Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Not-So-Grand List of Overused Fantasy Clichés

Like the Fantasy Novelists Exam and Grand list of overused science fiction clichés and The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Cliches here is:

The Not-So-Grand List of Overused Fantasy Clichés
by Teresa Dietzinger (and contributors)
"Inspired by John Van Sickle's Grand list of Overused Science Fiction Clichés, which is a writer's guide to ideas and plot devices in Science Fiction which might have been a good idea at one point but, to quote Van Sickle, "have become hackneyed from overuse by the unimaginative," unquote. I have sought to create a similar list for ideas and plot devices pertaining specifically to the Fantasy genre, (although I have decided I will not rate the cliches or try to categorize them. Suffice to say, this is simply a list of characterizations, ideas, and plot elements which have a tendency to crop up in Fantasy Fiction on a continual basis.)"

Overused Settings and Storylines
  1. THE Fantasy Cliché - Hero starts off as a farm boy/servant/shepherd etc., has his family killed (which turns out not to be his actual family), and, through a process of self-realization and learning, becomes the all-powerful prophesied hero.
  2. A brave hero steals from the rich and gives to the poor.
  3. A brave hero steals from the rich and keeps it for himself.
  4. A brave hero incites a slave revolt just by defeating an opponent or opponents in a feat of gladiatorial combat.
  5. A brave hero incites a revolution by foiling a single well-attended public execution.
  6. The old sage helping the hero develop his skills so he can defeat the bad guys:
    • is killed by the bad guys before the hero's eyes, thus inciting the hero to try even harder to defeat them.
    • turns out to be an an even worse bad guy who is only using the hero as a pawn against his rivals (and who plans to get rid of the hero once he's served his purpose of defeating said rivals.)
  7. A band of heroes travels to various and sundry distant lands searching for the pieces to a key or to a device which will help them defeat the bad guys. After months of continuous trials and tribulations, they finally succeed in finding it and assembling it together, only to have it stolen from them by the bad guys who were smart enough to sit on their arses and wait for the heroes to do all the hard work for them. (Suckers!)
  8. A hero/heroine is called upon to take the place of a recently kidnapped member of royalty to whom they bear a conveniently uncanny resemblance.
    (Corollary: No matter how different the impostor might be in terms of background and personality, he/she will have no trouble impersonating the member of royalty. For some reason, their resemblance will be even MORE uncanny if the person they're impersonating is of the opposite gender. (This is known as The Makoto Effect).
  9. A pantheon of gods gets together and decides to play "chess" (or Risk, or Monopoly or whatever) with human beings as tokens.
  10. It has been prophesied that a certain baby born with a certain birthmark is destined to destroy the villain when it grows up. Said baby is then whisked away to the forest to safety where it is raised to strapping young adulthood by:
    • wolves
    • little folk
    • fairies
    • a curmudgeonly, yet endearing old hermit.
    • the baby is placed in a basket and sent floating down a river where it's found and raised to strapping young adulthood by:
    • a female member of the villain's family
    • a kindly, old, childless peasant couple
  11. The hero's best friend is a member of the alien/magical race currently oppressing humanity, thereby making him and his friend the target of racism and prejudice.
  12. An immortal being falls in love with a mortal and elects to give up his/her immortality so the two of them can live together.
  13. The story takes place in an advanced society where spaceships and high technology reign, but where people inexplicably dress in costume from ancient eras (Roman togas, medieval gowns and armor, 18th century coats and cravats, etc.)
  14. A fortuneteller:
    • tells the hero that something awful will happen, and sometimes, even how to prevent it, but the hero disregards the advice,
    • a decision he later comes to regret.
    • tells the hero that something awful will happen and despite the elaborate steps the hero takes to prevent this awful thing from happening, it happens anyway.
    • will give the hero a prophecy that's deliberately vague and convoluted, knowing full well that it will cause him to follow a certain course of action (which the fortuneteller secretly wants him to pursue.)
  15. A marriage is arranged between a prince and a princess, for political purposes. Both the prince and princess refuse the match but are later sent on a journey/adventure together, during the course of which they fall in love and eventually come to wonder how they could ever have refused the marriage in the first place.
  16. The plot revolves around the fact that the villain is after a certain piece of jewelry that the hero owns. (Usually some kind of pendant that possesses some magical power.)
  17. An individual from the 20th century, (a Connecticut Yankee, an Astronaut, an Annoyingly Cute Kid from the Cosby Show) travels back in time to King Arthur's Court where he/she finds everyone able to speak perfectly intelligible English and where he/she is able to wow the locals by:
    • performing music that is contemporary to the date the movie/TV show was made
    • by showing off high-tech 20th century doodads like safety pins, firearms, skateboards, and snacks.
  18. A hero/heroine visits a museum or an archeological dig where they get bonked on the head and find themselves waking up in the past. While there, the hero/heroine experiences a grand adventure, at the end of which, they get bonked on the head again. When they wake up this time, they find themselves back home in the future, with the impression in their mind that their grand adventure was all a dream. HOWEVER (in a farm-fresh, Rod Serling-esque plot twist), they soon stumble upon something at the museum/archeological dig (a scene from an ancient cave painting featuring their portrait, or a suit of armor with a bullet hole in it), which convinces them that maybe they weren't dreaming after all.
  19. Poor/low social class Hero falls madly in love with princess/high social class girl. Princess/high social class girl's overly protective father finds out and attempts to kill hero but is:
    • swayed by the girl at the last possible moment
    • robbed of killing the hero by sheer chance
    • the girl gets in the way and he accidentally stabs her instead. (Oops!)
  20. Girl is held captive by evil dragon who finds her entertaining, thus saving her from becoming crispy fried.
  21. Hero finally gets a chance to beat arch-rival senseless, only to find that arch-rival has become insane/impoverished/lonely/dejected and generally not worth beating...
  22. Evil Dragon turns good and befriends heroes, just in time for the "savior" of the heroes to come and kill it dead bug.
  23. Talking magical object utterly bamboozles hero, in a world where talking magical objects are completely the norm.
  24. Hero finds magical weapon, and is told never to use it, ever. Hero accidentally uses weapon when hero, trusty sidekick (probably either the tone deaf bard or the honorable thief), or lover is in mortal peril.
  25. Hero sets off on a quest to find something or someone, only to find at the end he had it/them with him the whole time. (D'oh!)
  26. Heroine falls in love with guy A, then out of love with guy A and into love with guy B. Guy B dies, Distraught Heroine marries guy A. Theme of unrequited/thwarted love.
  27. Evil Emperor's beautiful daughter falls in love with the hero.
  28. Evil Emperor's homely daughter feels compassion for his captives and sets them all free.
  29. Hero/Heroine is trying to learn a new move/spell/secret at the beginning of film/episode, but has failed at every attempt. Somehow (be it the power of love, truth or the ol' chestnut- faith in ones abilities) said Hero/Heroine manages to pull it off and defeat the creature/villain who could only be killed by that one move/spell/secret.
  30. Evil doers with multi uber awesome powers always come unstuck when a newbie hero/heroine turns up with one super lame attack all powered by (you guessed it) LOVE! (Known as the Pretty Sammy effect.)

