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Avoiding the rehashed themes/plots/mechanics of Fantasy

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by MoonieChild, Mar 12, 2019.

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  1. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Yeah, there are definitely some amazing bands that rose out of that confusing mishmash of subgenres. Even though it felt reductive rather than additive, and most of them defined themselves and their output through severe limitation, some still managed to make great music. And of course not all the bands were great when it was just called Rock and Roll either, and it was pretty much do whatever you want and the record company promotes it. I suppose the different marketing models reflect the demands of the time and you just need to work within the restrictions or not get anything made at all.
    Ignore me, this is turning into an old-man rant about how much better things were back in my day... :supermad:
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2020
  2. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    ...Can I just say: I understood what you meant, but I also adore that you expressed contempt for this genre of books by directly comparing them to a world-famous Renaissance masterpiece by one of the greatest artists in history.

    I dearly hope I get criticism like this whenever I get published: "This book sucks! It's like the freaking Mona Lisa of literature! The only difference between this and Shakespeare is that Shakespeare has less explosions!"
     
  3. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's possible to use 'tropes' for want of a better word that are quite standard in conception. I think the trick is to surprise the reader with a different kind of story, while using them.

    I love being surprised. The way I was surprised when I read Joe Abercrombie's trilogy The First Law.

    The First Law contains so many standard fantasy tropes—including wizards, a journey, a standard handsome hero, an anti-hero or two, a maiden in distress, a warrior woman, magic, one kingdom worried about another kingdom attacking them, barbarians, couth and uncouth characters, magic, even orc-like beings—but turns them all on their heads. And while it's fun to play around in a fantasy world you think you're familiar with, it's a lot more fun to NOT be able to predict the ending of a story, or even what's likely to happen next. At one point I actually punched the air in glee, because what happened was SO unexpected, and yet so absolutely RIGHT.

    I don't know if Abercrombie's story would have had the same impact if it had not contained all those tropes. But that's neither here nor there. He did it that way. And I think it's a magnificent example of what Fantasy is capable of, in this age of jaded palates and worn-thin storylines.
     
  4. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 12/210 MP: 0/130 Contributor

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    I'm thinking about some of my favourite fantasies, which have the same tropes dressed up in different clothes.

    For example, there's one with the prodigal son, the evil overlord, the beautiful princess, magic knights, magic (plot-defying) powers, redemption, the fall of an empire and... a teddy bear army.

    Then there's the one with the prodigal son, the mysterious order, the warrior people, the fall (and rise) of an empire, magic powers, prophecy and drug-producing giant worms.

    And THEN there's one of my other personal favourites, the stranger from another world, the evil god, the wizards' council, the magic artifact(s), prophecy, ancient powers and heroes, an order of kung-fu warriors and giants. The elves and dwarves in this one are people called the Woodhelven (because that doesn't scream "WOOD ELVES" at all) and Stonedowners.*

    The point is - despite all of these elements, none of these three are pseudo-medieval-European fantasies. They're all done differently. Yes, you COULD transplant the stories into that kind of setting, but you would lose something. They're all done differently, and done well**, certainly in a way that engages the audience.

    Do you NEED to avoid the tropes of fantasy? No, not really, not if your execution is good - which is really the case with all stories.

    Star Wars, Dune, Thomas Covenant, if you don't recognise them.

    **Opinions vary.
     
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  5. Joe_Hall

    Joe_Hall Member

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    I have been struggling with this myself. At the cost of my soul for performing necromancy on this post, here is my dilemma: to trope or not to trope. In my opinion, early fantasy, especially the 1980-90s fantasy, boiled down to recycled Tolkien. Burn me at the stake if you want to but Drizzt Do'Urden could bump into Legolas and neither one would look out of place grabbing lunch together at the Prancing Pony. That being said, I absolutely loathe authors who make let's call them "The Dingleberry People of the Moon Woods". They wear green, live with nature, like archery, have excellent vision and agility. Then these same authors say "oh, well, I didn't put any tropes in my book". No dummy, you made an elf. Don't matter if you left off the pointy ears, you made a Tolkien-style elf and called it a Dingleberry. At this point, anyone picking up a fantasy story is probably not starting with yours and you are insulting your own and your reader's intelligence by pretending your Dingleberries are not elves. I found myself swinging the pendulum to the re-naming the named and was just honest enough to go back on what I am currently working on and just put in elves. And dwarves. I have my own races, one of which I modeled off of the Olmec civilization, one is a mechanical race (yes as in robot-like). I think you can cast them into any story weaving you like but when writing with tropes, either embrace the trope or write them out IMO. Fortunately, the closest my stories will probably ever get to being published is my google drive.
     
