7 Fantasy Tropes, and How To Twist Them

Part of the attraction of the fantasy genre is being able to sink into a familiar kind of world, while being surprised with new twists and variations on magic and character types. Here are seven common parts of fantasy, and how you can use them to add variety and delight to your novel.

  1. Elves. Old cultures are different than newer ones; interactions between the members of that culture become much more nuanced; they’re based on generations of shared background. What would happen if the elvish culture were new? If, for example, some elves moved to a new place, and split away from the main body because of a moral disagreement, or because of some enterprising individuals?
  2. Entrepreneurship. If you’re writing any kind of society where people buy and sell from each other, you’ve got a whole lot of entrepreneurs, or inheritors of long-standing family businesses. Money means complex relational dynamics; everyone handles money differently, and small business owners engage with their families and customers in highly individual and telling ways. Remember that every business has complex connections to suppliers, customers, neighbors, and family members. If you have characters wearing clothes, someone is weaving or tanning, and someone else is farming, harvesting, and managing beasties. Use the impact of small economies to add reality and individual detail to your fantasy novel.
  3. Children. Children are loud and individual, even if they inhabit a fantasy world. Also, what are the children of different cultures like? And are there any cultural mores for who watches the babies? There is much room for fantastical invention here.
  4. Food, garbage, and bathing. Where does the food come from? Where does the waste go? And if the characters are clean, how do they stay that way? There is much room for detail here, and for interesting magical or cultural details.
  5. Transportation. Horses, dragons, magical portals, and flying creatures. Is there an infrastructure for travel in your fantasy world? Bureaucracy can bring a lot of freshness and novelty to any fantasy world, and petty functionaries who run the local winged-horse rental place can add wonderful complications to your story.
  6. Embarrassing relatives. Epic heroes have obnoxious aunts sometimes, and some dwarvish mercenaries have ex-boyfriends they regret. Messy relationships are tasty to read about. Don’t let your characters have squeaky clean relationships–no one has a perfect family tree.
  7. Magic. Understanding the dynamics of power in real life will lead to more believable magic in your novel. Magic is a metaphor for power; how do people get power, and who do they sacrifice to get it? If they have power honorably, how do they maintain it? And who has the most power, and why?
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