Overused Characterizations
  1. The princess in the story is:
    • a damsel in distress who constantly needs rescuing.
    • a selfish snob who sees the error of her ways after mingling with the hero and the "common people" for a while.
    • a tomboy who prefers trousers to skirts and who constantly has to tell the hero she can take care of herself (even if it's bloody well obvious she can't).
  2. A friar or clergyman is lecherous, has a potty mouth, or is in any other way notoriously worldly.
  3. A bounty hunter/mercenary hired by the villains to dispatch the hero, turns out to be more interested in honor and/or the thrill of the fight than in the money.
  4. A plucky street urchin who befriends the good guys is eventually discovered to be an agent (albeit perhaps, a reluctant one) for the bad guys.
  5. The heroes encounter an all-female race which:
    • are Amazons or warriors, with no evidence of any agricultural activity within the community, means of commerce, construction, or craftspeople.
    • are young, big-hootered and beautiful. And, with the exception perhaps of a council of elders, there isn't a single old, fat, or ugly amazon in the bunch.
    • are led by a queen or ruler who is in the prime of her life, strikingly beautiful, and who invariably falls head over heels in love with the hero.
  6. A lute-toting bard who tags along with the heroes:
    • is useless as a fighter or as much of anything else.
    • promises to "sing great songs" about the heroes after their adventures have ended.
    • is almost completely lacking in any real musical talent whatsoever.
    • in rare cases, gets himself into trouble with a lady or with her family ("You spoony bard!")
  7. Creatures that are half-man/half-animal always look more animal than man. Creatures that are half-woman/half animal, always look more woman than animal and almost always wear little (or no) clothing and have extremely large breasts.
  8. The evil wizard is played by either Jack Palance or Christopher Lee.
  9. The hero has an American accent. The rest of the cast have English accents.
  10. Blonde princesses are good, brunette/dark-haired princesses are evil.
  11. Evil emperors:
    • crave wealth, money and power
    • dress in robes or armor, or a combination of both and tend to cover up every inch of their bodies even if the temperature is 98 degrees outside.
    • sometimes have an attraction to the heroine or to the hero's girlfriend.
  12. Evil empresses:
    • crave wealth, money and power
    • dress in leather, bikinis, or a combination of both, and tend to dress scantily even if the temperature is 20 degrees below zero outside.
    • ALWAYS have an attraction to the hero (and sometimes to the heroine or to the hero's girlfriend.)
  13. The best fighters are always men. The best healers/white magic users are always women. (I've seen many a console RPG guilty of this one.) #14
  14. The sword the hero is carrying has a blade made of pure light energy which goes VOOOM! whenever he swings it.
  15. A villain who is particularly vain or pretty receives a scar or burn on his/her face, courtesy of the hero. Said villain then dons a mask (usually) and spends a good chunk of the rest of the story sulking in a dark place, plotting his/her revenge.
  16. As a child, the hero:
    • trains hard to be a great warrior/mage/etc., though no one believes he/she can do it.
    • is destined to be a great warrior/mage/etc., and refuses to train because he/she finds it a waste of time.
  17. The hero of the story is:
    • incredibly arrogant and cocky, but can never back it up.
    • a coward who does nothing until the very end, when he gets over his fear to do one thing that accomplishes his mission, eventually being declared a hero for that one deed.
    • a great warrior, except when he is drunk, (and he is almost always drunk).
  18. A member of the group who is a child will be ignored and/or mistreated by the others, even if he/she is smarter than all the other group members combined.
  19. The hero is always either a really gorgeous guy (enabling him to capture the hearts of all the girls) or an atrociously ugly guy (enabling him to capture the hearts of all the girls, albeit through pity, his inferiority complex, and the lack of love he's received from everyone.)
  20. Clergymen who are affiliated with any kind of established church appear noble and serene, but inside are actually pompous, hypocritical, or secretly in league with the forces of evil. (Japanese RPGs are ESPECIALLY guilty of this one.)