  6. hyacinthe

    hyacinthe Senior Member

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    i really don't understand why some people are terrified of story tropes. if it works for you, use it. if it doesn't, don't. why get more complicated than that?
     
  7. LostArtist

    LostArtist Member

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    Morally grey characters are definitely more modern than JRRT. He lived in a time where propaganda over the world wars painted everything with a black and white brush. Nazi= Mordor. humans elves and Dwarfs = Allies.
    Gorge RR Martain in A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. nearly everyone is grey, with their own reasons why they do what they do, still, we can relate to someone with more innocence, like Jhon Snow, otherwise, readers will find it hard to know who to route for.

    Realistically everyone has their faults and grey areas, which may be why 'grey' is more interesting. "They are Bad because they are the Bad Guy" never really cuts it, it is like waving your hand and saying don't think about it. "Why are they bad?" is a question people will naturally want to ask and brings more life to the character.

    In one of my stories, the War between humans and Orcs has long since passed. All the things humans know about Orcs and their lore is all Propaganda leftover from wartime.
     
  8. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Active Member

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    80's-90's = "early fantasy"? Even if we restrict ourselves to the modern Western fantasy genre, not even Tolkien is "early fantasy." That would be George MacDonald and maybe a few others folks as well. There's Lewis Carroll and a bunch of other Victorians. After them there's Lord Dunsany, Robert E Howard, Fritz Lieber, Clark Ashton Smith. This is all pre-Lord of the Rings.

    If you want to escape fantasy tropes broaden your reading. There is a huge wealth of literature which, while not classed in the fantasy genre, is fantastic, much of it readily accessible, often for free- especially folklore, mythology, legends etc from all over the world. The more alien to Western culture, the better. Check out the Popol Vuh, or Inuit folk tales (which often double as wonderful dirty jokes), or Amos Totuola's very folkloric novel The Palm Wine Drinkard. This sort stuff, along with deep learning in history, poetry, religion, and philosophy, is the lifeblood of the fantasy genre.

    This is really really wrong. First of all, morally grey characters were plentiful in fantasy literature before Tolkien. Where, for instance, does one draw the line between good and evil in The King of Elfland's Daughter? And it also flies in the face of what Tolkien himself stated about LOTR.
     
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  9. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody A Certain Shade of Green Contributor

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    i was scrolling through this thread wondering why/how i'm getting notifications for it when I found my comment and your response.

    I'd like to say, @dbesim , that LOTRs came up again at work last month and I did actually end up reading it (rather, I listened to a really good audio of it). My coworker who suggested it debriefed me after it and I ended up getting him hooked on the audio version of it. we went down the rabbit hole of listening to different audiobook renditions of it and comparing what worked and what didn't work for the setting, mood, and character voices.

    I thought I'd mention it since my first response to your comment was "im not interested in LOTR" :superlaugh:
     
  10. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Active Member

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    The LOTR is wonderful, but it can be hard to approach it if you've been first inundated with all the baggage that has accumulated around it- the movies, the games, the imitators, and of course, the tropes. You've just got to forget all that and come straight at LOTR and appreciate how fresh and strange and deep it is.

    Having said that, is it essential to writing fantasy to read it? I think more essential is to think about Tolkien's inspiration, especially his profound knowledge of history, mythology, folklore, religion, poetry. Digging into that will get you a lot further than reading LOTR.
     
  11. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber Contributor Contributor

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    I think Tolkien explicitly stated that LOTR was not an allegory of World War II.

