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Genres & Age Categories => Sci Fi & Fantasy => Topic started by: Whizbee on November 12, 2008, 04:58 PM

Title: Magic Cliches
Post by: Whizbee on November 12, 2008, 04:58 PM
I'm working on a system of magic for my new ms. Anyone want to warn me away from any cliches?

I know that both Latin and talismans have been mentioned on another thread as over-used elements in magic systems. Can you think of any others?
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Traci Dee on November 12, 2008, 05:20 PM
Magic schools.  Rhyming spells.  Magic in any language other than the MC's own language.  Wands. 
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Whizbee on November 12, 2008, 06:55 PM
Magic schools, definitely, but that has been done so well!

A book that puts a seriously dark twist on the magic school trope: Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: rainchains on November 12, 2008, 07:10 PM
I know somewhere on these threads there's a link to a quiz about Fantasy cliches. It's a whole list of things about your book, like is your mc an orphan? Does he have a magic power that will save the world? etc.  If I find it, I'll post it hear for you.

rainchains: horse

Found it!  http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=11054.0
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: olmue on November 12, 2008, 08:28 PM
Magic swords with special names.

And portals... (Although I do like them.)
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: RyanBruner on November 20, 2008, 06:48 AM
A few jump to mind, other than those mentioned already.

- Glowing eyes
- Amulets
- Portals (as mentioned...and I find them annoying, personally, unless done in a VERY VERY VERY original way)
- Being the "One"
- Trances

Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: prairie girl on November 20, 2008, 07:01 PM
MC's who 'suddenly' become wizards (aka Harry Potter); magic schools; wizards who use phone booths or other everyday items as magical objects

If I were to do a magic story, I would use a language that hasn't been used before in a magic themed story like French, or Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, or perhaps a language that hasn't been used in a long time, perhaps Elizabethan English?
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Whizbee on November 23, 2008, 02:54 PM
It would be interesting to see high fantasy with ties to something totally different from the usual European tradition.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: JLady on December 10, 2008, 09:55 AM
Magic rings
Evil dark overlords
Wise old mentor figures
Plucky female ally

Although, keep in mind that the above cliches, as well as the others mentioned above, can be made "fresh" by putting a twist on them.  For example, a mentor figure who is not old.  A dark overlord who actually wears white.  Magic earrings.  Glowing hair instead of glowing eyes.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: JLady on December 10, 2008, 09:57 AM
Oh, and also, every fantasy world having elves, dwarves, humans, and some "evil" race.  It's fantasy...why have the same four races in every single fantasy series?  New ones can be made up, or writers can delve into mythology and pull out some little-used ones.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: kadje70 on December 10, 2008, 02:01 PM
It would be interesting to see high fantasy with ties to something totally different from the usual European tradition.

Totally agree. Why not something with an island or tribal feel to it? 
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Whizbee on December 10, 2008, 02:18 PM
Totally agree. Why not something with an island or tribal feel to it? 

Survivor: Middle Earth!
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Tyson McFrost on January 27, 2009, 12:39 PM
The elements. Every magic based fantasy novel always has Fire, Lightning, Ice and Earth as powers, (I'm somewhat guilty of this myself). When will I see a novel with diamond as an element, with ruby, titanium, gold, Ion, crystal and Mirage as an element. OH YEAH! That's right, my book has that. He, He. :thankyou
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Malinda on January 27, 2009, 06:23 PM
I totally agree that cliches should be avoided, but I also think that the tried-and-true can also still work. It's really a matter of style -- how you present the material. The elements may have been used in a lot of books, but if used well, they are so, well, elemental. Latin phrases, magic swords, mystical amulets ... they're all old-school. They played key roles in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and plenty of other fantasy novels -- and they were well-used well before Tolkien, too.

I think the sense of "cliche" may come from the way a story is told, rather than the elements of the story itself. And using a really old symbol in your story is one way to anchor yourself to a deeper storytelling tradition. It's definitely a fine line, though! I can totally understand wanting to do something new.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: xiaotien on January 30, 2009, 08:22 AM
It would be interesting to see high fantasy with ties to something totally different from the usual European tradition.

mine is based on china.
but i don't think it's high fantasy, exacrly.

i still have cliches, tho. i think it's okay as long
as you do it well and you do it your way, somehow.

there are elements of chinese myth and folklore along
with my own imagination. when i first chose my
heroine's "magic" (or superpower) i was certain
that it'd be featured in the next x-men film. haha!

i think if you try and do something that has never been
done before, you may never start a novel. OR you may
be half way through and see something like yours and
be discouraged. don't be. just write what you want to write
first. that's the most important thing, i believe.

