-cold disqualify me from buying a book, merely by its presence on the pages within. But I mean, it depends on how you spin it. I don't mind the 'standard fantasy races,' for instance, but I once instantly put down a book with a moderately intriguing cover, when the description on the back of the book began with 'the humans, elves, dwarves and gnomes have been at peace for many generations...' The next sentence described how something vague and crappy happened, and OMG now they hate each other. Uh oh. No thanks. But I'll blithely pick up 'The King of Elfland's Daughter' or one of those 80's 'kinda cliche but sorta not' series' that were sorta trying to play with the mold, but hadn't yet encountered A Song of Ice and Fire. That said, some things I am immediately critical of:

- the hero gets knocked out and is tended to by what will turn out to be his love interest. This can be done well, I suppose. But it's usually rather ham-fisted. It's the literary equivalent of the scene in movies or RPGs where one character comes upon another while they are gazing at the stars.

- the heroine is a feminist idealized modern woman's personality transplanted into a medieval-esque era. Don't get me wrong. I am not unhappy at a modern woman's freedoms or anything, but it seems like a cheap attempt to generate instant sympathy. It's like introducing a puppy only for the purpose of the bad guy killing it. It's also usually a little bit sexist in its presentation [here is where someone mentions how man-skewed all fantasy worlds are]. I see your thoughts. I'm not done.

- a powerful woman is only powerful because of sex. Is this Truth in Television, or a way of ensuring that a majority of her scenes will directly involve sex, or at least talk about it? She can be smart as a whip and own lots of resources that are dear within the world, but her plots will still ultimately involve seducing people. Much more common in 'gritty' fantasy.

- Barbarians. Probably the closest I will come to tossing a book on sight. Don't call them that. It's so dumb. This word is a part of why I haven't read The First Law yet. I'll get around to it. But I'll be doing a circuit of books that don't have this word on the back jacket first.

Now for why it took me so long to respond to this topic. There are a lot of words following this, so feel free to skip them if you'd like.

- Gritty fantasy. Oh my God, how I hate this term, and what it stands for.

Now, a totally perfect fantasy world of butterflies and unicorns and rainbows and all the other imagery people use to be condescending about hellslavedeathbloodfirerapesufferingworld's exact opposite, would be boring to read about. I admit this. Maybe it would be a cool place to live (because hell, everyone is happy all the time -- why WOULDN'T you live there?), but you wouldn't care about it from a literary sense. But this seems to be a straw man that doesn't even exist in the world, because I have yet to actually find a book about this. If anyone knows of one, feel free to point me toward it, because I am curious.

But I'm getting off on a tangent. The thing is, any halfway decently done fantasy world is going to be kind of gritty anyway, just by virtue of it being a normal world (basically) with some holy crap bad stuff happening in it. Villages will be burned, friends will die, bad guys will be fought, blah blah blah. Chalion (or w/e the world is called) is far from gritty, but there is still suffering there, injustice, pain, torture, bad things happening to good people. Ditto Rothfuss' world, ditto all of Sanderson's worlds, ditto freaking Wheel of Time.

What gritty fantasy tends to mean is a world utterly without happiness, without any redeeming features, without heroes, without...just without. And the defense that everyone uses is that it's 'mature.' "Adults only past this point!" it screams at you, mid thrust in its rape of an innocent woman chance met on the road. "Go hide beneath your mother's SKIRTS and read The Lorax if you can't handle it!" its supporters cry. But I have to ask. How? How is it mature?

You wanna know something? When I was like 13-14, I used to invent fantasy worlds. They were all stupid, but that's not the point. The point is that I made one that was just over-the-top terrible. Like, just, horrible things happening constantly. Think something like the Dante's Inferno game, mixed with a little bit of Silent Hill (that's where I started the idea), mixed with villains and perversions and endless war, and good people getting killed by bad people a lot. I drafted a story, about a farmboy (lol), who starts to go on this conventional fantasy quest and then just oh god everything goes wrong and he ends up being tortured and turned into a half-steampunky-mechanical slave of the bad guy. Because apparently at that age I was into bucking cliches I didn't know existed (it was based more on the standard JRPG hero than the book one). It was so comically exaggerated that I eventually lost interest in it, discontinued it, and pronounced it the second most ridiculous thing ever made (the first most ridiculous was the novel I wrote at age 10, which will hereafter be referred to as 'That Which We Do Not Speak Of').

