In our search for originality, it is often beneficial to find out what NOT to do. Often, the mistakes that others make can point us toward the right way to go.
Recently, I've identified four fantasy cliches to avoid. Avoiding these cliches will not only help your novel be more compelling and original, it'll appeal a lot more to your audience.
1. Dwarves, Elves, and Dragons (etc.)
Many, many fantasy novels have borrowed races from other novels, especially from Tolkien's epic. There are things we find compelling about such creatures, but honestly, they're worn-out and used...a lot. Dragons especially have a special place in the fantasy lover's heart.
But just because they have a special place doesn't mean we should use them. Unless you're writing something that deliberately takes from old legends—such as an Arthurian fantasy like D. Barkley Briggs' "Legends of Karac Tor" series—these fantasy cliches have to go.
Granted, there are original ways to use such creatures, ways to break the cliche on purpose. I'll leave that to your discretion. But unless you know what you're doing, I'd strongly recommend staying away from such fantasy creatures.
And honestly, very few of us know what we're doing. Including myself. ^_^
2. Mind Readers
Quick! Name five books that have mind readers in them!
Pretty easy, wasn't it? Mind readers, however they are renamed, are often used in fantasy. How many of us have wished they could read other peoples' minds? Wouldn't that be cool?
Unfortunately, it's been used time and time again. Again, to avoid further cliches, I'd recommend you'd stay away from mind-readers. Like the other cliches, it's possible to break the mold and put a new twist on things, but until you're experienced, you should probably stay away from it.
3. Going to Another World
Ever since Narnia, this has been a popular one. (Not that there was much BEFORE Narnia...) People (particularly kids) going to other worlds from Earth is something to be avoided at all costs. Worse yet, kids that go to other worlds and find out their great calling. (*headdesk*)
Like all cliches, this can be used in a good way. See The Restorer by Sharon Hinck, for instance. That was probably the best use I've seen since Narnia for this cliche.
4. Chosen Ones
This is often grouped with #3: an ordinary person discovers an ancient prophecy (or some other babble) that means that they're chosen for a great task.
While this has been used well quite a bit, I'd still recommend that you bypass this one. (That's one of the many cliches that The Prophecies fell into, by the way.) It's just been used too often and too much.
And honorary mentions: medieval fantasy (fantasy with swords, spears, and castles), people with special abilities, revelations about relatives (think "I am your father"), and people with unusually-colored eyes, such as red, green, yellow, and purple.
(That last one was a joke, by the way.)
However, I didn't include those because they're too diverse to be lumped in with other cliches. There's too many different ways to do medieval fantasy, for instance: in fact, it's pretty much a sub-genre. Just because something is medieval fantasy doesn't automatically mean the author will fall into medieval fantasy's worst cliches.
Of course, there are many other cliches to avoid, but these are the most universal ones. As to the others, learn to discern them. Don't trust the first ideas that come to mind, as Daniel Schwabauer has said. Too often, those are the easiest ones and are most likely to be borrowed from somewhere else.
What other cliches (fantasy or otherwise) can you think of? What are some examples of these cliches in modern-day fiction?
Until next time.