"Cliched Trash"

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Zedar, Jun 3, 2008.

  1. Zedar

    Zedar Registered User

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    The more I read of these forums, the more I wonder about the so called cliche riddled rubbish that is so much derided here. I honestly can't remember the last non-dragonlance book I read that had elves or dwarves in it (ok apart from Eragon, which isn't so much of a LotR ripoff as a Star Wars ripoff). Are books like this actually still being published, or are a lot of people here still dwelling on Terry Brooks flashbacks, and unwilling to see the current state of the fantasy market? Or am I just subconsciously ignoring all of these books in my local bookstore and only noticing the ones I'm interested in?

    I also tend to resent the suggestion that anything with elves, dwarves, a quest or a group of companions must be a blatant Tolkien ripoff. If you remove quests, fantastic races and friendship I really don't think there'd be much of a novel left. I suspect that a lot of books appear to be "Tolkien Clones" simply because they are using plot elements that are going to make a novel exciting, which just happen to be ones that Tolkien put to good use a long time ago.

    Sorry if I'm ranting a bit here, but the elitism I see in a lot of this forum really annoys me sometimes. I really love some of the so called cliched books out there, such as the Belgariad (quest, friend, no elves or dwarves), the Riftwar (elves, dwarves, no quest as such) and the Dragonlance books (elves, dwarves, quests AND companions, but honestly not much like LotR at all except in the most superficial sense).
     
  2. ThornofCamorr

    ThornofCamorr Registered User

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    Ive wondered the same thing myself, but usually just assume that the cliche's must reside in those shelves of books with Wheel-of-Time-looking covers that I usually don't look at. The only books I've read that were reminiscent of LotR was Jaquelyn Carey's Banewreaker and Godslayer, and thats kind of on purpose. Anyone want to list the Tolkien-esque books they know of that everyone's always complaining about?
     
  3. ChrisW

    ChrisW Banned

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    there's a thread around here somewhere that touchs on the cliche thing. The thing is cliches only bother people when they don't like the writing. KatG says it better but that's the gist of it.;)

    And yes, there is a fair bit of elitism here:). It's been worse though.
     
  4. JamesL

    JamesL Speculative Horizons

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    Scott Lynch wrote an interesting article on fantasy cliches recently. The general gist of his argument was that it is not the cliches that are the problem, but the way they are used. When writers use the usual cliches (farmboy hero, dark lord, etc) in the standard way, things get a bit dull. The best approach is to take the usual tropes and play around with them a bit.

    I don't mean that everyone needs to do this to the same extent as Joe Abercrombie. Take Gail Z. Martin for example. She's written a book about a prince that realises he has magical powers that he needs to use to overthrow his evil brother. So far, so standard. But the twist is that the heroic protagonist is a necromancer - a character usually portrayed as being evil. A minor twist that Martin uses very effectively.

    Personally I grew up reading quest stories and still enjoy reading them, although there needs to be some degree of innovation to keep things fresh. In Gail Z. Martin's second novel the formula reverts to type too much and subsequently I found the book dull at times. I have no problem with so-called 'elitist' views. If certain readers look down on traditional quest novels, then that's fine. It certainly doesn't represent a backlash against the quest sub-genre by any means.
     
  5. Ko-jah

    Ko-jah Registered User

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    sword of shannara was one of the more blatant tolkien clones, i believe.

    mythical creatures, exotic places, mystical items, good and evil, love and friendship, quests, heroes, villains and companions - i've seen all this and more referred to as cliche! cliche! cliche!
    are we confusing cliches with the fundamentals?
     
  6. Zedar

    Zedar Registered User

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    I think you've hit on it there, Ko-jah. In my opinion the so called cliches are the fundamentals of the fantasy genre. Every genre has certain staples that define it, which make the books what they are. Is every mystery novel with a murder and an investigator unreadable cliched rubbish? Was Agatha Christie Terry Brooks to Arthur Conan Doyle's JRR Tolkien? I think not.

    In my opinion, some people need to get past the idea that "overused cliches" make a bad book, and instead assess them on their own merits.
     
  7. Sfinx

    Sfinx Life's a riddle

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    I can recommend: Cliche book title contest. :D

    But, as stated above, it is not so much the cliche elements (because imo there's only a limited number of 'key ingredients' to a story that really engage us) but how they're put to use. Plus, i don't necessarily equate 'making fun of' to 'elitism'. Ofc, there is always an element of 'showing off' / 'look at what i read' / 'this is what I think!'. If we wouldn't have that this forum would not exist - or in a fairly miniscule form. Hence, not too bothered by it. Just need to aware we do not make it personal: "because you read a book i do not like I do not like you" or similar silly stuff. Other than that, all authors / books are fair game :)
     
  8. Alex

    Alex Registered User

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    I think Chris was refering to the monster thread:

    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8087&highlight=alex

    There we discuss quite thoroughly (or however you spell it) where authors get their influences from and what a "copycat" is=)

    As for Gail Martin.... Well... Stereotypical characters can work but I find it mindnumbingly boringwhen I can guess the entire outcome of a series after reading the cover of the book. Let's see if my "scrying" for The summoner will be right (reading it right now):

    Prince with latent power and an evil brother will loose 1-2 friends on his way to reclaim his throne from his evil brother and his evil mage. He will naturally save and get the princess aswell and by the end of the series he will have almost godlike powers.

