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Common Fantasy Fiction Tropes

Before I start, this is not a post telling you not to write these themes in your own fiction. This isn't one of those 'cliches to avoid' type of posts; it's more of an observation of some of the most written and beloved tropes that you can easily find in fantasy. It also doesn't apply to just fiction, but expands into other media too, like movies, graphic novels and music.


What fascinates me about these tropes is the challenge of figuring out ways to subvert them or make them feel fresh. It can be an excellent writing challenge to really think hard about how you use these tropes, and then give them a new spin you've never tried before.


Here are a few of the most common tropes you'll find in fantasy fiction:


The Chosen One

This is a recurring theme in fantasy, revolving around a central character who is destined for greatness and has been selected by fate or a prophecy to fulfill a significant role. The chosen one usually has at least one unique ability, a special heritage, or a significant role to play in saving the world or overcoming evil. Their story is often long and forces them to embark on an epic transformative journey where they face dangers and trials, learn how to overcome obstacles and ultimately save the world.


This also, usually, involves the death of the parental or mentor figure so that The Chosen One can come into their own or mature, and overcome the great evil alone (since it's their destiny, not their parents' / mentor's).


An excellent example of this - whether you love it or hate it! - is Harry Potter.


While it can be seen as a cliche, skillful execution and subversion of expectations can breathe new life into this trope, offering opportunities for character development, exploration of themes like identity and destiny, and engaging narratives that resonate with readers' desires for adventure and triumph.


Magic and Magical Creatures

Magic is a fundamental element in fantasy fiction and you'll be hard pressed to find a fantasy story that doesn't have at least a tenuous magical theme. Fantasy worlds are often populated with wizards, witches, mythical creatures and enchanted objects because these magical elements add wonder and excitement to the story. Let's face it, if you're looking for a new fantasy story to read, you're probably expecting magic or myth of some kind, right?


Magic and magical creatures hold a strong allure in the fantasy genre for several reasons:


  • Escapism and Wonder: Magic and magical creatures allows readers to escape from the limitations of the real world and immerse themselves in fantastic realms. In these fantasy worlds, anything is possible.

  • Enchantment and Imagination: Magic sparks the imagination and taps into the human fascination with the mysterious and supernatural.

  • Sense of Possibility: Magic represents boundless possibilities and opens doors to realms beyond the constraints of reality. It allows writers to create unique systems of magic, each with its own rules and limitations, enabling characters to perform extraordinary feats and embark on epic adventures. This sense of possibility fuels the reader's imagination and keeps them engaged in the story.

  • Symbolism and Allegory: Magic and magical creatures often serve as metaphors and symbols that reflect real-world concepts, conflicts and experiences. They can represent power, transformation, the battle between good and evil, or the struggle between nature and civilization.

  • Worldbuilding and Richness: Magic contributes to the richness and complexity of fantasy worlds. It helps writers build intricate mythologies, diverse cultures and unique ecosystems.

  • Escalation of Conflict: Magic introduces heightened levels of conflict and tension. It creates formidable adversaries, dangerous spells and epic battles, raising the stakes for the protagonist and intensifying the narrative. The inclusion of magic adds a layer of excitement and unpredictability to the story.

Magic is popular in the fantasy genre because it taps into our innate sense of wonder and our fascination with the extraordinary.


Epic Quests

Epic quests involve either an individual (see The Chosen One above) or a group of characters embarking on a dangerous and arduous journey to accomplish a grand objective, like retrieving a powerful artifact or defeating an ancient evil. These quests often involve trials and dangers, and almost always result in personal growth for the characters involved.


Epic quests are also an excellent way for writers to expand their fantasy worlds and add more depth and colour to their setting.


Medieval Setting

Many fantasy stories draw inspiration from medieval times, because who doesn't love a castle or a brave knight?


The medieval period is perceived as a timeless era, removed from the complexities and rapid changes of modern life. This timelessness contributes to the enduring appeal of the medieval setting in fantasy fiction, as it allows readers to escape into a world where the pace of life is different and where age-old themes and archetypes can be explored (such as honor, courage, epic quests and sword fights, etc).


Prophecies and Legends

Prophetic visions, ancient prophecies and mythical legends are commonly used in fantasy fiction. These provide a sense of destiny and intrigue to the story, guiding the actions of the characters and shaping the plot. They're also a great way to give writers an end goal to aim towards, especially in much longer fiction.


Good vs. Evil

The struggle between good and evil is a classic trope in fantasy. Heroes and heroines often face off against dark lords, tyrannical rulers or malevolent forces that threaten to plunge the world into darkness. This trope explores themes of morality, redemption and the power of hope.


The eternal struggle between good and evil creates a compelling narrative tension, as these two opposing forces strive to dominate. Through this age-old conflict, fantasy fiction explores moral choices and the nature of heroism. It delves into complex character motivations, themes of redemption, sacrifice, and the resilience of the human spirit. The battle between good and evil serves as a powerful allegory for the struggles and choices we face in our own lives, and reminds us of the enduring will to fight for what we believe.


Hidden Worlds

Fantasy stories frequently feature hidden or parallel worlds that exist alongside our own. These worlds may be accessed through portals, magical realms, spells, or other means.


Coming-of-Age

Many fantasy stories follow the journey of a young protagonist who discovers their true potential and grows into their power. These coming-of-age narratives explore themes of self-discovery, identity, and the challenges of transitioning from youth to adulthood.


Tolkienesque Races

Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's works, fantasy fiction often includes diverse races such as elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins. Each race has distinct characteristics, cultures, and histories, contributing to the richness and depth of the world-building. This is the only trope on this list that will often make me roll my eyes, if only because elves and orcs are used so, so much.


I'd personally much prefer it if authors substituted an elf for another magical creature, or make up a new race that's totally unique to their story.


Quest for Power or Immortality

The idea of living forever and never having to worry about anything again is a pretty attractive one - if you don't think about it too closely, that is! Characters may seek to obtain a powerful artifact, master a forbidden magic or unlock the secrets of eternal life. This trope explores the allure and consequences of seeking ultimate power or defying the natural order.


I just want to reiterate that there is nothing wrong with these common tropes. Many authors creatively subvert or twist them to bring a fresh perspective to their stories. The key to fantasy lies in the writer's ability to breathe new life into familiar themes and create unique settings that transport your readers somewhere new.


Can you think of any more common fantasy tropes that aren't on this list? Do share them in the comments below!

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