Fantasy stereotypes

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
26,430
Location
UK
I know it's hard to keep entirely away from stereotypes, but I try hard to avoid them because if a character is real enough, they shouldn't easily fit into normal stereotypes - which in themselves are usually just literary devices than characters!

http://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/Stereotype_List#Fantasy
 
I think a stereotype character can be fine as long as they have a lot more going on underneath the surface. At first glance, if a character looks a little familiar I'll still probably keep reading as long as they start branching out soon enough.
 
Sometimes stereotypes/clichés just work, and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. The only reason they become a cliché is because they are a tried and true character type so many books have utilised them. And yes, we could try to experiment and be different, I know, but being different isn't necessarily needed - or wanted.

I've got a couple of cliché-like characters in my book, because they work, and suit the scene. Without them that particular part of the story would be rather flat.

But characters should always have two sides to them. They might act like the stereotype at first, but then develop into something much, much more. If people expect them to be this particular way, and then turn out to be something completely different, they will be pleasantly surprised.
 
Last edited:
To be honest the only fantasy I hate more than the really derivative stereotype stuff is stuff that deliberately makes a point of doing something "different" for no other reason than to be different. Ironically, these works often end up being the most derivative of all. One of the worst offenders is Robert Jodan, and other notable offenders are Weiss and Hickman or whatever their names are.
 
Ah, chainmail bikinis. I wonder if they have aketon bikinis underneath them to prevent chafing.

Certain fantasy staples can be handy, but if that's all there is then it's detrimental to the story. I don't mind a grumpy, bearded dwarf if he's well-written.

Also, I think that stereotypes aren't static. Right now there's a fashion for gritty, realistic (in a fantasy-based context) books with high death tolls. In a few years/decades I'm sure we'll have the stereotype of Misery World, whose inhabitants find work only as a torturer, mercenary, assassin or lawyer.
 
"Chainmail" is a pet hate of mine. It's called "mail" or "maille". The "chain" does not belong there.
 
But mail bikinis suggests a transvestite hero(ine)!
 
Chainmail to distinguish it from scale mail, ring mail or splint and scale? I know Italian armorers had separate terms.

Some of those archetypes – particularly monsters – come down from the bronze age (some probably predate writing). A Tolkien (or whoever) can rigidise the description, and set a species in stone, but certain characteristics have migrated in folk legend across continents, suggesting Jungian necessities. The stupidity of trolls and ogres is an essential part of their origins – I don't know why, a bright troll organising drug heists from under a suspension bridge, or a wise old ogre teaching junior school would seem perfectly acceptable models to me, but mythology evolves to suit its environment, and the traditional models.

Sometimes because of genuine encounters; the lack of iodine in the salt in alpine Switzerland and south Germany led to thyroid deficiencies: cretinism, dwarfism, giants; the Neibelung have a (tenuous) basis in reality (but they wouldn't have been on the Rhine, where sea salt was widespread). Others, such as dragons, seem to fill a need in society. It is almost safer to invent an entirely new species, precisely tailored to the requirements of your story, than suggest that elves are not universally silvatic excellent archers, or that dwarves don't spend the majority of their time underground.
 
Honestly i think a deliberatly subverted stereotype should be added to that list.

My books are stuffed unapologetically with borderline stereotypes. I don't elves, but I have a tall, skinny race with funny ears (flame-shaped) and they are archers ;) My wizard type is kind of incomprehensible because he insists on using archaic words (He is eight-hundred years old and flips between slang, big words and old words from their country's past) He will translate when asked though.
 
The video interviews currently up on GRRM's "not a blog" are interesting. In the TIFF interview (the first part I think) he talks at length about subverting fantasy stereotypes. E.g., The King's Guard (dressed in white) are corrupt, The Night's Watch (in black) often aren't corrupt, and generally the cute or nice looking characters often aren't the most noble; neither are the ugly characters necessarily evil.

http://grrm.livejournal.com/

Coragem.
 
My trouble is nobody believes me that my MC is ugly lol He really, really does look like something a bus wouldn't use as a backend. As far as I am concerned he is only beautiful when he is a gyr falcon.
 
Make sure your other characters react often to his ugliness, and have it get in the way of him getting something that he wants. People are less often to trust an ugly person, for instance. And have it affect the character himself. Someone who is treated like that by the people around him will often become insular and surly.
 
Could we add the book that goes on and on to the list, and perhaps the sequence of books that go on and on? That would seem to be the worst stereotype of the lot.
 
Could we add the book that goes on and on to the list, and perhaps the sequence of books that go on and on? That would seem to be the worst stereotype of the lot.


I hate when that happens. Don't get me wrong, I love a good story that lasts for hundreds of pages and a handful of books, but only when it needs to be that long. Ginormous epic fantasy is the trend right now, but so much of it is just long for the sake of being long, because that's what the writers think the market wants. My own WIP is a single (albeit large) book, my next will be a single book, and the story after that will be a trilogy at the absolute most. I just don't think I have it in me to write one of those sprawling, ten book monstrosities. There's nothing those series do that couldn't be done better with fewer words.
 
Make sure your other characters react often to his ugliness, and have it get in the way of him getting something that he wants. People are less often to trust an ugly person, for instance. And have it affect the character himself. Someone who is treated like that by the people around him will often become insular and surly.

I've done all that lol - the newspapers call him the ''Royal Oaf'', he's surly, insular and weird. However, as king some of that won't work. I've come to the conclusion my readers will read what they want into Angus ;)
 

Similar threads


Back
Top