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The Silly Tropes of Bad Fantasy Writing


The Too Convenient Special Ability Trope

I blame the writers who write this nonsense. How can they sleep at night repeating the same tired tropes?

Giving a character special abilities right at the beginning, without having earned them, is far too convenient.

To me a hero's journey should be hard. It should be filled with challenges, some of which they fail at. If they are getting better at something it is because of months or years of practice/failure, and they should never be the equal or greater to any powerful villain(s) who has spent years or decades honing their skills.

It should never be the hero wakes up one day, discovers they have magical powers s/he never knew they had, and then masters their abilities in a few days/weeks/months. I have seen this trope in so many books, usually books aimed at young women, and it is utterly too convenient.

That doesn't mean it is just female lead characters either. Harry Potter also goes through this trope. He suddenly discovers he is a wizard, enters a secret alleyway, a secret train station, and goes to a secret school for wizards. Convenient? I haven't got to the part where he gains an extra powerful wand, is gifted an invisibility cloak, and is just conveniently really good on a broom. See? All too convenient. He even defeats the baddie at the end of Book 1 by simply touching him. Didn't even know he had that power. He just touches the baddie and the baddie ends up doing his impression of the Wicked Witch of the West melting.

Often the convenient hero also operates on a fate based plot... boring. So boring. Again, Harry Potter is guilty of this too, because of the whole prophecy thing. So basically he is fated to defeat Voldemort.
 
So why is this trope boring? Because you already know the ending. Once you learn that the hero is fated / prophesized to beat the villain, then it is now a foregone conclusion. You already know the ending. There wasn't really any surprise when Harry Potter finally defeats Voldemort in Book 7. That was the only possible ending.
 
At least Harry Potter had to go through 6 years of school before he was ready to face Voldemort, so at least his hero's journey was measured in years.

Instead in this trope what you often see is the following:
 
  1. Hero discovers they are special.
  2. Hero meets villain, magically survives the encounter.
  3. Hero masters their special ability in a very short period of time.
  4. Hero defeats villain in the 3rd act.
  5. The end.

So the hero somehow masters their special abilities in a short period of time and then defeats the main villain in Act 3, a person who has spent years or decades mastering their own abilities. Boring and unrealistic.

So how do you change this?

For starters, stop giving the hero special abilities.

Also don't give them a magical sword/etc when they first start out. (See the next trope further below.)

Example...

Years ago I wrote a book wherein the lead character is a half-demon. Guess what powers she got? None. She had absolutely no magical powers. She didn't even know she had half-demon blood. Her blood plays a role in the plot, but it has zero effect on her abilities. She is otherwise a normal human.

Now she does start with a sword that is reasonably well made, but it isn't magical. It is just a sword.

A plain hero with a plain sword. No powers. No magic.

That means she has to survive based on her skills and wits. Problem solving her way through dangers and challenges, not just blasting her way through problems with newfound magical abilities.
 
She also befriends some allies along the way, which also helps.

That makes a much more interesting story, in my opinion.
 
And because I follow the "Die Hard" approach to heroism, I believe my heroes should bleed. A lot. They should get injured and bleed. All sorts of things happen to them. I don't have them crawling through broken glass or air ducts, but the principle is there. If they are going to survive then they need to earn it.
 
And that to me is heroic. The hero who has no special abilities but is determined to survive and save the day. That is why John McClane is such a classic hero, precisely because he is an average joe type character who refuses to give up. (Now you might think, wait, if he is a classic, doesn't that make him a trope? No. A trope is overused and unremarkable because it has been done before, often poorly. A classic is memorable because it is done well and the storyteller knew what they were doing.)


 
The Too Convenient Magical Item Trope
 
Ever read a book where the hero finds a super powerful magical weapon in the first three chapters? Like Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone? Or Harry Potter gaining his extra powerful wand and later his invisibility cloak? Or Bilbo Baggins (or Frodo Baggins) gaining a magical sword and an invisibility ring?