 :goodluck

Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: tulipwars on January 30, 2009, 08:41 AM
OMG, Whisbee, that's brilliant.  Survivor: Middle Earth!  I would actually watch that.

Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: hazelnut on January 30, 2009, 10:41 AM
Survivor Middle Earth is hilarious!  :dr

Someone's mentioned portals, which bears repeating. Also:
-mysterious keys or mysterious boxes/chests that lack a key
-prophecies or crystal balls that predict the future
-books (or scrolls or runes) with secret, powerful information the hero needs and the enemies try to get
-dark dungeons, caves, or pits into which your hero is cast

I agree with the people who said keep an eye out for stereotypes. In addition to dwarves, elves, etc. watch out for:
-cackling, old witches who primarily cast spells or brew potions
-ditto for wizards with long, white beards
-fire-breathing, flying dragons protecting dragon eggs 
-hideous, brutish ogres or trolls wielding clubs
-orphaned heroes in the "care" of nasty relatives

Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: kadje70 on January 31, 2009, 01:40 PM
I think that 'cliches', when done well, can provide a comfortable connection for the reader. When I read fantasy that is completely out there and I feel that I have to learn an entirely new and extremely different culture, I struggle a bit to become immersed in the story (I have a book in mind but I can't think of the title). However when there are aspects that fall in with my own expectations or experiences I find it much more enjoyable - as long as it isn't too predictable.  Rowlings was brilliant at this. Patricia Wrede as well. It's a fine line but when it's done well, it's amazing fun.

Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: mswatkins on January 31, 2009, 02:40 PM

Someone's mentioned portals, which bears repeating. Also:
-mysterious keys or mysterious boxes/chests that lack a key
-prophecies or crystal balls that predict the future
-books (or scrolls or runes) with secret, powerful information the hero needs and the enemies try to get
-dark dungeons, caves, or pits into which your hero is cast

I agree with the people who said keep an eye out for stereotypes. In addition to dwarves, elves, etc. watch out for:
-cackling, old witches who primarily cast spells or brew potions
-ditto for wizards with long, white beards
-fire-breathing, flying dragons protecting dragon eggs 
-hideous, brutish ogres or trolls wielding clubs
-orphaned heroes in the "care" of nasty relatives



Oh No!!!! REWRITE!!!!    :dr

But it has been proven time and time again that these cliches can be done well when applied to a very good story.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: hazelnut on January 31, 2009, 03:11 PM
Quote
I think that 'cliches', when done well, can provide a comfortable connection for the reader. . . as long as it isn't too predictable.  Rowlings was brilliant at this. Patricia Wrede as well. It's a fine line but when it's done well, it's amazing fun.

Quote
But it has been proven time and time again that these cliches can be done well when applied to a very good story.

I totally agree! Each word like "dwarf", "wizard", "dragon", and "unicorn" conjures up a certain being and associated qualities that should not be disregarded. Otherwise, you lose the essence and nature of that being. If you're going to have a dragon in the story, it still needs to be dragonlike, but it shouldn't be a flat, one-dimensional character. That's why I tried to say, for example, the "cackling, old witches who primarily cast spells or brews potions" because there are fresher ways to portray witches than making them old, cackling hags busy making spells and/or potions.

After all, stories are usually about people, and we don't want to read about a person who's one-dimensional. We want main characters to be their own person and to be fresh and to keep us guessing a little.

J. K. Rowling is the champion of reinventing fantasy lore. How brilliant of her, for example, to take the familiar idea of witches flying on broomsticks and invent the game of Quidditch played on fast Nimbus broomsticks!
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Ruth Donnelly on January 31, 2009, 03:18 PM
I agree with kadje, msw, and hazelnut--there is a reason they're cliches: because people like and relate to them! Of course we want to avoid things that are eyerollingly common. If we include a "standard" element, we have to do it with a new twist. But if I try to eradicate everything that might be a cliche, I'm afraid I'll become too cautious to write anything.  :lalala
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: mswatkins on January 31, 2009, 03:19 PM

J. K. Rowling is the champion of reinventing fantasy lore. How brilliant of her, for example, to take the familiar idea of witches flying on broomsticks and invent the game of Quidditch played on fast Nimbus broomsticks!

