Using Fantasy Cliches the Right Way

Clichés abound in fantasy. The dashing prince rescues the helpless princess. The mentor dies and his student going on to save the world. The villain dresses in a long black cape with a pet snake on a staff.

A cliché, by definition, is anything which is trite or commonplace through overuse. These can be phrases, such as ‘right as rain’ or ‘red as a cherry’. They can also be a character, such as the carefree friend or the grim mentor. And, of course, there are cliché scenes: a handsome prince glimpsing a beautiful princess through a tower window and falling desperately in love. The mentor dying. The villain telling the captured hero all his plans.

How to Use Cliches

Many clichés remain popular because they work. Who doesn’t thrill over the heroic rescue or ache for the main character as his mentor dies saving him? Yet, because of the overuse, once exciting scenes can lose a bit of their luster. Don’t throw out all clichés at once, however. They have their uses.

Twist clichés

It is amusing to take a cliché and twist it just enough that it’s recognizable. Keep the grim mentor, but let him make puns with a straight face to infuriate his apprentice. Perhaps the foolish antics of the court jester covers a formal character who drops hints about his king’s table manners along with his jests. Maybe the new knight tries desperately to be heroic, completely fumbling the bows and formalities of rescuing his betrothed, while the demure maiden provokes her captors with irritating pranks they can’t trace back to anyone.how to use fantasy cliches the right way

This is especially pleasing when done with phrases. Start with a common cliché phrase, then twist it into something completely new. Instead of ‘pale as death’, find something suiting the character, the setting, and the emotion for ‘pale as the marshmallows he inhaled by the dozen’. Instead of ‘all’s fair in love and war’ change it to ‘all’s fair in love and the pursuit of chocolate’.

Make fun of clichés

Or, instead of simply freshening a cliché, you can make fun of it. If something is cliché, and the character recognizes it as cliché, the possibilities are enormous. They may embrace it, or make fun of it, or use is as a starting point for other actions. ‘Well, since I’m obviously the villain and wearing black, I decided I’d better take a trip to the pet store and find an intimidating animal’ *presents hamster* *alternately presents snake, holding it as far from self as possible with thinly disguised disgust, then quickly depositing it back in its box*

Change cliché endings

Opening with a clichéd line or scene and then changing it halfway through can be hilarious. Although not fantasy, one of my favorite moments in Avengers: Age of Ultron is where Iron Man asks Ultron about something. Ultron replies with ‘I’m glad you asked that, because I wanted to take this time to explain my evil plan…’ and then proceeds to attack.

Note the normal course of events in clichés, then turn the character or setting on its head. Maybe it’s the apprentice who dies and the mentor has to go save the land. Maybe it’s the dragon who rescues the prince from the princess.

Overused fantasy clichés

While clichés can be twisted or sometimes used outright, there are several main ones which have lost their effect through extreme overuse.

The villain monologue

These are easy for the writer because we can give our character and reader the information they clearly need. It’s also lazy on our part.

A scene where the villain tells the character his plans could work in the right setting, but it needs to fit with the characters and the themes. Is it something the villain would really do? Does he need recognition? Is he someone who has to prove what he can do or rub it in the main character’s face? Or is he cautious and quiet? There are other ways the main characters can figure out what has happened: vague comments and orders, notes, letters…

The mentor’s death

No matter how heartbreaking the scene, too many mentors have died. Your reader’s eyes will begin to glaze. Yes, they might be sad your mentor is dead, but the death of a more unexpected character, such as a best friend, will have a deeper emotional impact.

Sometimes mentors need to die in a story. But since they are generally wiser and more skilled than the main character, don’t let them die for a minor reason. Only kill them if you must. And, if you do kill them, make the scene as fresh and memorable as you can and make sure there is a valid reason for their death.

Villain security

He’s reached his position by being cautious and smart. His security is going to be tight. He’s going to hire good soldiers. If your character is attacked by several guards, he’ll have to be very good to defeat or escape them. Slipping past the villain either for infiltration or escape is not an easy task.

Clichés are still used nowadays because they worked. They had power. Even the ones fading from overuse can be dissected. Figure out how they pull on emotions, then build up a new idea around that grain.

