Deciding the fate of overused tropes in fantasy

I love a good fantasy novel. I don’t read it a ton, but when I do, I generally enjoy it. But there are some tropes in fantasy that are overused. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tropes are tropes for a reason: they make a plot interesting.

But I thought it’d be fun to go through some of the overused tropes and decide whether they can stay. I was thinking of making this into a bit of a series? Where I’d go through some popular tropes, analyze them a little, and decide whether they should go or stay. Let me know what your thoughts on that are!

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The orphaned main character

I feel like every YA fantasy novel has an orphaned, or essentially orphaned, main character. And I get it. Main characters in fantasy novels do things that, if they had parents, they wouldn’t be able to do. And a lot of fantasy novels take place during times of war, so missing parents isn’t necessarily unrealistic. But it is unrealistic when it happens in every book.

I generally don’t mind this trope if the main character was born and raised in an orphanage, or was orphaned at birth and raised by another family. I actually find that plot super interesting. It’s also overused, but I enjoy it more than the “eldest sibling has to raise their younger siblings because both their parents were killed in a mining accident or by faeries or whatever” trope.

Verdict: orphans raised in orphanages can stay. Otherwise, please find another way to include parents in the story.

The Chosen One

Okay, so I know, I know, this trope is used because we’re focusing on the main character because they’re special and that’s the point of the book etc. But it’s still used ALL THE TIME. Can we have a character who works to be the chosen one? A main character who’s like “hey, this system is really unjust, I’m going to go to school and work my ass of and become super badass” instead of being told “hey, you were born to be badass”. Please???

Verdict: goodbye, chosen ones. Hello hardworking badasses.

The Damsel in Distress

Ah yes, every fairytale’s favourite trope right next to the chosen one. The damsel in distress, probably being saved by the chosen one tbh. So there are two ways this trope generally goes:

  1. The damsel in distress is a side character who the main character saves. The damsel could be the whole point of the book (like Shrek) or it could just be a plot point.
  2. The badass, strong, female main character we all love needs to be rescued by the somewhat mediocre male main character.

Both are problematic, but the second one more so. In the second scenario, we’re usually told for most of the book how great the female character is. She’s usually the “strong female character” who is super badass, can fight for herself, doesn’t need anyone else (was probably an orphan and the chosen one tbh). And then she gets herself into a situation where she needs help and needs to be saved. And I’d be okay with it if it was framed as “hey, you can ask for help” but it never is, and it’s just damaging to show that women always need to be saved.

On the other hand, I don’t really mind the damsel in distress when she’s being saved by her love interest. Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it problematic? Yes. Do I get soft and mushy when it happens? Also yes.

Verdict: if you’re going to do this trope, at least try to make it a learning opportunity for the main character.

(also shout out to my brother who rewrote the last third of his book to remove this trope when someone pointed it out to him)

The Chosen Weapon

This trope I feel like isn’t actually that overused, but it’s definitely very old (think King Arther and the sword). It’s definitely used a lot. The Golden Compass, the wands in Harry Potter, the swords in Game of Thrones, the ring in Lord of the Rings. And honestly, I don’t really have an issue with it. I like it, and I think it’s interesting. It’s a bit of a different take on the Chosen One.

Verdict: you can stay.

Pointless world-building that is interesting but adds nothing to the story

Looking @ you, George RR Martin. While I love and enjoy rich world-building, it’s often hard enough to keep everything straight without excessive world-building. I don’t need to know every character’s back story. I don’t need to know all the traditional ballads. I don’t need to know who the river was named after, or why the castle is constructed in that way. Please don’t tell me these things unless they’re relevant to the plot. I am dumb and will mix up important information.

Verdict: please only tell me world-building that is pertinent, or I will forget important things.

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So those are some tropes from fantasy novels that I think are overused, and deciding whether they can stay or not. What are your thoughts? Do you have similar thoughts on any of these tropes? Should they stay or go? Are there any tropes I missed? Let me know! And let me know what you think about me turning this into a series!

Thanks for reading! xx

12 thoughts on “Deciding the fate of overused tropes in fantasy

  1. Completely agree. Chosen ones need to go. Personal autonomy and some commitment to becoming what you want to be could go a long way in YA.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t know if you’ve read Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, but I feel like another trope that was premanent in that series was over-writing and describing everything your character does, why, how, and where, even though it’s not really necessary. Although I do disagree about the last point, because I quite like extra back-stories and unrelated world-building related sections in a fantasy – if, of course, it is done well 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have mixed feelings about the “pointless worldbuilding” one. I love depth to a story and its setting, but I also want my fiction to be trim and to the point. So, for me, there’s a very (VERY) fine line between “fascinating extra detail” and “so much unneeded boring stuff please stop”. It mostly all depends on the skill of the writer, and sadly I feel that this trope is one that is used by mediocre authors because they’ve been told it is the sign of a good author.

    I love this series idea but am not going to do it on my blog, so I would be in favor of more. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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