Then I find out that there is an actual genre for it, and that it's probably not the most over-the-top horrifying world after all.

Basically, I wrote all that to say that I did some facsimile of gritty fantasy at the point in my life where I was pretty much the least mature I would ever be, ever. The point where I was just beginning to think like an adult, but lacked the empathy, the critical thinking ability, the ability to look at a high concept and not go PFFFT all stupidlike, like one of those Jersey Shore guys, etc. I really think we misuse the word 'mature' a lot when we talk about gritty fantasy. A world isn't mature because any woman who exists in it is on an automatic countdown to imminent rape, or because any good family of poor folk is absolutely 100% going to get slaughtered graphically by soldiers, or demons, or rogue gods, or spined torture worms (who may or may not also rape them). That's practically a comic book. And not the good kind of comic book. The dumb kind, that everyone hated, and put comic books aside for for like 50 years. Sex and violence in any other medium is considered juvenile rather than mature, so how did fantasy get this connotation? Maturity is about mature themes, questions that some random clodpot would get bored or angry being presented with in a book, complex stories affected by a thousand different events that leads to an ultimate conclusion (though there is such a thing as pointless complexity). Some 'gritty fantasies' have, or seem to have, these things. But it's not a prerequisite, and there are plenty that don't, and people seem to like those as well, just because they are not happy bunny fluffies and Excalibur-wielding virtuous pages. This is by far the fantasy cliche I detest the most.
 

Amaryllis

Journeyed there and back again
#16
2)Generic Elves(mysterious,long lived generally better than humans etc ),Dwarves(the drinking,axe-wielding kind),Orcs(you know) and ESPECIALLY Vamps and Werewolfs(Seriously, enough of these two ): Authors have been beating these horses for WAAAAAY too long and its now just sickening, it was ok in LOTR coz Tolkien was the first guy to use it, but not any longer.
Tolkien wasn't really the first to do it. People have been making Celtic fae expats for a long time. There are certainly some things that his influence has shaped (archery, direct connection to nature/the world, bad blood with dwarves, like to stand around and be haughty), but there are as many examples that are 'different' as there are that are Tolkien-clones.

I'm curious about this though (and I'm not asking rhetorically): I get disliking the stereotyped cookie-cutter versions of fantasy races, but if you hate the very idea of them, what are you okay with? Or do you just want more or less human-only fantasy? Because a lot of recent fantasy authors seem to make up new races in an attempt to avoid having the standard ones, and they end up being boring or underutilized (or not utilized at all), and plenty of them end up being elves/dwarves/whatever in spirit anyway. All the weird races in The Dagger and the Coin, and none of them matter except kind of the elf-ones. You are told next to nothing about their history, their culture, oftentimes even their appearance. They are just kind of there.

Your example of different seems to be 'wildly different' (and also largely bereft of information that I can google), but there are a lot of stories and worlds whose narrative does not call for something as out there as, for example, androgynous three-eyed telepathic mothlike creatures that hypnotize people with their wings and subsist on the dreams of sleeping creatures, and make music using light frequencies.

4) Speaking of farmboys....them too. Every damn protagonist seems to grow on farms these days. Its so cliche, which is why everyone these days likes to read about damaged protagonists like in First Law Trology
It's not that cliche. How many choices of occupation do you have in a fantasy world that needs to be at least KINDA immediately accessible to the common reader? I'm sure you can name some things (since technically there were other professions!), but that's not really the point. It's just shorthand for inexperienced and naive. Kaladin from WoK wasn't technically a farmboy, but he still totally was. It's what gets done with the farmboy after the introduction that matters.

