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Magic Cliches

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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?
#1 - November 12, 2008, 04:58 PM
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Magic schools.  Rhyming spells.  Magic in any language other than the MC's own language.  Wands. 
#2 - November 12, 2008, 05:20 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.
#3 - November 12, 2008, 06:55 PM
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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
#4 - November 12, 2008, 07:10 PM
« Last Edit: November 12, 2008, 07:11 PM by rainchains »

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Magic swords with special names.

And portals... (Although I do like them.)
#5 - November 12, 2008, 08:28 PM

RyanBruner

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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

#6 - November 20, 2008, 06:48 AM

prairie girl

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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?
#7 - November 20, 2008, 07:01 PM

It would be interesting to see high fantasy with ties to something totally different from the usual European tradition.
#8 - November 23, 2008, 02:54 PM
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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.
#9 - December 10, 2008, 09:55 AM

JLady

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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.
#10 - December 10, 2008, 09:57 AM

kadje70

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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? 
#11 - December 10, 2008, 02:01 PM

Totally agree. Why not something with an island or tribal feel to it? 

Survivor: Middle Earth!
#12 - December 10, 2008, 02:18 PM
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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
#13 - January 27, 2009, 12:39 PM
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Malinda

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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.
#14 - January 27, 2009, 06:23 PM

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

#15 - January 30, 2009, 08:22 AM
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OMG, Whisbee, that's brilliant.  Survivor: Middle Earth!  I would actually watch that.

#16 - January 30, 2009, 08:41 AM
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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

#17 - January 30, 2009, 10:41 AM

kadje70

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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.

#18 - January 31, 2009, 01:40 PM

mswatkins

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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.
#19 - January 31, 2009, 02:40 PM
« Last Edit: January 31, 2009, 02:42 PM by msw »

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!
#20 - January 31, 2009, 03:11 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
#21 - January 31, 2009, 03:18 PM

mswatkins

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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.
#22 - January 31, 2009, 03:19 PM

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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
#23 - February 01, 2009, 12:19 PM
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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.
#24 - February 01, 2009, 01:21 PM
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I'm not sure what a persons faith has to do with their ability to write a good story. 
#25 - February 01, 2009, 02:46 PM

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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
#26 - February 01, 2009, 03:28 PM
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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.
#27 - February 02, 2009, 09:38 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! 
#28 - February 03, 2009, 10:43 AM

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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.
#29 - February 03, 2009, 11:04 AM
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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. 
#30 - February 03, 2009, 01:59 PM
« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 02:01 PM by msw »

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