Cliches in fantasy (and science fiction) seem to be a hot topic these days, what with urban fantasy paving the way towards over-saturation of the market, and science fiction apparently losing some of its appeal amongst certain groups of readers (though claims that science fiction is dying are premature at best). The question that has prompted this post asks a very important question:
Should writers stay away from the cliches of fantasy?The kneejerk reaction should, for anyone, be "yes." The problem with fantasy as a genre has always been its tendency to repeat itself to excess, with writers of talent essentially spouting rehashed Tolkien-esque stories and continuously mining Tolkien and the select few "original" authors that followed him for those staple creatures we have come to identity as clearly "fantasy"--elves, dwarves, dragons, etc. Urban fantasy has, unfortunately, been saturated with similar levels of repetition; vampires used to be fairly powerful creatures to insert into fantasy novels, but these days they are, for the most part, little more than furniture items without substance--if you want a better vampire, read the original Dracula.
But kneejerk reactions are rarely efficient or proper. As in politics, immediately reacting to something without considering the larger picture is not only a bad idea, but dangerous. If you spend your days worrying yourself over whether or not you're using a cliche, you'll end up getting little done whatsoever. Writers should spend time writing, not considering the implications of using such-and-such creature or such-and-such trope. It's quite impossible to avoid the cliches of the genre with any efficiency. Some may argue against this, but this is true of all fiction. No matter how hard you might try to write a truly original novel, you will most certainly fail. Cliches are a part of the human brain, and have been for a while.
Certainly being aware of the cliches you're using is important, but fretting over them is counterproductive. Instead, pay attention to how the cliches are used. Are you using elves in exactly the same way as Tolkien? Why? Injecting difference into the mix can help alleviate obvious repetition. Twist Tolkien's elves on their head and see where it goes. Or, there's always the more adequate method of dealing with cliches: write well. Nobody with any sense reads a well-written fantasy novel and says, "That is the most cliche thing I have ever read." Good writing can, and does, completely change how a reader perceives a cliche. If you can tell a good story, then it is irrelevant how many cliches populate your fiction, because ultimately what the reader wants is a good reading experience--obviously.
What do you think? Should writers avoid cliches? Why or why not? Feel free to leave a comment!
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