If you are presently preparing a fantasy adventure for this year’s NaNoWriMo novel writing challenge, could I encourage you to consider shifting the fashionable tropes of fantasy and flipping those worn out old stereotypes?
For instance, why do wizards have to be enlightened old men? Why wise, why old, and most important, why male? Why not incorporeal? Why not multicellular? Why not a cyborg?
So, with these notions in mind, I chose The Hobbit as a source, to offer a few mind-flips that, I think, might help you develop alternative & excitingly fresh concepts:
1: The protagonist. Does your protagonist have to be honourable? Does she/he/it/they have to be upstanding? How about establishing an unsavoury & unreliable hero instead?
Does your protagonist have to be withdrawn and aloof? Why not create a protagonist who is proud-as-a-peacock, filled with boastful swagger and, basically, a show off?
2: The mentor. Does your mentor character have to be venerated and cobwebbed? Does the mentor unquestionably have to be trustworthy? Don’t older individuals make mistakes? Aren’t older individuals sometimes forgetful?
3: The fairy queen. Does your royal-blood fairy have to be elegant (and feminine, come to that) with long silvery-shining hair? Does she have to be proud, strong, and stubborn? What about the queen of doubts? What about a fairy queen who is dubious about her, his, or indeed their place in the universe? What about a gender-fluid character? Or a fairy confused by everything including identity?
4: The elves. Do your elves have to be puckish characters? Do they have to be capable with a bow-and-arrow? Why not portray them as therapists or nurses? Do they have to be impressive & proud? What about drunken, undisciplined and unruly elves?
How about coming up with “enhanced” trolls who are sophisticated, remarkably advanced life forms noted for their superior intellect and wisdom?
5: The magical otherworld. Does your Rivendell have to be set in a deep valley? Why does it have to lie “beyond the mountains?” Why isn’t the magical otherworld right here, under our noses? Perhaps the magical underworld is in the pedestrian subway? Perhaps it’s under the floorboards of a store in your mall!
6: The dark lord. Does your dark lord have to be a guy? Does (she, that, they) have to be absolutely evil? Or might they simply be indolent, unintelligent, or insensitive? Why is your dark lord a humanoid figure? Why can’t it be a crocodile? Or multi-headed? Or like a worm? Or amphibian?
7: The dwarves. Do your dwarves have to be bearded little men? Do they have to be perversely stubborn? Do they have to be fearless warriors? Do they have to carry axes and hammers? How about creating civil and exquisitely polite creatures that are loving, cordial, and gentle? Why not portray your dwarves as peaceful, enlightened creatures who prefer learning and compassion to combat and working in mines?
8: The magical item. Does your magic item have to provide the user / owner with some kind of impregnability or super power or could it be (wickedly) offer quite the opposite entirely, to become a horrible, enslaving thing: maybe an irresistibly compulsive object like a junkie’s bong (an addict might use it to escape harsh reality) or a game addict’s handheld video game (also used for escape to another world.)
9: The dragon. Does your dragon have to be snake like? Why not like a lion? Or like a dog? Does it have to be visible at all? Maybe it’s just a force lurking, imperceptibly, in another dimension? Why does your dragon have to be smart (why not stubborn?) Or huge (what about a mini-dragon, the size of a caterpillar?) Or cunning (why not stupid?) Or possess huge physical strength (why not powerless and fallible… which is why the beast is so darned angry!)
10: The trolls. Do your trolls have to be represented as monstrously large humanoids? Why are they humanoid at all? What about jellyfish-like? Or scorpion-like? Why do trolls have to have bad table manners and working-class accents? How about coming up with “enhanced” trolls who are sophisticated, remarkably advanced life forms noted for their superior intellect and wisdom? Wouldn’t that make them more troublesome enemies?
11: The orcs. Do your orcs have to be demonic? Do they have to have fangs, bow legs, and long arms? Why not depict them as sexy? As apex predators, with no natural enemies, aren’t they more likely to be very sophisticated hunters? Are they not likely to live in family groups ruled by a mother figure? Aren’t they more likely to be inquisitive creatures that have evolved ingenious skills such as thought transference, clairvoyance and teleportation to aid them in pursuing their prey? Wouldn’t such attributes make them genuinely menacing enemies?
12: The setting. Does your setting have to be a have to be a medieval-type European-looking place, with mountains, lakes, forests and swamps? Why doesn’t your Middle-earth look like the Australian outback? Or the Greenland tundra? Why does it have to be like earth at all? Why doesn’t this made-up place smell of toffee and come caramel coloured, with volcanoes spilling frost and islands made of syrup, stranded in seas of lichens & moss? Why isn’t your middle-earth pink in summer, blue in autumn, and velvet (when it becomes unpleasantly fetid) in winter?
Words: @neilmach October 2021 ©
My NaNoWriMo profile is here, if you want to come & say hi in November : https://nanowrimo.org/participants/neil_mach