  21. Clergymen who are NOT affiliated with any kind of established church and who are instead wandering monks and friars appear to be rude, hard-drinking, and worldly, but inside secretly have a heart of gold and are disposed to give help to the hero whenever he needs it (as well as be on hand to marry the hero to his sweetheart at the end of the movie/story.) #22
  22. The larger and more titanic the size of the heroine's breasts, the less likely they are to impede her ability to fight, run, flip backwards several times, etc.
  23. The cool, anti-hero type vampire hunter with superhuman strength turns out to be (in another brilliantly original, Serling-esque plot twist) a vampire (or half-vampire) themselves.
  24. A hero is boastful, claiming nobody is better than him. As a result more people who are able to defeat him show up in the story/series. (That's what you get for tempting the fates).
  25. If the character in the original book is female, a warrior, detests men with a passion, and a cold-hearted villainess, in the movie she'll be a bratty little plot device who falls in love with every male she comes in contact with.
  26. A Barbarian appears in the story.
    • If it's female, it will dress in a skimpy, bust-enhancing, leather costume, carry around a big sword, and will frequently insist that the only man she'll marry is one who can defeat her in a fair contest. Despite how tough she might be, she'll scream like a schoolgirl every time she encounters a rat in a dungeon.
    • If it's a male, it will dress in a leather thong and a headband (and not much else), carry around a big sword, and will, in most cases, sport a thick Austrian accent. Will have a tendency, when surprised or when rushing into battle, to shout epithets involving the names of extremely masculine-sounding gods. ("By CROM, I will defeat you!!!!")
  27. The comic relief is:
    • A cowardly yet amiable thief/pickpocket.
    • A cute (sometimes wise-cracking) animal who seems pretty annoying and useless except during those rare times when a situation calls for filching dungeon keys or for heroically sacrificing oneself in an attempt to distract the villain.
    • A tone-deaf bard. (see aforementioned comments concerning bards above).
    • A pair of lovable droids with clashing, Odd Couple-esque personalities.
    • Any animated character whose VA is Robin Williams, Dom DeLuise or Gilbert Gottfried.
    • An inept, out-of-shape, out-of-his-league, self-declared "hero" who tags along with the real heroes in the hopes of experiencing a grand adventure, (and who usually winds up instead being a pain in the ass, being eventually compromised by the villain, or just plain mucking up everyone's plans.) In rare cases, his/her ineptitude will result in his/her performing an action which, through sheer luck, will result in causing a setback for the villain (oftentimes by causing his accidental destruction).
    • Usually completely unnecessary.
  28. A dragon appears in the story. Said dragon is possessed of a sentient mind and the ability to converse in human languages fluently, (a seemingly meaningless talent for it to have, considering all the dragon wants to do with his life is to find an enormous hoard of treasure, plop his big, scaly ass down on top of it and sleep for all eternity, waking only to shoo away/eat the occasional armored knight, hobbit, or callow teen-aged hero which might come round to try and claim it).
  29. Fairies (the 6 inch tall kind) are usually:
    • scantily dressed and female
    • cute beyond all reason,
    • extremely hot-tempered
    • jealously attracted to the Hero. (The fact that he's 300 times bigger than she is and that the two of them have no hope of engaging in normal intimate relations does not appear to shake her resolve to love him one bit.)
  30. Villains dress in dark or sinister colors such as black and blood red.
  31. Wizards wear tall pointed hats and robes embroidered with moons and stars.
  32. Any character you see within the story that has a western name either has it spelt differently or is a secondary character who bears no importance whatsoever. All other proper nouns (names and places) will be completely foreign and hard to pronounce.
  33. Evil people always sound more evil and deadly with a British accent (unless it's Dick Van Dyke)
  34. Orphans become heroes.
  35. Stepmothers are evil.
  36. Villainous or dark characters are the way they are because of a tragic occurrence in their pasts.
  37. The heroine/hero is always so beautiful that everyone falls in love with him/her.

