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Cliches in Fantasy Writing February 9, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I haven’t done a post today yet, so I thought I would bring up something that’s been on my mind ever since I started working on my fantasy novel – the dreaded fantasy cliche.

Just to start things off, here are a few lists of fantasy cliches I found on the Internets:

The Grand List of Fantasy Cliches by Kathy Pulver and J. S. Burke

The Not So Grand List of Overused Fantasy Cliches by Amethyst Angel

The above two are the most commonly referred-to ones, but there’s also Risus Fantasy Cliches and another amusing site called The Fantasy Cliche Meter, which provides a litmus test on whether your characters are too cliched or not.

As a newbie to fantasy writing who hadn’t read too much fantasy before, I was terrified that my story was going to be too cliched.  After all, when creativity is not at its best, writers tend to gravitate towards things that they know, safe options, things that have been done before.  I wanted to go through these fantasy cliche lists and try to make sure that none of these cliches existed in my plot.  But it was just impossible.  Whichever way I looked at it, cliches were unavoidable.

So I’ve stopped caring about it.  I don’t really believe in cliches anymore.  With the fantasy book market saturated, just about everything out there has pretty much been done already.  All fantasy stories to some extent borrow from others.  The most common one is of course the Lord of the Rings, but even that is not totally original.  Just because something has done before, does that make it forbidden?  Does the writer who first came up with the idea have a monopoly over it?

The truth is, when you write it well and add your own creative element to the story, it doesn’t matter which supposed cliche is being used.  Was JK Rowling the first to write about schools for young witches and wizards or a Dark Lord preparing to return for the purpose of world domination?  Was Stephenie Meyer the first to write about a human falling in love with a vampire or a battle between vampires and werewolves?  It just shows if you do it well, no one cares if aspects of the story are cliched.  Readers only tend to notice, and more importantly, complain, if the cliche is used too blatantly or clumsily. 

Some cliches are obviously worse than others (especially those from famous and successful novels), and if you use them, it will make your story seem like a complete rip off.  But apart from those types of deal-breaker cliches, I don’t have too much of a problem with them.  In my opinion, it’s best to put more effort into writing the cliche well rather than worrying about avoiding them altogether.


1. Digital Dame - February 10, 2009

I love the lists of cliches, they’re fun to read through and remember which movie you saw which one in ;) There’s a good one for sci-fi, too, if you’re interested (I think there’s some cross-over between genres):


2. Dave - February 22, 2009

Risus Fantasy Cliches and Fantasy Cliche Meter both link to the same site.

Thanks for this terrific blog! A lot of great material here.

pacejmiller - February 22, 2009

Thanks for the kind words and the link! It’s now been corrected in the post and on the fantasy resources page.

I assume you are interested in blogs to do with fantasy writing – if so and if you don’t know about it already, you should check out Flights of Fantasy which I find to be very good and all about fantasy writing: http://marianperera.blogspot.com/

Good luck!

3. Mangy Dog - May 16, 2009

why did you even bother with a dumb post like this? Good links though.


4. evil villian #2 - May 16, 2009

Reading cliches is hilarious. they’re so funny, especially the ones about women and “the call of nature”

5. dragon - February 3, 2010

you are right about not caring about cliches
it is cliche to follow the cliches, and you’ll feel lame for purposely avoiding cliches
in fact, i believe that most of these cliches were created to avoid previous cliches as well as the cultural norms (think spunky princess)

pacejmiller - February 3, 2010

That sounds about right…(sweats nervously then runs off screaming)

6. Dew - May 25, 2010

Why are Softballs hard?

pacejmiller - May 25, 2010

Why do you spam?

7. watch Justin Bieber Never Say Never online free - December 8, 2010

Hi there,

Thanks for sharing this link – but unfortunately it seems to be down? Does anybody here at pacejmiller.wordpress.com have a mirror or another source?


8. Nora B. Peevy - February 1, 2011

I agree that there is no longer a truly original story plot out there. I think the key to writing in any genre is to put a new twist on an old idea, if you can. Readers want a good storyteller. They’re not looking at things from a critic point of view. If you can tell a story, you can write.


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