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Favorite/Least Favorite Fantasy Tropes?


I'm sure a dozen threads like this have been made, but here goes anyway! What kind of tropes in fantasy stories absolutely hook you? How about your least favorite fantasy trope?

Dunno if this is actually a trope or not, but I love it when magic remains an uncontrollable, mysterious force in the world. I like the magic dangerous with serious ramifications when used. Don't get me wrong, I love a good hard magic system but I really like it when a story slowly reveals the magic to us rather than having someone explain it to me.

Least favorite tropes: Prophecies, I dunno they just ruin stories for me. Of course, there are lots of writers who can use the prophecy trope really well, but it often tells me that the writer was too lazy to write an actual connection between the main character and the opposing force in the story.

How about the rest of you? I'd love to hear how you implement the tropes you like or don't like in your stories. Thanks!


Hmmm...I don’t necessarily hate it, but I see the common “mystery powers revealed to the character” plotline all over the fantasy genre. I suppose there’s just something cool about it, though I wish people would come up with something more original.


Yeah, it’s practically the backbone of most every fantasy novel. Heck, even my novel has elements of that so who am I to judge?


I'm Very Tired of stories that feel like they're just lifted from DnD: same "races", same terms for "classes", magic works the same. When you're a writer of speculative fiction, you can make anything happen...and seeing someone limit themselves to what someone else made is a big bummer. I want to see what YOU come up with, the worlds YOU build.

I also don't like the "there were no black/brown/gay/trans/queer people in [insert part of the world/time period here] that's just HISTORY" because it's patently untrue. Or "well everyone was committing sexual assaults all the time! That's how it is!" which is also not true. Making every character cis, het, white and able bodied is limiting yourself. Making your male character's motivation a woman's suffering is limiting yourself. Making a woman's worth her ability to have kids is limiting yourself!!! Why would you do that!!


Most hated: a guy on a horse riding through a forest. It's in like 99% of fantasy and I have trouble conceiving of anything less fantastic. I've also grown to really dislike how much of fantasy is dependent on war and, to a lesser extent, politics. It hasn't quite gotten to the point of being most hated but it's getting there.

Most loved: Screwy metaphysics, probably. Nothing ups the fantasy elements of a setting like messing with the laws of reality. I also really love when there are multiple mythologies that are all right in some ways despite being contradictory or are different interpretations of the same factual history. Although, those are surprisingly rare conventions.

In my own story, I started the book by telling myself that there definitely wont' be a guy on horseback in a forest and there wouldn't be a war. From that decision, the setting evolved into a contemporary urban environment with a plot line more influenced by crime thrillers rather than adventure stories. So I replaced the horse, forest and military with cars, cites and law enforcement/gangs while still keeping in the fantasy genre.
And the understanding of the setting's metaphysics (particularly pertaining to the afterlife/spiritualism) and what grains of truth were found in legends became a major driving force in the story and that all fits into the conventions I like.
Least appreciated: (It might not be considered a true trope yet, but it's well on the way): Calling the provinces, lands, districts in a book, The (insert number here) Kingdoms, etc.

Most appreciated: The Stranger in a Strange land. No matter how many times I come across it, when it's done well and takes me, as a reader, into a fantasy land through the eyes of a character who is seeing it for the first time, it's still one of the best ways to get me to suspend my disbelief and come along.
I don't know, a world with a region called The 18,522.5 Kingdoms sounds pretty interesting to me. :p

Well, that would be something to dive into. I imagine there being a directory of kingdoms, something like am old White Pages phonebooks.

Lady Misha closed her eyes and brushed the soft tip of her quill between them, "Oh, what is your sister's kingdom code, Charles? Be a dear and look it up, will you? It should be in the Regent Pages, under K for Killingheart."

Also, who ended up with the half kingdom and why? :)

Maria Heath

Favorite trope: I'm always a sucker for ancient or immortal beings who have grown cold and jaded with time suddenly re-discovering their humanity upon spending time with a plucky mortal who doesn't follow the rules.

Least favorite: Indicating that a setting is supposed to be medieval by having the speech or writing style be an some kind of Victorian Era British English. Your fantasy world doesn't have to be England, and even if it is, you can't actually write it in medieval English or no one would understand it, so just go ahead and write it in Modern English. Your readers already know they have to come into a fantasy story with some suspension of disbelief, and most readers will find Modern English easier to understand.

Mad Swede

Tropes are tools, to be used as required in your writing. What matters is the quality of your writing. I don't mind seeing cliches or common tropes in a book, what I'm looking for is something well written which uses these things in a positive way. David Eddings' books are a good example - stuffed full of just about every fantasy trope going, but done in a way which makes reading the books fun.

Ned Marcus

I love most fantasy tropes when done well. Love turns to hate when they're done badly.

But apart from that, I love portal stories which begin in a 'normal' world (whatever that is) and end up somewhere fantastical. I also like stories where something finds its way into the normal world and starts causing trouble.

I dislike fantasy where magic is commonplace, where hundreds of witches are flying around the sky, and regiments of magicians battle each other.


My favorite has to be Blue and Orange Morality in a fantasy society, especially portal fantasy. It's why my series is portal fantasy (and my next series is portal SF). I love seeing a society that evolved without the Sermon on the Mount, or Hammurabi, or Immanuel Kant, and watching characters from modern-day Western Civilization, where "We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident" and all that, just stand there with their mouths open trying to grasp the local senses of right and wrong. That moment of dawning comprehension, written well, will never cease to be fun.

