How to Break the Cliche Fantasy Mold
Updated: Aug 30
So, you want to write an epic fantasy story, but feel the need to stay clear of what's been done a thousand times? I can help you there!
The problem with modern fantasy literature is that it tends to stay clear of inventing new magic systems. Don't believe me? How many renditions of elves, fauns, mermaids, fairies, dragons, etc have you read about? It is sad to say that the authors who made those fantasy species popular were the ones who wrote about them for the first time hundreds of years ago. Perhaps it's time to think outside the box when it comes to fantasy. After all, the definition of Fantasy is the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images. That means it can be whatever we imagine it to be! But before we get creative, let us first understand the box modern literature has put on fantasy so that we may overcome it.
1. The Chosen One
Oh yes. Harry Potter, the Seventh Son, The Legend of the Seeker, Game of Thrones, Superman, Hunger Games... must I go on?
While it's fun to create a character perfectly designed for taking on the weight of bringing justice to their people and defeating the bad guy, maybe we can rethink the mold just a bit?
Here are some ideas to break this mold:
How about a character who is not equipt to be any sort of hero. They are not strong, brave, honest, or maybe they have a crappy attitude. Forcing such a character into a circumstance they must save the world is definitely interesting, and it does break the cliche chosen one mold!
One such movie I've watched recently about this topic is The Crow, found on the Oculus (my new favorite Virtual Reality system). In this AMAZING movie, the beautiful, talented, and vain Crow is forced on a journey to save the world when he'd rather practice his singing for a show. On his journey, he goes through many obstacles where he learns just what kind of soul he truly possesses.
2. Unrequited Love
I'm talking about the main character falling for someone who is no good for them, does not notice them, is possibly dangerous or bad news. This of course is great to tease your readers. All love arcs need drama! And even though we are talking fantasy, it is important to remember the impressionable minds that are reading your work. Not all bad boys/ bad girls are actually good beneath the surface, and not all of them will change their wicked ways for the sake of love.
There are infinite ways to break this mold:
Your characters could start out as good friends who learn more about one another and fall in love with admirable qualities.
Your characters want to be together but circumstances pull the two apart.
Your character is too shy and their actions cause the other to misunderstand how they feel.
Instead of an intangible love, your character might feel unready to re-enter a relationship after what they have gone through in the past.
3. The villain and hero have no backstory/ relationship
There are TONS of popular media where the villain and hero just meet, have beef, and proceed to the story of trying to defeat one another. In most cases, nowadays, writers show the side of the villain so they would gain sympathy points, or so the reader could find some understanding for their actions. Famous villains with a sob story include Scar, The Lion King, Frankenstein's Monster, The Phantom of the Opera, Maleficent, Harley Quinn, Sweeney Todd, Darth Vader.
Stories where the villain and Hero had a relationship and broke the mold:
The Prince of Egypt, Merlin (King Arthur, Uther), The Lion King (Simba, Scar), SpongeBob SquarePants (Mr. Krabs, Plankton), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Wolverine, Sabertooth). Maleficent (Maleficent, and the jerk who broke her heart and chopped of her wings for a crown).
Get creative! It doesn't have to be a familial relationship, perhaps a romance gone awry like in Maleficent. The added drama will enhance your story!
4. Romance always prevails
While is always nice to have romance, a relationship your readers will root for, sometimes love doesn't always prevail. This is where you can add some realism to your fantasy novel. Realistic relationships aren't ALWAYS gushing over their partners. In a all good relationships, whether or not the characters end up together, there are things like unconditional love (not always sexual), difference in opinion, personal growth, striving to work at the relationship, and making stupid mistakes as all people do.
Not every character is suicidal after their boyfriend/girlfriend dumps them. (Bella, Twilight). But what is realistic is getting in a slump after a devastating situation, but pulling yourself out, healing, growing , remembering who you are as an individual, and striving to better yourself and find better in the future.
Not every main character in indecisive about who they love, as they must choose from two people who love them at the same time because the main character is so fabulous! Popular love triangles include... Twilight, Fallen, Cage of Darkness, Falling kingdoms, etc.
5. Cliche Magic Wielders
How many times have you read about Sorcerers, Sorceresses, Magicians, Wizards, Witches, Priestesses? And all their magic comes from their bodies because they were born special, and they use strange ingredients for magical purposes like Eye of Newt, Toe of Frog. Witches have cauldrons and brooms, and Wizards have wands, and they all wear long hooded robes with pointed hats.
Traveling back in time, the first time literature has been graced with witches casting spells over a bubbling cauldron was in William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. With the famous lines that have somehow made it all the way to modern day media, "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." Since then the taboo topic has opened a rift in the world for fantasy lovers. There is currently so much media out there about witches and wizards.
While I wouldn't recommend to add yourself to the list of authors who wrote about such magicians, I do recommend that you follow in the footsteps of the great authors who have succeeded. And they have done so because they showed how there is good and bad in everything. J.K. Rowling had many several good and evil witches and wizards. BBC's hit TV-show, Merlin showed that there are good and bad sorcerers. As we see in life, being talented or successful does not make you a good human being, that is why struggling characters like Merlin are so beloved.
6. Cliche Fantasy Creatures/ Species:
How many times have you come across Angels/ Demons, Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts, Elves, Mermaids, Fairies, fire-breathing Dragons in modern media, whether through books or TV? As a girl who grew up on fantasy and writes it every day, the fantasy species that used to excite me (as listed above) now make me groan and mutter, "Again?!"
Authors like Shakespeare, Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis paved the way for fantasy literature as they were the original creators, But that doesn't mean ALL fantasy literature should take on their fantasy style! Fantasy isn't goblins, mermaids, fairies, angles/demons, elves. It's about anything that is not of this world, which means we have limitless opportunities to create our own magic systems, magicians, and fantasy creatures.
Even if your level of creativity when creating your own magical species is a talking plant, it's still something you can build on. Your unique world will make you and your writing memorable!