People say all the time, like farmboy this, farmboy that, so cliche. I won't say it *bothers* me, like I stay up nights thinking about it. But it seems to be responsible for this shift in modern literature from farmboy to stuff like noble son/daughter, and there ends up being literally nothing changed in the presentation except the origin (they still get thrown into a world they don't understand, usually a totally different class of people, get worked over, have to learn to adapt, pine for their old life, etc.), and everyone is cool with it. I personally don't care where the character starts. I care where they go. The stereotypical fantasy plot that everyone knows -- and trots out whenever they want to make a crack about fantasy (you know which one I'm talking about) -- is stupid, and we have no need of more of it in the world. I definitely do not dispute this. But I see so many people that rag on books simply for including it, while praising inferior books for being very minutely superficially different.

I'm not trying to seem like I'm hypercritical of everything, or like I'm crazy, because HOLY GOD I JUST KEEP WRITING. I'm just curious about certain things. I read a lot of comments on various series on this site, and I see patterns, and I wonder.

(I also totally wrote a story synopsis that incorporated every single cliche Sneaky Burrito listed as a joke, but it seems like it'd be too much now)
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#17
All the weird races in The Dagger and the Coin, and none of them matter except kind of the elf-ones. You are told next to nothing about their history, their culture, oftentimes even their appearance. They are just kind of there.
Yeah, I totally can't keep those straight. On the other hand, I like Steven Erikson's made-up races. Maybe he's better because he has a background in anthropology?
 

Haven

Became a Faceless Man
#18
Yeah, I totally can't keep those straight. On the other hand, I like Steven Erikson's made-up races. Maybe he's better because he has a background in anthropology?
Yeah Dagger and Coin races are kinda weird because Abraham tries to "humanize" them instead of giving them a wholly different personality...this kinda creeps out the relationship stuff in the series I feel.

Erikson's...now he has written some awesome races.
Forkrul Assail are probably my favorites, they embody that fluid grace and violence and general badassery that is just awesome( I don't remember much as its been a really long time since i've read Malazan,plus i
haven't read the last 2 books)
The K'Chain Che'Malle are a superb blend of pure animal savagery,plus the matriachal society is a refreshing change.
The others ie Toblakai,Jaghut etc are good but these two are my favs.

Also Erikson, like Richard Morgan, has that gift for utterly sexy names which i wish i had Q.Q. ( case in point: Warren names like Ahkrast Korvalain,Omtose Phellack...just too damn good)

And i seem to have been slightly offensive with the farmboy quote (oops), i apologize :D

It's just that I'm kinda sick and tired of fantasy stories which explore how the protagonist matures,learns the sword,magic etc etc...i feel it takes out half the magic of the story and most of these stories are about the farm boy growing up.
I personally feel that mysterious protagonists which shadowy pasts and bloody histories make for better reads.

And Amaryllis, I feel that elves,dwarves,orcs,werewolves,vamps(esp last two) are just overused in fantasy...the fact that there are now separate genres for Vampire and Werewolf Fantasy is frankly...sickening.
Which is probably why I tend to read more human oriented fantasy these days. As you rightly said,most invented races are in spirit,essentially identical to elves and dwarves. What i would like to read is stories about believable new races, no extra appendages or crazy anatomies just for the heck of it.

Or maybe im just being too demanding and crazy, but that's my two cents.
 

Jon Snow

No Power in the Verse can stop me
Staff member
#19
If we want to talk about weird and wonderful races. The ones by China Mieville in New Crobuzon are really great. Sure a lot of haters for his books but I thought Perdido Street Station was good and the races were wacky but worked.

I don't think I have a problem with the "cliche" elves, dwarves etc, it's what we know and to change it would require a lot of effort from the author.

If you don't want cliche vamps, I would suggest you read Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
 
#20
clicheed clothes!!!
-I mean, for example, why all wizards have to wear colourful robes???
-It makes no sense, especially since the enemy archers can then spot the wizard mile off.
-Why cannot a wizard wear trousers and padded jacket like the rest of the troupe?

ANd why barbarians always wear loincloth. Even in winter???