This is another trope that bothers me.

Bilbo at least had to wait longer before he gained a magical sword and ring, Frodo didn't have to wait at all. He inherited both of them from Bilbo close to the beginning of LOTR.

I don't have a problem with characters gaining magical items later in the story, like halfway through the book or near the end, but right at the beginning is awfully convenient.
 
To me the trope of gaining a magical item at the beginning of the book is almost as bad as the hero discovering they have a special ability. Both are far too convenient.

If a hero gains objects or items along the way, they should be more mundane until at least halfway through the book.
 
Sometimes the item might not even usable by the hero, but perhaps goes to a lesser character, or worse, a villain gains possession of the item.
 
I did this several months ago when I was re-writing an upcoming novel. One of the lesser characters gained a magical item close to the halfway point in the book. It was a weapon the main character wasn't particularly skilled with, so it made sense the person who knew how to use it properly should get it.
 
And see? Isn't that more realistic?
 
The characters have skills, and often also lack certain skills. My main character didn't know how to use the weapon in question, but one of his companions not only knew how to use it, but was able to use it well.
 
That makes good logical sense after all. Not every magical item our hero finds he should automatically be able to use properly. Indeed, most weapons he finds should be alien to him. Does he know how to use a horseman's flail? Nope. Not a clue. A glaive? Nope, never even seen one.
 
It is one thing for a hero to pick up a sword and use it, a sword is still a sword after all. But that doesn't mean he is skilled with it. A fencer trained with epees should not be able to use a katana with the same measure of skill. They are two very different swords.

If the hero was skilled in a specific weapon, like harpoons, wouldn't it be awfully convenient if they just found a magical harpoon when they were not expecting to? It makes no sense.

And if you're like "But he was destined to find it!" then you are missing the whole point. Destiny and fate are also too convenient.


Conclusions and Exceptions

Fables and fairy tales. That is where these tropes belong.

If a writer wants to write using these tropes, they can still do so, but they should focus more specifically on writing fables, fairy tales and similar storytelling methods. Something similar to the Princess Bride would be okay too, as that is a swashbuckling fantasy/romance/comedy and comedies can certainly take advantage of silly tropes.

Because that is what they are. Silly.

So lets amend that list: Fables, fairy tales and comedies. That is where silly tropes belong.

And any writer who is writing a "fantasy romance" using the above tropes should be reminded that their book is a dime a dozen on Amazon, which has been flooded with fantasy romances so that their book does not stand out in the thousands of books with the same basic plot I mentioned further above with the following changes.

  1. Heroine discovers they are special.
  2. Heroine meets Boy #1.
  3. Heroine meets villain, magically survives the encounter.
  4. Heroine meets Boy #2. Love triangle ensues.
  5. Heroine masters their special ability in a very short period of time.
  6. Heroine defeats villain in the 3rd act.
  7. Love triangle ends somehow. One of the boys becomes a villain or dies. The other one later marries the heroine.
  8. The end.

There are literally thousands or tens of thousands of self-published books on Amazon with that same basic plot, all aimed at young women. (And you can often buy them for free due to promo deals. I know, I have gained quite a few for free and then discovered it was another poorly written love triangle disguised as a fantasy.)

Seriously, someone could use this plot, but make it a comedy and it would be so much better.

They could call it "Revenge of the Glitter Vampires" or something similar. Make it clear from the very beginning that it is a comedy. They could give ALL the vampires their own magical swords, so that they are all special in their own special way.

You know how in school these days kids are told that they are all special? All of them are special. Every one. I wonder if that social conditioning played a role in the desire for these young writers to want their main character to be "special" too? So is it millennials and centennials who are to blame for this trope? Quite possibly.

In contrast I was born in the 70s and went through the 80s and 90s. We learned the hard way that if you wanted to be special, you had to earn it. You have to strive for it. Nobody is going to hand you special abilities on a golden platter. You need to have a work ethic and a willingness to hone your craft.

Good night!

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