My absolute, most hated (we've talked about this) is sexual violence / entrenched misogyny as shorthand for plot or character development. No, you're not "edgy" or "grimdark" for thinking of it. It's so tired, and so overdone, and so shockingly tone-deaf. You're embarrassing yourself. Read the goddamn room. (I wrote an entire adult epic fantasy novel--sex, graphic violence, profanity, war--without even the mention of sexual violence, and engineered the concept out of the societies in my series. You won't see it in any more of my books. I'm that sick of it.) I say this because I'm talking about it being shorthand. If you're, say, a rape survivor and you are telling a tale of strength and survival in the allegory of your fantasy world, hey, go for it.

I'm talking about this--and yes, it's become literally a joke in the fantasy community at this point, let that sink in:

Attribution unknown. Please chime in below if you know where this originally came from.

Insolent Lad

I can't say I'm big on traumatic backgrounds in general, much less sexual assault trauma (which we rarely see applied to men though it is certainly feasible). Much prefer the Tolkien-esque 'everyman' sort of characters.


toujours gai, archie
I don't have feelings about tropes. Or ideas or cliches or stereotypes or archetypes. I don't mind talking about them, about their definitions and characteristics and examples.

I do have feelings about stories. I love good ones and I get impatient with bad ones. But tropes are just abstractions, and I don't get too emotional about abstractions.


Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
I suppose I haven't answered the question yet.

I don't know if it's my favourite trope, but I actually love it when fantasy worlds use the stock fantasy races. I love elves and orcs and dwarves and so on, and I tend to prefer seeing versions of them over seeing wholly new species. Give me space elves aplenty!

Not sure about least favourite trope. I don't like whiny, angst-riddled characters, but a good writer can make those work with a dose of humour, so I can't say it's a deal breaker for me.
I don't like the modern-ist (avoiding "modernist" as a term, but don't know a better) take of having magic something that could be rationally analyzed because it's philosophically incoherent. If magic were a deterministic, rational thing that were part of the universe it would be... physics. Or chemistry, if we're talking alchemy. Per Putnam and Feser:
If a witch must have magical powers, then it is far from clear that the concept of a witch is a coherent one, because it is far from clear that the concept of a magical power is a coherent one. We can certainly imagine possible worlds in which things regularly happen that superstitious people would regard as magic; but the very fact that they regularly happen in those possible worlds is strong reason for saying that in those possible worlds those things are not really magic—it is just that those worlds have different laws than the actual world. The notion of a world in which things happen that are “truly magical” is, I think, an incoherent one; and that means, I think, that the notion of a witch is an incoherent one.
So, again, what is objectionable about magic can only be that it is supposed to be inherently unintelligible, unintelligible even in principle and not merely in practice.
It makes more sense, then, if magic is something that "just works," "dreams made real" but with enough limitations to further the plot and drive the conflict. Either that, or fictional worlds with either different physics themselves, worlds with the same physics that can breech into worlds with different physics (which the difference between the supernatural and magic; the former implies a delta of natures, but the latter implies a null nature), or both, gel more well philosophically.

My favorite trope? Time to turn everything I just said on my head: I love incoherent worlds. Fiction is fiction; it doesn't have to be coherent; I can imagine a round square in my head and write about it, even if I know it's unrealizable. Fantasy in the purest sense of the word. My preferred fiction is essentially persistent dreams. I love strange geometry the best: I love to see characters go from facing forward to facing someone behind them without turning to the right nor the left. Movements not being commutative. When only the plot and characterizations are consistent... that is best.
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[[[This one is quite general in all art, and an aspect of human instinctual revulsion I'd say. It's the lack of ablutions. How many books have you opened/movies watched wherein the characters eat/drink? Plenty. But where they defecate/urinate, even if only alluded to? Few, I'd wager. Off the top of my head I'm thinking of Pulp Fiction and Kaiba in terms of films/series. Novels that more realistically deal with the realities of war/death are spot-on here.

Just a single sentence would do, "Johnny washed his face in the river, scooped out a pail of water, and went to dig a hole behind a bush to empty his bowels/relieve himself/do his business/take a dump."

The image of the drunkard stumbling from a tavern and wetting a wall is a trope I'd say, but otherwise, such things are uncommon. In video games as well, especially in fantasy settings, there simply aren't toilets, as if all the waste gets magicked away.
Sure, a horse might have dung, but you rarely read about its master taking a squat.
OK, I am nitpicking, and such things certainly might not make for pleasant or even interesting reading, but its a theme that I find is underrepresented]]]

[[[Pirates that look like mid-millenium ones. Whether ork, zombie, or just your pirate's pirate, they all seem to like tricorn hats, have peg legs and hook hands, and maybe a parrot to boot. "But LAG, not every writer has generic pirates!" Yes. But the vast majority of pirates are so in pop fiction, due to the historical infamy and profusion of pirates circa 1600 and after.

There have been pirates since the first primate floated a log down a river, so surely one can spice things up a bit. And soldiers go to war all the time, more than pirates, but how many soldiers end up with hook hands or peg legs in fiction? More than pirates? No, there we get the trope of the honorable, retired veteran, maybe one that opens a tavern and keeps his sword mounted above the door.

Same with vampires, it has to be a trussed up count, some dandy aristocratic bloodsucker. Sure, Bram Stoker staked that image into our minds, just as Tolkien did with dwarves/elves/orcs, but for the sake of frog, get some steppe nomad in yer vampire, a wandering tribe with their corpse armies shuffling after them over the great steppes, or an arctic vampire, clawing beneath the ice plates until it sees your silhouette above, spitting acid to eat through the ice so that it can grab you, pulling you into the icy depths to suckle on your aqua vitae]]]

[[[Airships. Great idea, much potential for rich storytelling, colorful worlds, expedient exposition, high-altitude heroics, and Hindenburgian calamities]]]
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