Story Events and Plot Devices
  1. A wedding takes place where the phrase "And if there's anyone present who can see why these two shouldn't be joined in marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace," is followed by a scene in which nobody holds their peace. (Corollary: It is a Universal Rule of Fantasy that the hero and his buddies, when attempting to stop a wedding between the hero's love interest and the villain, MUST choose the particular moment after that phrase is uttered, to launch their attack, even if waiting to do so puts them at a strategic disadvantage.)
  2. The all-powerful wizard/seemingly unbeatable enemy turns out to be a mischievous child or a dinky old man behind a curtain.
  3. The villain's fortress starts to crumble around our heroes the moment he is defeated, leaving our heroes just barely enough time to escape before it collapses.
  4. The overly friendly (or, in some cases, vaguely menacing) bishop or church official turns out to actually be at the head of the evil cult.
  5. The hero runs into a competent swordswoman:
    • whose great skill with the sword is matched only by the great size of her hooters
      AND WHO
    • engages him in battle (at first)
    • sleeps with him (later on)
    • sacrifices her life for him (at the end)
  6. Secondary characters who are killed in the first season of the TV series or movie are brought back to life in the sequel/next season for the flimsiest of reasons, because they were popular OR because the writers/producers of the show are too gutless to risk offending soccer moms by killing off sympathetic characters (and showing kids that, yes, sometimes evil actually wins.)
  7. The hero and his girlfriend who, although looked like they were headed down the aisle at the end of the first movie or season of the TV series are inexplicably separated or estranged at the beginning of the sequel/next season.
  8. One of the good guys falls in love with and becomes engaged to a character with no background and no previous presence in the storyline. Said character will invariably:
    • (if it's a female) get kidnapped by the bad guys, forcing the good guys to rally around the groom and help him go save her.
    • turn out to be a spy or operative for the Bad Guys.
    • turn out to be a criminal or con-artist who wants to scam the heroes out of an important item or out of their pocket change.
      In any event, the mysterious fiance turns out to be a one-shot character who, at the end of the book/episode:
    • dies
    • gets thrown in prison
    • is discovered to be already married to somebody else.
    • decides they want to get to hitched to an old flame instead of to the good guy/gal she/he's engaged to.
    • just plain up and leaves for no damn good reason.
  9. A virgin, slated for sacrifice, is rendered unsuitable for sacrificial purposes thanks to a plot contrivance which conveniently places her and the hero alone in the same area just long enough for them to have an intimate encounter.
  10. The villain turns out to be the hero's long-lost father/ brother/ uncle's cousin's sister's best friend's former roommate, etc.
  11. The hero inexplicably chooses to ride off into the sunset alone or with his buddies rather than stay behind with the hot princess he just rescued and help her rule her kingdom.
  12. The hero(es) extricate themselves from a hopelessly tricky situation by simply cutting a rope holding a chandelier. (Making sure it's the right rope first, of course, ala Robin Hood: Men in Tights.)
  13. All it takes to defeat the villain is a good dousing with a bucket of cold water. (The Sci-Fi equivalent to this Fantasy plot device would be the all-powerful superweapon that's about to destroy the world being disabled by simply pulling a plug from a wall outlet.)
  14. The villain charges towards the hero, intending to strike him down while his back in turned, but is prevented from doing do by a weapon shot/thrown by the hero's friend or ally, who just happened to conveniently arrive at that very moment.
  15. A princess rescues the hero from jail by:
    • drugging the guard(s) drinks.
    • pretending to trip and exposing her shapely legs, thereby distracting the guard(s) long enough for the hero to reach out from between the bars of his cell and klonk him/them unconscious.
  16. An executioner or a priest performing a human sacrifice is stopped from doing his job at the last second by a hero who manages to pull off a one-in-a-million, defies-all-known-laws-of-reason-and-physics shot with a ranged weapon.
  17. A catapult successfully shoots a hero over the castle battlements where he lands safely on the other side in a pile of straw, instead of ending up as a stain on the wall or with his insides spilled on the cobblestones of the courtyard pavement.
  18. The hero from the future goes back in time and uses the old "Hey, what's that over there?" trick to elude the villains, and it works because said villains come from an era in history when men were less-media savvy and more prone to believe in the sincerity of everything told to them by other people.
  19. The hero from the future goes back in time and uses the old "Hey, what's that over there?" trick to elude the villains, and it DOESN'T work because, let's face it, that old trick has been around since the days the first cavemen walked the earth. (Only then it was known as "Lookout ! There's a velociraptor headed straight for us!" Needless to say, it didn't work very well THEN, either...)
  20. An obnoxiously cute little creature that's following the heroes around sacrifices it's life for them, and at the end of the story, gets resurrected somehow. (This is usually much to the chagrin of the viewers/readers, most of whom had hated that annoying little turd from the moment it first appeared in the story and had cheered loudly when they thought it had been dispatched.)
  21. Modern (sometimes painfully modern) jokes/clichés/conventions of society, etc. are used for comedic effect.
  22. Archaic weapons are used improperly. (Or misused because it looks cool.) i.e.: A hero blocks his enemy's downstroke while crouched on the ground with his back to him, a ninja catches an arrow or stops a swinging sword with his bare hands, etc.
  23. Weapons are used which could never really work in reality the way they do in the story/series. (Not without slicing the user's fingers off. CHAKRAM *Cough!*)
  24. The most powerful member of the group (usually a wizard) refuses to use his powers unless absolutely necessary, even when doing so would have saved the group a month's journey or prevented the death of one or more of its members.
  25. The most powerful member of the group leaves at the most crucial moment and comes back to find that the group completely screwed everything up because he/she was gone.
  26. When two members of sparring kingdoms travel together, they:
