5 Fantasy Clichés in Desperate Need of Replacement

Fantasy has a problem.


It’s worse than a hoarding dragon. For all the gloriousness fantasy provides, it protects its precious clichés as fervently as Smaug watched over his stash of gold.

For all the creative license and freedom to explore endless possibilities, fantasy seems too content to dwell in the land of the tried-and-true.


And fantasy should be anything but boring. In fact, it should be bubbling with the new, the bold, the daring, the exciting.

With that in mind…

5 Fantasy Clichés in Desperate Need of Replacement

The Mentor Figure

Image via lotr.wikia.com

Yes, Gandalf is awesome. No, that doesn’t mean he should have 5,067 mini-me’s running around in the pages of other books.

Each decked out with the requisite pipe, wizardly outfit, long hair, bushy eyebrows, and depths of knowledge. The little scalawags.


How about (gasp and horror) no mentor?

Alternatively, how about a mentor who’s younger than the hero?

Or an antihero mentor who can manipulate trees and has a fondness for exotic fruits?

Or a mentor who’s not human or ancient? Or even…

A female mentor (mentress?). What in the sparkling blue tarnation? Is that even possible?

Well duh. Anything is, and that’s the beauty.

The Chosen One

You know how the tale goes:

I am young. I am insignificant. I live in the middle of nowhere important.

And yet, I am destined for greatness that outshines the stars and is more majestic than a range of snow-capped mountain peaks.

Puh-leez. Haven’t we had enough of the Chosen One already? The guy (why is it a dude 97.863% of the time?!) who really wants nothing to do with said destiny but has no choice.

Also, can he not be a teenager and generally incompetent?


So. Many. Options. Close your eyes, spin the wheel, and pick one.

How about a pen-wielding scholar who’s literally never set foot outside the city where he lives?

Or the middle-age spinster whose magical power involves…YARN!

There’s no limit to the cool ideas possible to infuse stories with vigor.

The Quest


Because every fantasy story wouldn’t be the same without an epic journey of some sort to some distant land to defeat some evil lord. Undertaken by a certain chosen one who’s guided by an unmistakably mentor-ish mentor (see above).

What’s not to love?

Um…nothing all of it.


Not a quest. Seems pretty obvious. The ways to accomplish this are as multitudinous (how’s that for a big word? 😮 ) as elvish egos. The entire story could take place in a city, or town, or at sea. It would be super cool to see a fantasy novel that took place in a single building—talk about unique.

Save the World Plot

Oh the agony. Sure, stories that chronicle the saving of the world are heaps of fun. I mean, the plot needs high stakes, right? And what could be more significant than saving the. Entire. World?


Eventually, however, the reading minions get restless. Give us variety, because no matter how amazing the chocolate of world-saving happens to be, we can always use some juice-dripping steak or fish and taters, preciousss.


Let’s narrow the focus. Maybe the plot is as simple as becoming the town mayor, through the crucible of betrayal, assassins, and a back-stabbing beauty who happens to be the competition and the romantic interest all in one.

It could delve into complicated family issues (all the drama).

Or why not a story that recounts the efforts of the hero to escape slavery?

Saving the world is well and good, but literally thousands of other choices exist. So I say BRING ‘EM!

Dragons and Elves and Dwarves, Oh My!

Before your eyeballs drop out, don’t get me wrong. Dragons are cool. Mostly. But how about some variations on the stereotype?


As for elves and dwarves…maybe try something new? For once? Pretty please?


Sure, Tolkien doesn’t have a monopoly on bearded battle-masters who are vertically challenged, nor on the fair folk who really should just go into modeling because they’d earn millions.

But why stop there? Why not branch out, either eschewing those races altogether or at least giving them some neat makeovers so it’s not like reading Middle-earth stories all over again?

Maybe have the dwarves be smart and in charge of everything and make the elves wrinkly and unable to walk and ridiculously skilled in creating buildings via group chanting.


And with dragons, give them some freedom to play. Create personalities for them, give them weaknesses (like turning into toads when kissed), change up their motivations.

