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I have recently read many comments, tweets and blog articles where clichés in fantasy and fiction in general were discussed, usually very negatively.

They are criticized for being over-used and called lazy writing.

While there are of course numerous examples of lazy writing using clichés, I have to disagree with the with the blunt, general dismissal of them.

I tend to believe that clichés stem from a profound, viceral need in our nature and cultures to explore themes and issues that we are unable to process as simply or as elegantly in our everyday lives.

Indeed, what is today considered “cliché” very often has deep roots in traditional folklore and legends. Good vs evil, the Chosen One, orphaned heroes, prophecies, a wise mentor etc are all elements that occure again and again in age-old myths and legends.

I believe that the reason a lot of people have issues with them is because they mistakenly believe that these elements are a modern creation, because they were made popular by modern YA books such as Harry Potter.

And yet these elements are, in my opinion, vital to good fantasy.

(Hey, if you’re interested in using clichés in your story, download my worksheet at the bottom of this post to instantly change you use it!)

Good vs. Evil

What tale is there to tell other than Good versus Evil? Isn’t that what our whole lives are about, albeit in a very minuscule way? We all strive to be good, to help others. We all shudder when we read or hear of atrocities committed in the world, whether they are close to home or on the other side of the world (of course, on the off-chance you’re a psychopath reading this, this doesn’t apply to you. You can skip ahead). When you dig deep down into human nature, that’s all there is to life. Good or bad. And this is why it’s such a vital part of good fanatsy writing.

If you take that away, what’s left? Some little Hobbit growing plants in his garden, then going for a really, really long walk with a few friends? A kid who goes to a special school to do magic, and meets other kids who can do that too? Not exactly the most riveting tales in my opinion.

The Chosen One

And what about the Chosen One? Why does this take such a huge place in fantasy? I believe it’s because we can all identify to them. Someone normal, just like us, going through everyday life, having their own struggles just like the rest of us gets thrust into the middle of a fight he knew nothing about, and he needs to find the strength within him to vanquish the darkness.

We love the fact that they start out just like us, face the same challenges and doubts that we would, that they need to conquer their own self before they can challenge the outside threat. We identify with their struggles. If they weren’t the Chosen One, if there were other options, would they really try so hard? Wouldn’t they just watch from afar as others fought the battles for them?

The Chosen One scenario is often criticized for being paired with prophecies. But prophecies are just the written word of Fate. If the world is fatalistic, it doesn’t matter if there’s a prophecy or not, does it? The character is fated to be the One, whether they know it or not.

We can take the example here of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins; there was no prophecy for either, yet by their own nature and elements outside of their power, they were fated to take action against evil. Written or unwritten.

And I believe it is also worthwhile to note that it is never really “the Chosen One” alone who defeats evil. There are always others with them, without whom they would not stand a chance at success. The Fellowship of the Ring, including Gandalf, surrounds Frodo; Ron and Hermione help Harry, along with Dumbldore. They are never alone.

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Orphaned heroes

This is also something people seem to have an issue with, yet I think it is more often than not necessary to the plot. In my mind, it serves two purposes:

The first is to give the hero the necessary freedom. A parent’s first and foremost mission in life is to protect their children. A young hero who has parents (and we’re speaking of normal, caring parents here) would never be able to act as the hero is required to. No parent would let their child put themselves in danger over and over, or head out on a quest on their own. A parent would protect the child, keep them from harm, and generally hinder their actions, keeping them from the path they need to take to become the story’s hero.

The second is to provoke a traumatic and transformational event that molds that hero in a way nothing else could. A child who loses their parents is catapulted into a life where they suddenly need to be more responsible than other children their age. They are confronted by death, with its permanence and unalterability, whereas a child usually does not and cannot understand the irrevocable nature of it. This shapes the character, changes them in such a deep and permanent way that nothing else could achieve.

The wise old mentor

This one again seems very obvious to me. As stated above in the Chosen One paragraph, the hero is never truly alone. He is constantly surrounded by friends whithout whom they would not be able to accomplish what they set out to do.

As the hero is usually young and / or inexperienced, they need all the help they can get.

Even fantasy novels need to follow simple rules of logic, and the rule that the older you get the wiser and more knowledgeable you get is almost as basic as it gets.

The hero needs the insights and wizdom of the elder, more experienced characters.

But if so, then why isn’t the wise old man the hero, and do it all on his own?

Well, again, this is only my opinion, but I believe that once more, it is simple logic. The wise old man is, well, old. He is tired and weak, and despite his considerable expertise and abilities, he cannot achieve what a younger, stronger and more robust character can.

They complement each other, each needing the other to work towards the greater goal.

Conclusion

There are of course many other clichés that could be addressed, but I didn’t want to cover all of them here, as that would make this post unbearably long. Perhaps for another post later!

My final thoughts on the subject are that “clichés” are not only OK to use in stories but that they are necessary. If you avoid every single one in your tale, it might seem like you are working overly hard to be different and that there is no other real meaning to it. There is a profound reason that these elements have always been in stories told, modern and ancient.

(Download my worksheet down below to help your figure out how to use clichés to your advantage in your own story!)

These elements work together, complement each other, and when they are wielded with talent, I believe that they are essential to a great story.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Are these elements too cliché for you? Do you want to read stories that avoid these altogether? Or do you enjoy them, as long as they are written with care and used to build a powerful story?

Let me know in the comments below, I look forwards to reading them!

Hey feeling stuck?

As writers, I find that one of the toughest things to do is teach our minds to focus. Our attention is constantly challenged, being pulled from one thing to another.

If that's you, and you're tired of it and want to be able to FOCUS on what's important (i.e, getting that book done!) then sign up for my FREE mini-course on how to declutter your mind!


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Psst!! Want to learn how to declutter your mind to focus on what matters? Sign up for our FREE mini-course!Find Out More!
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