Brilliant example.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Tyson McFrost on February 01, 2009, 12:19 PM


J. K. Rowling is the champion of reinventing fantasy lore. How brilliant of her, for example, to take the familiar idea of witches flying on broomsticks and invent the game of Quidditch played on fast Nimbus broomsticks!
Yeah, Miss Rowling is exceptionally talented. Inventing a hat that examines a person's character is cool. Her flare for the world of fantasy must come from her lack of belief in a higher power. (I don't know just saying.)  :hiding
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Whizbee on February 01, 2009, 01:21 PM
Her flare for the world of fantasy must come from her lack of belief in a higher power. (I don't know just saying.)  :hiding

Eh? Not quite sure I follow. Especially since Rowling is member of the Church of Scotland, right? And she does mention her religious beliefs, however vague she tends to be about them. Also there was that whole quote from the Bible in Harry Potter 7--not that you have to believe in a higher power to quote the Bible, but she doesn't seem to be an atheist to me.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: mswatkins on February 01, 2009, 02:46 PM
I'm not sure what a persons faith has to do with their ability to write a good story. 
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Tyson McFrost on February 01, 2009, 03:28 PM
Oh, heaven NO! I was only trying to make a light joke, like I always do. I know a heck of a lot better than to diss Mrs. Rowling,  :bow she has eyes and wands all over this thing we call the internet. You people can dig your own grave, leave me out of this.  :pp The last thing I want to do is blacklist my self in the novelist world, so I'll just crawl back under my bed now. . .later!  :hiding
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: mswatkins on February 02, 2009, 09:38 AM
I would like to add that I'm getting tired of dragons.  I know, I'm going to get run out of town for thinking that, but it's true.  Trust me, they're cool, and one ended up briefly in my wip, but they are just every where on the shelves, on cover after cover. 

Can I really be a fantasy fan and writer if I feel this way.  I may need therapy.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: hazelnut on February 03, 2009, 10:43 AM
Quote
Unicorns? Uh, eww no thank you.

<Gasp> Have you not read the gem by Peter Beagle: The Last Unicorn ? If not, hasten thee to a library and find this treasure :library therein! 
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Tyson McFrost on February 03, 2009, 11:04 AM
I have hastened thee to the library and the library is all checked out of thee "Last Unicorn" as it was hastened therein by thee astute readers.  :dr
Unicorns are nice, I know this, but my sister has all those stupid little pony dolls and I've grown to dislike unicorns because of it.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: mswatkins on February 03, 2009, 01:59 PM
I have hastened thee to the library and the library is all checked out of thee "Last Unicorn" as it was hastened therein by thee astute readers.  :dr
Unicorns are nice, I know this, but my sister has all those stupid little pony dolls and I've grown to dislike unicorns because of it.

The Last Unicorn is a great book.  It doesn't surprise me that it's all checked out. 
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: hazelnut on February 03, 2009, 02:56 PM
Quote
I have hastened thee to the library and the library is all checked out of thee "Last Unicorn" as it was hastened therein by thee astute readers.   
Unicorns are nice, I know this, but my sister has all those stupid little pony dolls and I've grown to dislike unicorns because of it.

Caught your attention, didn't I?  :dr 

Girly-girl unicorn stories (and playthings) are not my thing either, but The Last Unicorn has rich characterization and the writing is exquisite. Put your name down to be called when one of the books is returned.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: justJoan on February 03, 2009, 03:07 PM
If you want to read a book with a great twist on unicorns, read Rampant by Diana Peterfreund when it comes out in May 2009. I was lucky enough to get an ARC and these unicorns are man eating monsters . . . yeah way cool . . . I mean if your into man eating monsters and all that.  :moose

As for cliches, there have been some great suggestions here. I agree with what others have said, magic cliches can work if used in an original way. So write what you want/love and see where it takes you.  :yup
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Tyson McFrost on February 03, 2009, 03:31 PM
Ohhhh, Rampant sounds like something I can dig and I'll read the Last Unicorn simply because you awesome folks suggested it.

I just got to thinking and another magic cliche is magic itself. Why can't an ability like flying, super strength, or super speed be a suitable substitute for magic. And if so, does the exclusion of  magic and or a system subtract from the genre's overall premise.

So my question is: Is fantasy all about the magic?
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Mike Jung on February 03, 2009, 03:43 PM
There's a YA Sci-Fi thread that touches on the question of where "superpowers" fit, genre-wise, at http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=33541.msg413788#msg413788. Okay, yes, I'm the one who brought it up.

