TROPES AND TRAPS – Avoiding Cliché in Fantasy Writing (part 2)

Trope and cliché aren’t that different. Maybe a good working definition can be that a ‘cliché’ is a badly done or over-used ‘trope’, while a ‘trope’ is a ‘cliché’ used imaginatively to remind the reader of what’s familiar and likable in a genre. In the former situation, the author is lazy; in the latter, they’re inventive.

So how is the humble fantasy writer supposed to apply this to their next novel? Part of the answer involves being thoughtful about which tropes to use, which to ignore, and which to deconstruct and creatively reassemble into a compelling narrative. Hopefully, that lets an author stay true to their voice while entertaining readers.

So, picking up from my last post (link: https://bit.ly/2Utr8gN ), we’ll use my modern fantasy, THE LORDS OF THE SUMMER SEASON, as a case study. I hasten to note that this book isn’t – necessarily – a paragon of literary virtue, but at least I know how I attempted to dance through the trope/cliché minefield as I wrote it. The reader can judge for themselves how successful I was (Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3hNZ4wF ).

Anyway, the first trope I wrestled with was setting. A lot of fantasy is set in a vaguely medieval, quasi-European environment. Cool. However, I wanted something that hadn’t already been done thousands of times, so LORDS occurs during San Francisco’s ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967 because this was a time of real-life fantasy when the creative scene was exploding and everything seemed limitless. Until it wasn’t.

This setting seemed to have a lot of scope for dramatic story-telling because it had a darker side, so there are scenes in the novel where creative forces run amok. The magical entities that are the novel’s villains represent this chaos. Even the protagonist – who’s a magician with a complicated backstory – sometimes gets carried away and unleashes powers he really can’t control.

We’ll continue to dissect THE LORDS OF THE SUMMER SEASON in the next post focusing on how to integrate magic – the defining characteristic of fantasy novels into my story.

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