    And if you’ve read the Silmarillion, most of the stories in that book are not exactly black-and-white. I think he drew quite a lot from the Norse sagas, which are often pretty gray, morally speaking.
     
  12. Teladan

    Teladan On the outside looking in. Contributor

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    Honestly, I just want to commend you for this post. That is all. Good day.
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Agreed.

    And, of course, Beowulf is pretty damned early :D
     
  14. Teladan

    Teladan On the outside looking in. Contributor

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    I think people tend to be fairly ignorant about how old fantasy and the fantastical is in literature. George Macdonald wrote Phantastes in 1858; William Morris wrote The Wood Beyond the World in 1894; Dunsany conceived of Pegana in the 1920s. Fantasy has roots in ancient stories all the way to the early 20th Century. It's not just Tolkien then D&D!
     
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  15. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I would consider Beowulf and Homer to be somewhere between mythology, folktale and fantasy. They're based I think on historical reality (at least partly), in a time before written language, so the history was all preserved through epic poetry and only later written down. In the retellings things got mythologized.
     
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  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yeah, I don't know....Beowulf may purport, within the context of the work itself, to be based on historical reality but I haven't seen any basis that the story actually is (and lets face it, a lot of it simply cannot be). People point to names and places that really existed, but so what? Fiction is rife with that sort of thing. The only thing I can see that distinguishes Beowulf from what many mean by "fantasy" is its age, which isn't a compelling distinction to me.
     
  17. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    It's the purpose it was created for that determines whether it's fantasy or history. Fantasy is written as entertainment for a publishing market, and the author knows none of it is real.

    You have to keep in mind that in ancient times there was nothing like an objective way of looking at the world. They didn't know what might be over the next mountain range, and when they heard tales of strange beasts and dragons they had no way to know if it was real or not. Their idea of history had nothing to do with objective truth, it was laced with imagination and embroidered in each retelling to make the figures more heroic. Or the creatures might have represented sociological realities in symbolic form. Probably to some extent they understood dragons weren't real, or some of them had that vague impression, but the unwashed masses then as now believed in such things, and you needed to make the tales attention-grabbing so the story of your tribe didn't get forgotten.

    superstition and unconscious identification didn't begin to recede until well after written language came along, and really until the scientific revolution was well underway.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2021
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  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    If the author mistakenly believes what they're writing is real, it is no longer fantasy? Or if the reader mistakenly believes that it is real, or at least does not affirmatively believe it to be false it is no longer fantasy? I'm not sure I agree with that. I understand the differences in function (though they may not be as great as compared to modern stories as we might be supposed) and that people were more superstitious and prone to believing in the fantastic at that time, but that doesn't seem like a great way to define something, to me. If Beowulf hadn't been written when it was, but instead was written, say, by Seamus Heaney a couple decades ago, it would be "fantasy" even though the word-for-word identical story composed in the year 700 wouldn't be?

    I understand what you're saying, but when the only thing to distinguish whether it is fantasy or not is when or why it was written, and nothing to do with the text itself, I don't know that I agree. I'd prefer to see a distinction based on objective features of the works in question and not the subjective beliefs of authors or audience.
     
  19. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Ah well, I said what I had to say. My job isn't to convince you of anything. Peace brother.
     
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  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Agreed. I understand the point being made. I find the subject matter interesting--anything to do with genre definitions and how to label literature interests me.
     
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  21. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber Contributor Contributor

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    Is mythology fantasy?
     
  22. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Sure. I think when you look at the cultural aspects and the function of myth you can narrow it further to a subset of fantasy.

    What would be a definition of “fantasy” that does t encompass mythology (without defining it negatively specifically to exclude mythology)?
     
  23. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    How about that it's generally based on myth, folk tale and fairy tale?
     
  24. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I don’t know if that’s true but even if it is it’s too narrow—a definition of the genre would need to be broad enough to cover everything that we categorize as fantasy in modern literature, wouldn’t it?
     
  25. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I said generally, I wasn't trying to comprehensively define fantasy. But for the most part fantasy is definitely based on those things, and in particular in its early days and its classical phase. Then other kinds of fantasy grew from those origins.
     

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