:whistle
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Whizbee on February 03, 2009, 05:05 PM
I'm chiming in on the "unicorns are awesome" side. I love The Last Unicorn--very clever and magical. And I think I can also dig man-eating unicorns. Now that is cliche-bending!
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: hazelnut on February 04, 2009, 11:00 AM
Quote
So my question is: Is fantasy all about the magic?

Fantasy is a genre. In the discussion of Fantasy in The Essential Guide to Children's Books and their Creators edited by Anita Silvey, it starts by saying "Fantasy is the ultimate literature of the imagination." The early examples of fantasy literature cited that show the "work of an individual sensibility", often with humor, are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), At the Back of the North Wind (1871), Wizard of Oz (1900), Five Children and It (1902), Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920) and Mary Poppins (1934).

"A major category of fantasy is the animal fantasy. With origins in Aesop, animal fantasies" this passage cites as notable animal fantasies include Watership Down (1972), The Wind in the Willows (1908), Charlotte's Web (1952), Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and Velveteen Rabbit (1922).

There's other types of fantasy, too, such as the high fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien and the fantasy of characters with super-powers. Harold Underdown points out in his book on publishing for children that a lot of picture books are fantasies, too. One favorite is Where the Wild Things Are.

And yes, all these stories have magic, that is, something not possible in real life. The magic in Doctor Dolittle is that the doctor and animals talk clearly to each other, and the animals act as assistants to the doctor. The magic in Velveteen Rabbit is that a child's stuffed rabbit becomes a real rabbit. The magic in Charlotte's Web is not only do the animals talk to each other (and the farmgirl, Fern, can understand them), but also that the spider can create words in her web that humans read.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Marissa Doyle on February 04, 2009, 11:15 AM
Nice precis, hazelnut!  Well done.

Now, what about stories that do not contain more than a whiff of magic (as in it's up to the reader to decide if an occurence has supernatural overtones or not) but is in a totally made-up setting?  Is that fantasy, or something else?
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Artemesia on February 04, 2009, 11:22 AM
James Maxey's BITTERWOOD series has an interesting take on dragons. (although I haven't read the second one yet) You think it's fantasy, and then you find out it's really SciFi.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Tyson McFrost on February 05, 2009, 01:55 PM
Thank you so much for the information Hazelnut and you too Mike. I learned a lot from this. Its nice to know the difference between fantasy and well. . . fantasy.  :moose
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Duskydawn on February 06, 2009, 05:57 AM
Another vote to say the writing in THE LAST UNICORN is simply amazing and, for another not-Little-Pony-type unicorn story, I highly recommend ARIEL.

Fantasy is just that - fantastic elements. There does not have to be magic to be fantasy, there can be entirely new worlds with new rules and new cultural nuances & expectations. You can certainly write a high fantasy knights-and-princesses story without magic or monsters in it (aside from the human ones, of course) or a strange, parallel world where people exist that no one notice (Beauty & the Beast, the Littles, and Neverwhere [which was 'not quite magic'] come to mind).

Certainly, I think, fantasy as a category is only limited by one's imagination and the less stress on technology, hard science and alien/outer space which would tend to push it into realms of science fiction (Joan D. Vinge is an excellent example of where this "blends", IMO.)
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: justJoan on February 06, 2009, 11:46 AM
Ohhhh, Rampant sounds like something I can dig

I posted my review Rampant on my  blog (http://authorwithin.livejournal.com/31375.html) yesterday. Check it out if you're curious.

I agree that magic doesn't have to be in a fantasy novel. There are many great types of fantasy as others have pointed out.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: ohmylorelei on February 06, 2009, 12:20 PM
May I hereby insist that all of this is bunk.  Nothing is a cliche if you approach it in a new way. My new book has a unicorn in it. The unicorn is named Geoffrey.  I swear he is NOT a cliche.  I also have a pirate in my book. The pirate has an inferiority complex and wants to be an archivist.  The farthest thing from jack Sparrow.  Merlin is in my book, but he shaves.  Etc. Etc.

As far as I'm concerned you need to think fresh.  You want a sword with a  name, call the sword something different from all other high-fantasy sounding swords.

You want to call someone, "The Chosen One?"  Make the chosen one a two year old who picks his nose constantly.  Or a friendly stinkbug.

If you begin by thinking of plot points and characters as codified BEFORE you start writing, I think you're sunk.

Just my two cents.
Title: Re: Magic Cliches
Post by: Tyson McFrost on February 06, 2009, 12:56 PM
And how right you are ohmylorelie. (Now where have I heard that name before?) I'll defiantly check out your blog justJoan, the Rampant book sounds very very interesting.