    • (if they're of the same sex) become best of friends and decide to work together to unite their kingdoms.
    • (if they're of the opposite sex) become lovers and decide to marry and have children to unite their kingdoms.
  27. When a hero has a dark past/secret, it is known by:
    • the hero's parent(s)/sibling(s)/guardian(s) who took care of him since he was a child. This person reveals the secret to the hero just before he dies, leaving the hero with no one to answer the many questions this revelation brought up.
    • the villain, who is connected to the past/secret in some way.
  28. The heroes seek the help of a legendary warrior. Upon finding him, they discover him to be a washed-up, aged, curmudgeon-y old drunk who can barely stand up much less save the day.
  29. When dealing with the heroes, the villain will always forgo the simple, straightforward option of crushing them utterly and instead, inexplicably choose to deploy his weakest weapons/minions against them first, thus allowing the heroes ample opportunity to build up their strength to the point where they become a bona fide threat.
  30. (Corollary from Rule #2 above) If the villain looks monstrous, ferocious or intimidating, it's true form will turn out to be weak, almost comical. If the villain is normal, puny-looking, or handsome, it's true form will turn out to be towering and monstrous.
  31. Comrades-in-arms who fall in battle are mourned by the heroes for a grand total of about three seconds and then callously forgotten about for the rest of the story.
  32. Characters are able to perform or witness acts of tremendous violence, (mutilations, explosions, decapitations, massacres, etc.,) without ever suffering any negative mental repercussions in the form of nightmares, neuroses, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anything else of that nature.
  33. The hero shoots an arrow, the tip of which the camera follows right until it enters the forehead of its victim. (a'la Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, LOTR, etc.)
  34. All it takes to make a miraculous recovery from a mortal injury is having an extreme will to live. (Or by having a soulmate/wise old friend/mysterious person with magical healing powers who will play a large role in the up-coming plotline to destroy the villain help you.)
  35. The villain commits a cruel act that's over-the-top in it's senselessness (i.e. killing a messenger who brings bad news, crushing a canary or killing a cherished pet) for no other reason than to show just how evil he truly is.
  36. The Evil Emperor imprisons the hero's girlfriend, dresses her like a skank, offers her all the power and possessions her heart desires, and then is genuinely mystified when she fails to fall for him.
  37. The Evil Empress imprisons the hero, dresses like a skank, offers him her beautiful, voluptuous body to do with as he pleases, and then is genuinely mystified when he fails to fall for her. (As are all the men reading/watching the story...)
  38. Even though all the odds are stacked against him, the (average-minded) hero somehow manages to outwit the (brilliant) villain, simply because the hero is a) on the side of good or b) has someone else doing all the thinking for him or c) when about to die, uses the power of love and life to lift himself up one final time, which is just enough to kill the villain.
  39. Scantily-clad and hatless heroes and heroines are able to walk for miles outdoors under a blazing sun without even the slightest hint of a sunburn or skin damage afterwards.
  40. A story or episode features characters from competing and wildly differing religious belief systems (i.e. biblical figures, figures from Greek and Roman myths) interacting with each other seamlessly and apparently without any theological conflicts.
  41. The story features a character employing some kind of a love potion. This usually turns out to be a Really Bad Idea because:
    • Love potions being used by people with good intentions (who wish to have certain members of the heroes' party fall in love with certain other members, ) invariably wind up being drunk by people they were not intended for,
    • Love potions being used by the villain/villainess (to win over one of the hero characters) are annoyingly susceptible to being broken by that pesky ol' Power of True Love Thing.
  42. The heroes fight their way to the villain's inner sanctum to find the villain, dressed in somber colors, playing creepy music on a pipe organ.
  43. A character who is killed off is brought back in the lamest way possible by having the same actor who portrayed them play the deceased character's twin, secret love child, alternate persona from another universe, etc.
  44. Have I mentioned either the "Villain employs the hero's evil twin or lookalike impostor against the hero" or the "Hero and Villain switch bodies and the hero's companions don't find out until it's almost too late" clichés yet?
  45. The last day of the year when the magical keyhole to the magical secret passage is able to appear in the side of the mountain, is, by sheer coincidence, the very same day the heroes arrive with the key.
  46. Male characters who are kept in dungeons for several days exhibit no signs of beard growth, even though they may have been chained to a wall and thus, unable to shave themselves. (Same goes for scantily-clad female characters and leg and armpit hair growth.)
  47. Characters absolutely cannot change their clothes or get them dirty unless, of course, it is story related. Addendum: No matter how many times the hero's clothes are
    burned, bloodied, stained, torn, slashed, or otherwise mutilated, by the end of the episode/chapter, the clothes will be as good as new.
  48. Right before the villain is about to be killed by the hero, he pleads for his life. Naturally, the hero takes pity on the villain and spares him, provided he vows to give up his evil ways. (Which he almost never DOES)
  49. The hero will arrive at the last possible second to defeat the dark lord and save everybody.
  50. Grand viziers are ALWAYS evil. Same goes for high priests. Something in the job description probably.
  51. If the storyline features a joust or martial arts tournament, the heroes will wind up entering it (and winning it, in spite of it having been fixed by the villains.)
  52. When the hero wins a contest set up by the villain, he will be denied his prize and/or thrown into jail. (Example: Japanese Final Fantasy 2)
  53. Gunpowder hasn't been invented. (Have you ever noticed how many fantasy stories are set in worlds where nobody has developed gunpowder?)
  54. Magic and technology advance unequally. Magical worlds usually possess ancient and medieval technology. Likewise, in technological worlds, magic tends to play a secondary role at best.
  55. The Dark Lord inspires such terror that no one dares to speak of him by name (at least aloud.)
