Fantasy is a genre that is as old as the human race. Ever since we’ve been able to share stories, they’ve featured mythical beasts and people who can wield magic, among other such fantastical elements that capture the imagination. It’s no wonder that today, in the 21st century, finding a unique fantasy concept can be challenging. So many of these tales fall back on the clichés of old that can be predictable and tired. However, because there are literally centuries of fantasy stories and several major blockbusters in there as well, creating something brand new can be daunting. I encourage every and all fantasy writers to seek out that unique concept, but in the meantime, focus on how you can make clichés your own, or break them entirely. I’ve including some examples:
Make- This can be one of the simplest fantasy elements to make unique. Change the name of the individual from witch to something new. Have them use magic in a different way than just spells or curses.
Break- Simple. Don’t have magic. I know that might frighten some people, but you can still have a fantasy story without overt magic.
Make- Typically the princess doesn’t want to wed, or be in the royal family at all, so you can embrace these features and transform the cliché. Perhaps instead your character is a prince? Or doesn’t know they’re part of the royal line?
Break- Instead of giving a character a royal title, make them important to your world and your plot in a different manner.
Make- Let’s face it, almost every fantasy story has some sort of medieval setting, so perhaps the way to make the swordplay unique is to use an unusual setting. Asian or Middle Eastern locales get far less page time than western style worlds.
Break- In your story, you could eliminate swords by giving the people another mode of weaponry. Bows, axes, perhaps something conjured from your head.
Ultra Heroes / Villains:
Make – You can write a great story using ultra-pro/antagonists. The major fantasy franchises have all done it. What makes them work is the character’s depth and motivations. Make them real.
Break- Gray area characters are typically more exciting and interesting to read than those working solely for one side. By having your characters toe the line, you can break the good vs evil convention.
Make- I’ll admit, this is one of the toughest categories. If your story hinges around a prophecy or destiny plot, you’ll have to really sort out a way to make it unique. Making the character conflicted is a start, but there needs to be more.
Break- To subvert this fantasy staple, maybe the prophecy is wrong, or stolen or falsified. That could throw a wrench into people’s perceptions for sure.
Make- Typically there will be an older character who helps the younger character(s) understand the world and by extension, the reader. By embracing it, your sage figure will need some defining feature, a flaw or trait that really makes them stand out.
Break- You can break this simply by not making them magical as that is a typical attribute. Perhaps the character is female, or young, or not human at all.
This list is by no means comprehensive. There’s a whole book’s worth of fantasy clichés out there: weirdly spelled names, limited female characters, the evil twin, people fighting with sword and never getting hurt, the list go on. What fantasy writers must learn to do is locate and understand these clichés while brainstorming how to either make them their own or break them completely. In a world filled with fantasy novels, this is a surefire way to have yours stand out.