Favorite Fantasy Tropes

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Last year we talked a bit about tropes and why I think they are necessary. This year, I was asked to delve into which tropes are my favorites. Ready? Let’s go on an adventure!

Good vs. Evil

I love an epic struggle between light and dark, good and evil. I like it to be obvious which is which, and I don’t want the evil to be apologized for or defended. Like it says in this quote from one of my favorite books:

“You know,” she began, “Hank and Abe’s folks haven’t taught them right from wrong. You can’t quite hold them accountable for all they get into…” her excuse was feeble though her intention was generous.

Jeff’s reaction was immediate. “Aw, Mom. You don’t need to be taught it’s wrong to wring the necks of your neighbor’s chickens and clunk a few dozen of their eggs with a borrowed pipe wrench.” 

~He Whistles for the Cricket, Gwen Walker

Evil and darkness are too often downplayed and excused in the real world as it is, I definitely don’t want it excused in my fiction. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be “gray” areas, and it definitely doesn’t mean evil characters cannot be redeemed, I also love me a good redemption story. It’s one of the reasons I love Boromir and Edmund Pevensie so much. Their stories are compelling because I can more easily see myself and my own fallen-humanness in their characters. But redemption and excusing are two very different things.

Quests

Give me a good epic quest any day. A journey to discover a new homeland. A search for an ancient relic. A race to destroy the ring of power. I will take all the quests all the time! I love following along with my characters and rooting for them through their struggles, aching with them in their failures, and cheering them on through every trial. There is very little quite so character-building as throwing someone into a quest he or she is woefully unprepared for, and I love watching my favorite characters grow in the discomfort of those situations.

Chosen Ones/Prophecies

Okay okay, hate me if you like, but I really do like the “chosen one” trope. I’d love to see it turned on its head a little bit more here and there… it doesn’t ALWAYS have to be a 16-year old farmboy, you know. But I enjoy the whole struggle against/with destiny and the clever twists and turns authors are forced to make in their stories to truly OWN this trope and make it unique. I also love the whole “prophecy” thing… especially if it’s kind of vague and doesn’t just spoil the whole plot of the story right up front or anything and leaves room for a few twists and turns along the way.

The Secret Heir

Much like the chosen one trope, I just love the whole idea of someone suddenly finding out they are the heir to the throne. I also love a subverted version of this where the character knows they are the heir and has the proper training, but are in hiding/their position is kept a secret from the reader and/or other characters until later in the story when it is revealed.

Portal Fantasy

I love it when a story starts in our world and then heads off into a secret, magical realm and modern, ordinary, everyday people like me get to cross that barrier and have adventures. It isn’t done nearly often enough.

Dragons/Magic

I don’t know if these are really “tropes” or just elements that are sure to catch my eye and make me pick up a book if I see them on a cover/title/mentioned in the blurb… but if a fantasy story contains dragons of any kind (I prefer sentient dragons who can talk… but I’m not opposed to the ones who are beasts and wreak havoc, or are trained as pets, either)! And magic. Fantasy without magic has a much harder time appealing to me. If I want something without magic, I’ll pick a different genre.

I’m sure there are other tropes I love that I’m leaving off, but these are the main ones that sprang to mind when I considered the question.

Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite fantasy tropes? Do you particularly love or hate any of the ones I listed? Did I leave off any obvious ones and you’d like to know how I feel about them? Let me know in the comments!

~ jenelle

15 Comments

sjeckert

I love a good trope discussion! Personally, I have a weakness for light/dark tropes… kind of similar to good/evil, but there’s something about light and dark imagery that really speaks to me.

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jenelle

I do enjoy the light/dark imagery as well. One of my favorite moments in Star Wars is during the lightsaber duel between Luke/Vader in Return of the Jedi, when Luke is standing there with half his face in shadow… such a cool moment of imagery-reflecting his inner struggle. And the moment he lets his anger get the better of him and turns his face to the shadowed side….

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Chris Morcom

I have a lot of tropes I like, but instead I’ll share one I dislike.

“The Idiot Ball.”

The Idiot Ball is when an individual acts out of character, out of genre, without anything resembling common sense…because them doing so is necessary for the plot to progress. There’s no good reason for what they did, there’s no “it’s an understandable mistake” or “The character didn’t know better” or anything like that…something stupid had to happen for the plot to occur, and that character got tossed the Idiot Ball to make it happen.

It’s close relative, which I also dislike, is the Villain Ball…which is basically when you’ve made your villain too powerful and so he has to do something out of character and incredibly stupid to enable the hero to defeat him.

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Boo Smelser

I love the noble Rogue. It’s not quite gray- it’s either a character who needs to be redeemed or has to oppose a tyrant Robin Hood style.

Love at first sight isn’t my favorite, but if it’s done right, I don’t mind.

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jenelle

The noble rogue! *all the heart eyes*

Agree. Love at first sight isn’t my favorite either, but good enough writing/characters, and I can overlook it, as well. But I prefer the “friends to lovers” or “enemies to lovers” tropes because anything that gives the potential “ship” an actual relationship to build from is better.

Anna:
Oh, well, it was all my fault. I got engaged, but then she freaked out because I’d only just met him, you know, that day, and she said she wouldn’t bless the marriage and…

Kristoff:
[interrupts] Wait. You got engaged to someone you just met that day?

Anna:
Yeah. Anyway I got mad and so she got mad and then she tried to walk away and I grabbed her glove…

Kristoff:
[interrupts] HANG ON! You mean to tell me you got engaged to someone you just met that day?!

Anna:
Yes, pay attention. But the thing is she wore the gloves all the time, so I just thought, maybe she has a thing about dirt.

Kristoff:
Didn’t your parents ever warn you about strangers?

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Sarah Pennington

The only problem with the Chosen One trope is that it often results in protagonist-centered morality (where the hero can do no wrong because they’re the Chosen One) or unrealistic character dynamics (where everyone is over-the-top for or against the hero, even if they have every reason to be neutral). Plus, people frequently use prophecies as a crutch for poor storytelling. That said, when it’s done well, it’s fun.

Portal fantasy is fun, though. So are dragons. And I’m with Boo; I love the rogue with a heart of gold and the related trope of the princess-and-thief romance.

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Reynwood

I have to say, I’m pretty partial to the first three you mentioned as well! If the story involves all three I’m pretty much sold.

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Christine Smith

Can I just give a big YES to all of this??? I honestly hardly ever mind tropes, especially of the fantasy variety. Sometimes you just need a good ol’ classic fantasy tale, you know? Good vs. Evil, Quests, the Chosen One, it’s all fun!

Okay, but secret heirs is one of my FAVES. I love that reveal of a peasant being a king or queen. OR, like you said, a royal in hiding. There’s just so much fun to be had with it. I’ll never get tired of that trope.

And OBVIOUSLY dragons are a necessity. I mean, they’re DRAGONS.

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jenelle

Awwww! I love your comments so much, they always make me smile from ear to ear!!!

Yes! Agreed! Sometimes a good ol’ classic fantasy is exactly what the doctor ordered, tropes and all. (Tropes are good, repeat with me, “Tropes are good!” (it’s cliches that are bad… and tropes are not cliches)). :-D

Love the secret heir/royal in disguise always all the time. And if I think that’s where a story is headed and then it never actually happens I get a little upset. heheh.

All the dragons, all the time! *nods*

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Tessa LaBuff

Dragons for the win!
I don’t really like the “chosen one” trope. I don’t know. I think I just see it too often. Or maybe I’ve read too many of them done badly.

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