In fiction, a trope is some kind of convention commonly used by authors and writers. This can be a character trait, relationship dynamic, plot device, or even setting.
Each genre has its own set of common tropes. They’re recognizable to readers (though not always beloved), and you can build a few of these tropes into the framework of your novel to either read or subvert your audiences’ expectations.
Making Tropes Your Own
One common question I get from writers is, “Won’t using this trope make my book cliche?”
And sure, it’s possible! But it depends on how you implement the trope. There are many things in storytelling that we all use: things like the Save the Cat beat sheet, the 3-act structure, the hero’s journey, and even things like elemental magic systems. It’s the way the author crafts their story within these broad frameworks that is unique. The same goes for tropes.
For example, a villain dressing exclusively in black is a trope and a cliche one at that. Maybe you want your villain to have a monochrome wardrobe, but you decide to make theirs pink. Have a reason behind that change, sure, but it’s definitely a twist!
It’s really about thinking how you’re going to put your own stamp on things. That’s what we do every day as authors, so don’t be afraid to do that with tropes, too!
Popular Fantasy Tropes
Below are just some of the most popular tropes in the fantasy genre. This is by no means a complete list, but it will serve as a great jumping off point if you’re looking for tropes you either want to include or avoid as you write your fantasy novel.
Characters & Character Arcs
The Chosen One
A character is, for some reason, destined to save the world, the kingdom, the continent, and so forth.
Secret Heir to the Throne
A character is the secret heir to a throne. It may be that they were whisked away and hidden as a child, their parents sent them away or were killed, etc.
The “Pure Evil” Overlord/Ruler
There’s someone in power in your book who might be described as “pure evil.” This can feed into the “Good vs. Evil” trope listed further down this list.
Antagonist-Turned-Ally (Redemption Arc)
In fantasy, the hero often must work with someone who they used to clash with for some reason. Maybe it’s not the villain, but it’s usually someone they haven’t always gotten along with.
In this trope, the villain, or at least an antagonist, is usually some kind of magic user. They don’t use their power for good.
Good vs. Evil
This is a staple of the fantasy genre. Your world may have what are clearly “good” and “evil” factions. You might get more nuanced than this, though, and create factions that are very gray but think of themselves as the “good” side.
The Reluctant Hero
This is a character—probably your protagonist—who doesn’t necessarily want to play the hero. They might be an everyday person forced into an unimaginable situation who has to rise to the occasion. They might also be someone with great power (like a Chosen One) who, for some reason, doesn’t want to fulfill this role.
Pseudo-Medieval European Setting
Many Western fantasy books have settings inspired by medieval Europe, especially places like the British Isles, France, and Germany.
Library Full of Secret Knowledge
Who doesn’t love a library full of secret, lost, important knowledge? Fantasy books sure love them! Your character(s) may have to travel to this library, or they may stumble across it by accident. Some kind of revelation may happen here.
Sometimes paired with the prior trope, ancient artifacts that hold either answers or power (or both) are also popular in fantasy books. This artifact holds importance in the world for some reason.
As characters embark on their journey, they get sidetracked from time to time. These side quests may feed into the main plot somehow, such as stumbling upon a new clue or gaining a new ally they’ll need later.
Another staple of the genre, training sequences usually show the main character(s) (sometimes even The Chosen One) training in some way. They may be learning sword fighting, hand-to-hand combat, how to use their magic, etc.
Enemies to Lovers
The enemies to lovers trope is popular in fantasy, especially in young adult and new adult fantasy. This is when two characters who previously butted heads for some reason must come together, and they end up falling in love. (Also popular in the romance genre)
Marriage of Convenience
Marriages of convenience are popular in fantasy novels as well. It often shows up as someone marrying a powerful political player, but any marriage might be for the convenience of the two characters. (Also popular in the romance genre)
There’s Only One Bed
Like enemies-to-lovers, this one is popular in YA and NA books. The main character(s), usually ones with a ton of romantic or sexual tension, must, for some reason, share a bed. For example, they may have stopped at an inn overnight and were only able to secure a single room. This bed sharing feeds into the development of their relationship. (Also popular in the romance genre)
Soulmates or Fated Mates
This trope has blown up in the YA and NA fantasy realm in the last decade. Sometimes tying back into enemies to lovers, the characters involved don’t know they’re soulmates for part of the book but feel drawn to each other. Figuring out their connection is often a huge revelation, and one character might even reject the bond at first.
Borrowing From Other Genres
While there are plenty of popular fantasy tropes (and many more I haven’t listed in this blog post), you aren’t limited to JUST ‘fantasy’ tropes when you’re writing your novel. You might borrow from other genres as you weave certain types of plots into your book.
For example, the trope of “missing persons case” is popular in the mystery genre. Maybe your main characters in your fantasy novel are investigating a disappearance that leads to much larger revelations about the powers in the world.
The trope of “opposites attract” is popular in the romance genre. If you have a romantic subplot in your book, maybe you borrow this dynamic. “Grumpy/sunshine” is another popular romance trope (one character has a grumpier personality, and one is more sunny/happy) that you might borrow.
Don’t forget to subvert tropes sometimes, too. For example, if you want to play with The Chosen One trope, you might have one faction believe your main character is this chosen person, while really, it’s later revealed that they weren’t chosen by fate but decided to follow the path anyway.
There are so many ways you can get creative, mix and match, and find a balance of tropes that make your novel pop. Think about what makes sense within your worldbuilding, for your characters and their personalities, and what might add more tension to your book.
Have fun and happy writing!
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