  56. Any person a main character marries (if they're not a main character themselves) is toast. You can count the time they have left to live in seconds. (Corollary: If two people have sex in a non-hentai anime, one or both of them will be dead by the final frame.)
  57. The forces of good reside in beautiful lands, while lands belonging to the forces of evil are unattractive. (The science-fictional equivalent of this cliché is that benevolent civilizations dwell on beautiful planets, while the planets of malevolent cultures are unattractive.)
  58. The existence of magicians who can easily raze or bypass castle walls doesn't render traditional castles obsolete.
  59. Societies are traditional monarchies and traditional aristocracies.
  60. Royal families include evil relatives who scheme to steal or who have stolen the throne from the rightful rulers, their heirs, or both.
  61. The hero/heroine will find the code to something or other and spend a long time trying to break it, only to find out it was a simple password that didn't deserve the time it took to break, but bears significant importance to the plot.
  62. The story is actually an allegory of some real period which occurred in history (ie: Nazi Germany, Renaissance-Era Venice, Communist Russia, etc.) with characters who are thinly disguised versions of real historical figures.
  63. The villain of a "barbarian fantasy"/sword-and-sorcery story/movie maintains a harem of scantily-clad slave girls.
  64. A villain raping a female hero = a tragic, criminal act which inspires vengeance. A hero raping a female villain = the female villain falls head over heels in love with the hero and spends the rest of the story trying to win him over.
  65. Our world is connected to other dimensions through portals and linking rooms. (Corollary: In fantasy worlds, teleportation is usually based on magical not scientific principles and is used [mostly] as a cheap device to quickly get characters to the next plot point.)
  66. Heroes from our world visit other dimensions and thwart the schemes of resident Evil Overlords. (Corollary to above: Heroes from our world who find themselves in other dimensions usually have at least one member of their party who's seen or read a lot of fantasy stories and who believes themselves savvy as to how their new world actually works.)
  67. Heroes and villains from other dimensions visit our world and decide to turn it into a battlefield for their final conflict (which usually results in the near destruction of our world. Fortunately, the otherworldly visitors usually have the ability to undo the damage they've caused by turning back time or by casting a clean-up spell.)
  68. People who travel into dimensions which are vastly different from their own suffer very little in the way of culture shock, even if the place they came from was a small medieval dirt-hut village and the world they traveled to is an advanced, futuristic, neon-sign and machine-filled cityscape.
  69. In contrast to villains, who often dress in dark or sinister colors, heroes frequently dress in bright but sensible colors.
  70. Monarchies are hereditary. With the possible exception of religious hierarchies, elective monarchies do not exist.
  71. Popular monarchies do not exist. The titles of monarchs are linked to their states instead of their peoples. Likewise, monarchs are regarded as governing well-defined states rather than peoples.
  72. Survivors of a postmodern apocalypse (or people from a futuristic society who crash-land on a primitive world) will revert to a primitive way of life and start speaking like cavemen. (Alternatively, they'll speak normally but selectively mangle the pronunciation of common terms and place names for no good reason other than to prove how "changed" they are.) Items and inventions from the ancient (modern) past will often be treated like sacred relics. (Nuclear missiles will be held in especially high regard and worshipped as sacred totems. At least until they blow up.)
  73. On a post-holocaust Earth, the inhabitants adopt magic instead of science and technology. (Corollary: Commonly on post-holocaust Earths, magic is rationalized as being based on psionics.)
  74. Magic is actually a form of science that has never been systematized in our world.
  75. Fantasy cultures are frequently derived from northern Europe.
  76. Fantasy cultures in Japanese RPG's are also frequently derived from northern Europe (but will have at least one village filled with Asian architecture where everyone looks and dresses Japanese. This village is where all the ninjas, martial arts training monks, and cool ronin samurai warriors live.)
  77. Magic is passed through bloodlines. (This can create castes within magic-user communities where "purebloods" think themselves better than "half-breeds" or "mixed-bloods".)
  78. If a hero has an identical twin or clone, it will invariably turn out to be evil.
  79. If a villain has an identical twin or clone, it will usually also turn out to be evil. (This is especially true if the villain is killed off at the end of one season, and the producers of the show don't want to hire a brand new actor to fill up the "villain" slot in the cast for the next season.)
  80. In the rare event that a character's identical twin or clone isn't evil, they'll usually turn out to be a polar opposite of that character in terms of personality. (This is often done for comedic effect, with the result sometimes being that the character's friends and cohorts come to like the twin even more than they like the character, and are sad to see the twin go...)
  81. It is not unusual for all members of a hero's family to look exactly like the hero. (Even female members will do so it's not unusual for the hero's grandmother to look just like the hero himself wearing a bad granny wig.) Identical cousins are really common, as are identical ancestors or descendants, who look like the hero even down to the way they style their hair!
  82. During the final, climactic fight of the first book/season of a series, a hero will inadvertently discover a power they have that is very scary and that no one else has.
  83. The lands of the hero are suffering a horrible drought that ends the moment the villain is killed.
  84. Somehow or another, no matter how many dangerous fights the heroes get themselves into, they are never hurt or scarred. If they are hurt and scarred they will quickly heal it themselves or it (amazingly) will disappear in the next chapter/episode.
  85. Somehow or another the villain ALWAYS comes back, even if the heroes witness him being killed with their own eyes.
  86. A villain who starts working along with the hero/heroine will always earn their trust, even after all the times the villain almost killed them.
  87. There seems to always be a mysterious tavern...