Keeping clichés in mind can be very useful. But, because of how common they are, work on freshening your clichés, making fun of them, or turning them on their heads.

In the end, you’ll get a story worth its weight in gold. Or chocolate. Or maybe even moon gems.

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New Fantasy Times: Mentors for Hire

Mentors for Hire

Mentorship used to be relegated to those who had nowhere else to go. The former experts who outlived their glory. Older men, frequenting alehouses to pick fights or brooding in the dark corners of their bare cottages until some stripling, in desperate need of training, brightened their life and pulled them out of apathy. Perhaps the reason most retiring soldiers avoided mentorship was the high mortality rate once the apprentice learned almost everything they needed to know. But for you experts out there in need of a job, I have good news. Mentorship is now becoming respectable again. Its ranks have opened for many kinds of trainers and you are more likely to survive nowadays than you ever would have in the past.

There is really only one requirement for mentorship…a thorough knowledge of the topic to be studied. I’ve seen younger men teaching professional soldiers how to shoot bows. I’ve seen girls train retired rangers in the art of writing. I’ve seen old women teaching boys camouflage, stealth, and mending, while mere children give pointers on tracking, weather, or living on the street. Princes teach peasants and farmer’s wives train kings.

Of course, those who are older do tend to know topics better, but this isn’t always the case. A twenty-year-old who’s been practicing survival to keep alive for half his life will have more expertise than a ranger who knows the facts but has only been on the field for a few years. And really, a thorough knowledge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. No one knows everything, and as long as a mentor can admit that, learning from his apprentice even as he teaches him all he knows, things will be fine. Probably. Frankly, some of the most flourishing mentorships I’ve known is when both parties play the part of both mentor and apprentice in different topics.

Another point of note is that an apprentice can have more than one mentor, while a mentor might have several apprentices. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but such interweaving does tend to make the best use of resources.

As for the mentors themselves, rest assured you won’t turn gloomy and grim if you take the job. That’s not to say some frustration and pain won’t be involved. Unless you have an ideal apprentice, it won’t be easy…but there’s nothing to say you can’t face it with your own spirit and character. Jokes, pranks, teasing, reading while your apprentice practices their postures, surprises, dryness…each mentor has their own way of teaching and their own way of keeping up spirits, which is a vital task no matter your temperament.

Of course, while your apprentice will likely pick up on some of your quirks, they will be much quicker on picking up on your flaws. A sharp tongue. Brooding silence. A perchance for too much food or comfort… they will see it all. And they will use it as an excuse for their own behavior. So beware. If you think you’re not flaws, then take an apprentice and you’ll recognize your mistake very quickly.

And I think…oh yes, there is that final important matter of terminating the mentorship without dying. It’s quite easy, really. Leave before your apprentice faces whatever challenge he’s been trying to overcome. Let him fight his own battles and don’t throw yourself in front of a spear or sword or arrow, no matter how emotionally attached you’ve become during mentorship.

What? You don’t like the idea of abandonment or ditching self-sacrifice? I should have known better…though I might point out that some mentors teach solely for money and have no problems leaving him be. Moving on, there are alternatives to death and dishonor.

For one, you (probably) have a life too. Send your apprentice off to finish a task on his or her own while you turn to more personal matters. Sometimes life gives you a way out by throwing circumstances at you which force your apprentice to operate alone. Maybe you are wounded, are captured, are out spying, or are dealing with some other life and death matter of your own. Maybe you have another apprentice you are teaching, or a mentor of your own to save. Or maybe you just happen to be relaxing in some secluded valley during a peaceful lull, and can’t be reached in time for the main fight.

Perhaps you even stand by your apprentice’s side during the whole fight but be warned, there will come a time that he will need to rise up on his own. You may be there to see him do it, or you may have to leave if he is too dependent on you. But, mentally, each apprentice will need to come into his own and claim the prize you’ve been teaching him to acquire.

And really, besides the late nights, hard work, meager payment (like glory…which one can’t eat), emotional trauma, danger, and some likelihood of death (I said death was lessening, not that it was gone), there is no duty so rewarding as a mentorship. Assuming your apprentice doesn’t turn against you in the end, but that is a topic for another day. For now, if you have knowledge and love to teach, then at least consider the mentorship path. You won’t regret it.

Hopefully.

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

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