Have good dragons and cruel dragons and greedy dragons and kind dragons.

In other words, do ALL THE THINGS except for what’s already been done so much it looks like a bedraggled cat that endured a horrific bath time and now hates the world.


Some clichés are fine and/or unavoidable, but for Pete and his Friendly Dragon’s sake, let’s have some things we’ve never seen. Fantasy needs to go where no one has gone before.

That’s what makes it magical.


⇒ Which fantasy clichés annoy you the most?

⇒ What are some of your favorite fantasy stories that avoid clichés?


5 Fantasy Clichés in Desperate Need of Replacement — 19 Comments

    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. I definitely had fun writing it and complaining about fantasy cliches. LOL

      Hahaha, yes. That was a moment of inspiration. 😉

    • Thanks! Aren’t they, though? Seeing how you can tweak them, go against stereotypes, and try new things makes for a grand time. 😀

  1. I love the idea of an entire story taking place in one building!!
    I would seriously love to see how that plays out!
    Awesome post!

  2. Love this post! It’s always fun to play with clichés and stereotypes and twist them in interesting new ways.

    And I agree, The Chosen One cliché really needs to be replaced. It gets old fast… 😛

    • Yes, I love experimenting with clichés.

      It’s kind of ironic that the Chosen One trope gets old, considering they’re always young… 😮

  3. “Or the middle-age spinster whose magical power involves…YARN!” I’d love to read a book like that…I’d love to even write a book like that! And instead of owning a cat she would own a miniature house griffon!

    • That would be quite the book. LOL

      I don’t claim any copyright on the idea, so if you want to take it run, go for it! 🙂

  4. But but but… don’t fantasy lovers choose fantasy novels because of the tropes? Don’t they pick up the fantasy novel when they want YET ANOTHER chosen one pulled from humble beginnings to go on a quest, meet a mentor, and encounter strange creatures on their way to saving the world?

    While that IS generally why I pick up a fantasy novel, I’m not actually against the idea of shaking things up a bit. I hope a bunch of authors take these ideas and come up with new twists. Maybe we’ll create some new norms.

    • That’s the funny thing, Teddi. While tropes get old, what you’re saying is also true (and I think that extends beyond fantasy to pretty much every other genre). So the tricky part becomes maintaining the familiarity that readers love and keeps them coming back for more, while exploring new possibilities.

      And people enjoy books for different reasons. Some like the adventurous stories that are wildly different, and some love the tropes. I guess I happen to fall more in the former camp. 😉

  5. I love when books go against stereotype. I read a book once (nonfantasy) with a spikey-haired girl living a wild life in need of the Lord and a matronly, southern black woman as the wise Christian mentor. And I was so disappointed as reversing those two would have been amazing.

    I’m happy to say my WIP has my own twist on brownies, rather than elves, fairies or dwarves. 😉 Though I do have dragons but they’re more like generic wild animals sometimes used for riding (like horses).

  6. The Chosen One is the cliché that gets on my nerves more than the rest, I do believe. “Also, can he not be a teenager and generally incompetent?” YES. And it’d be even better if, whether as an incompetent teenager or any other alternative, the Chosen One takes this stuff seriously and doesn’t sit on his hands the whole time. (Not naming any names, Harry).

    Glad to say, I think my book does preeeeetty good with this stuff. I mean, there IS a Save the World plot, but it doesn’t come in until the last book. *shh!* I think the story mostly happens in and around one house, but it is a very big house. And I have a Mentress. (Cool word, BTW!)

    PS: Love that last giph!

    • IKR? There are plenty of interesting ways to make one person more significant or at the center of the action. We needn’t put them there because the stars aligned in their favor. SMH. 😛

      That’s great to hear, Gracelyn! I have a thing with picking on fantasy clichés because I’ve been guilty of most of them. 😮 I love books that dare to venture into new territory. Which your story certainly sounds like it does! 🙂 Save the world plots aren’t *all* bad, and I guess I should contact the official dictionary people and let them know that please would they include mentress as a real word. 😛

      Hehe, thanks. I thought it quite fitting. 😉

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