Van Helsing Rules
Here's a special subset of clichés I like to call the Van Helsing Rules, named after the infamous vampire movie which employed nearly every hackneyed monster movie cliché in the book and which shattered nearly every law of physics and reason...
  • Van Helsing Rule #1: All anti-hero types must dress in black, have mysterious pasts, a gruff demeanor, and the ability to crack witty remarks during the heat of battle. No matter how competent they are, or how many people they manage to save, they'll always find themselves hated by the public and mistrusted by their superiors.
  • Van Helsing Rule #2: If the cool anti-hero gets paired with a sidekick, it'll most likely be a kooky comic-relief gadgeteer who, inexplicably, winds up getting laid more often than he does. Corollary : It is NEVER right when the kooky comic relief gadgeteer winds up getting laid more often than the cool anti-hero. Especially if the cool anti-hero happens to be played by Hugh Jackman.
  • Van Helsing Rule #3: Lower-ranking clergy NEVER take the whole "obeying the ten commandments" and "celibacy" thing very seriously. (In spite of this, they are almost always more trustworthy and compassionate than the Vatican higher-ups...)
  • Van Helsing Rule #4: Cool anti-heroes love their hats and will do anything to keep from losing them.
  • Van Helsing Rule #5: The cooler-looking and "seemingly-more-likely-to-go-out-of-control-and-kill-the-person-wielding-it-than-the-person-it's-aimed-at" a weapon is, the better it works.
  • Van Helsing Rule #6: All crossbows basically behave like machine guns with arrows.
  • Van Helsing Rule #7: High heels and a tight corset are considered acceptable vampire-hunting garb.
  • Van Helsing Rule #8: Powerful supervillains like to keep their friends close, their enemies closer and the one object which is capable of saving the hero and contributing to their own demise in a lightly guarded room located within their own fortress.
  • Van Helsing Rule #9: All unknown viscous fluids are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.
  • Van Helsing Rule #10: In Eastern Europe, the full moon occurs approximately once every four days.
  • Van Helsing Rule #11: You need never keep track of where you're going in a desperate pitched battle, because ALL you need to do is swing on a rope and/or crash through a window and you'll automatically find yourself at the one place you needed to go to next.
  • Van Helsing Rule #12: The stroke of midnight can, if the plot calls for it, go on for twenty minutes or more.
  • Van Helsing Rule #13: Female characters who fall in love with the cool anti-hero are invariably doomed. (The fact that they were able to kick ass and survive high falls, beatings and monster attacks for the first 98% of the movie is irrelevant. All it will take to dispatch them at the end is a simple stab wound.)
  • Van Helsing Rule #14: Cool, creepy art direction and millions of dollars of special effects cannot make up for a script conceived and written by a severely impaired tube worm...


Anonymous said...

I found this list both entertaining and informative but I wonder what's left after this list? I don't think you're suggesting that people should not write epic fantasy anymore - are you?

Joyce Fetteroll said...

No, I posted her list just for laughs :-) Though it might be thought of as a list of ideas writers will need to put in extra work to find fresh things to say about them!

Anonymous said...

To me, this list is telling us to stray from using ANY similar element of any story ever written in history. That we should come up with completely different human emotions, characteristics, reactions and situations that have ever existed to our knowledge. LOL. I'm on it!

Joyce Fetteroll said...

Wow, like be original? What a concept! :-)

Yes, I think lists like this can help writers think about what elements make a fantasy a fantasy (as opposed to a cozy English mystery for instance) and what elements are used just because they're familiar (and thus have become cliche).

Rae Jean said...

Haha, these are incredible.

Anonymous said...

Ha. That is funny. And, a lot of that is true. Now, if writers see this, they could be trying to do things completely different then what all this says.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I had an idea pop into my head for a a fantasy story and wanted to run it by a list like this to see if I commited any unforgivable sins. It appears I got away pretty clean.

Now comes the hard part. Writing tha damn thing.

Joyce Fetteroll said...

Good luck and have fun! :-)

Anonymous said...

Some of these are laugh-out-loud true. Thanks for the fun!

What about the parental ineptitude cliche, though? You know, the one that says that any under-aged fantasy hero/heroine, if they are not an orphan or don't become one in the first scenes of the story/movie/tv series, must have parents who are less aware, intellingent, able to solve problems, powerful, emotionally adept/mature, or protective of their loved ones than said hero/heroine? Disney is especially prone to this one, but YA and Juvenile fantasy fic is rife with incapable, mysteriously unprotective parents.

Its_Only_Me said...

That's so true! My friends and I have decided that Disney is all about killing off parents and/or single parent households as plot devices.

This list is so great. It made me want to roll a few of them together and see what I create...

You know what else is good for cliches?

Joyce Fetteroll said...

Ah, TV Tropes. I've lost many hours of my life there!

I can see the reason for keeping the parents from interfering in the kids' adventure, but what other ways are there? That sounds like inspiration for a writing prompt! :-)

Tea said...

Just remember kids, cliches are not necessarily bad to use! It all depends on how well you can balance it with other, original or less used items. That said, what a great list. Looks like my story comes away clean. I did absolutely love Van Helsing though, for all its (too many to count) faults.

Anonymous said...

What about this:
Emperors, kings, and other rulers, no matter how kindly/cruel they are, can never suppress an invasion/rebellion even if their life depended on it (and it usually does).

Anonymous said...

I have just finished writing a fantasy novel, and had to make a comparison against your list. Well, i laughed a lot, and was thankful that I am guilty of only three correlations, directly. All in all I sighed in relief, as I realised that you are right on the money, and I thank you for a new awareness now gained in the genre of fantasy. Vicky

Joyce Fetteroll said...

With cliches feeling so unconsciously comfortable and familiar, it can be so hard to avoid them. Very cool!

Anonymous said...

After I read this I went through my Novel and found 19 cliches! My book is ruined!

Joyce Fetteroll said...

Ah, depends what you do with those cliches! :-) I've you got fresh takes on them, go for it! If there's nothing new and surprising, then there's loads you learned in the process :-)

Johnny Boy said...

I've been looking into writing some fantasy books again and was very relieved to see my ideas are far from cliche; I even took the test mentioned on the prior page for a protagonist who turned out to be 10% cliche (not bad :3). To any other writers that view this, just remember that some cliche is usually fine, since it helps readers recognize a general plot line. As long as it isn't too cliche, smacking several of these items with a hammer.

Good work.

Night Puma said...

Don't forget a sword that was owned by either the greatest hero the land has ever known or the god of war. The sword inevitably houses the spirit of said previous owner, and so it talks to him.

Mark said...

As they say, "Avoid cliches like the plague." Love the lists!