    The fact that he is a necromancer doesn't do a thing for me. That doesn't make him a "greyish" protaonist in the sense of black/white charactarisation. He is purely a good guy with incredible powers.

    Stereotypical fantasy can indeed be pulled of and I think Greg Keyes is a good example of this, he manages to come up with some nice plot twisting and characterisation.

    That was nicely put and that's prolly the reason why I wont buy Gail Martins 2nd book=)
     
  9. Wulfa_Jones

    Wulfa_Jones Gentleman and Scholar

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  10. Cranky Hamster

    Cranky Hamster Registered User

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    Like pretty much everyone else who's posted on this thread, I don't have a problem with elves or dwarves or quests in and of themselves. It is the case that most writers who use those tropes do it poorly, and when there are too many points scored on Cliche Bingo it's likely that the telltale signs of unoriginality are going to be borne out by a crappy story, but the elements by themselves don't mean that.

    Here's my analogy: let's say that one day an enterprising chef invents cake. It's a straight-up vanilla white cake, but it is the world's first cake, and so everyone is all "ooh cake! this is wonderful! this is delicious! this enables Eddie Izzard bits!" All the other chefs rush out there and also make cakes, because there is now a huge burgeoning cake market, but early on everyone's just trying to learn the basic recipe, so they all make vanilla cakes.

    And it gets to the point where people are all hung over on sugar and broccoli is starting to look really excellent as a change of pace.

    And then some enterprising young rebel thinks "but what if I take some of this chocolate and put it in the cake!!!" and meanwhile some other guy is thinking "what if I take some of this fudge and add a little more powdered sugar and.... I think I will call it 'frosting.' Brilliant!" and the cake market continues, broadening and diversifying. A few people still like vanilla for the sake of nostalgia but most of the original fans are past that.

    Eventually you get to the present day: there are green tea cakes, hummingbird cakes, red velvet cakes (with ongoing flame wars over whether cream cheese or roux frostings are the "correct" complement), and the occasional old-fashioned vanilla cake, sometimes tricked up and sometimes not. Meanwhile, the original knockoff vanilla cakes have gotten so stale in the intervening decades that many people can't understand what was ever appealing about them at all, while old fogies are all "oh but they used to be so much better back in the day" and the kids are like "uh-huh, well, looks pretty gross to me."

    Now, the point of this incredibly long belabored analogy (besides amusing myself) is this: it is quite likely, speaking as a chef, that someone who is making vanilla cakes is doing that because they are still learning the basics. In fact they may even be using a box cake mix (read: writing Extruded Fantasy Product), which discriminating tastes abhor but 12-year-olds (and spiritual 12-year-olds) unabashedly love. Meanwhile, people who have already mastered their craft may occasionally return to produce a truly stunning jewel of a vanilla cake (see also: GRRM), but more likely than not they're going to be off experimenting with whether ancho chilies, orange zest, and chocolate can be combined to good effect (or, if you prefer, writing squidpunk).

    So it becomes very easy to say "someone making vanilla cakes is only doing that because he isn't good enough to do anything better," whether or not that's true in the individual case, because as a general matter it very often is.
     
  11. DailyAlice

    DailyAlice Registered User

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    Um, the above post? Amused me too.

    Well done!
     
  12. Andols

    Andols I like stories

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    This is the most delicious analogy of all time.
     
  13. Severn

    Severn boss of several cats...

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    Yeah great, it's 2am and I want cake. I don't even like cake much... :eek:

    If a cliche is used well I'm fine with it. If it's not, then I'm not. Not elitism. Just like good writing.

    Short and sweet. Like cake...mmmmmmmmmmmm
     
  14. Davis Ashura

    Davis Ashura Would be writer? Sure.

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    The above analogy only holds if we think that 'quest' fantasy is vanilla cake and that the over-turn-the-tropes fantasy is the more inventive cake. I don't believe that's the case at all. It is true that the original vanilla cake could be said to be Tolkien, if we want to use that analogy. But many here, who know the history of fantasy much better than I, will also point out that fantasy existed well before Tolkien. He used certain tropes and they became popular. Many clones were written as a result. Hence, the false sense that this was vanilla and non-experimental.
    However, the current glut of dark/gritty/flavor of the moment that's considered so original are drawing from a different set and sometimes the same set of cliches. The writing techniques and themes, though, such as vivid, almost dreamlike writing; incredibly dense and well-described scenes; imaginative, almost lurid compositions; or dark and atmospheric books with gray characters - all of that has been done before, from E.R. Edison to Peake to Moorcock to Delany. It's only now, in the past 5-10 years, that the worm was turned back to these type of books. But, the point still remains that the experimentation that's considered so new and fresh was dated from the moment pen hit paper.
    I noticed that the dark/gritty (I'm using that term as a catch-all for all the new fantasy that's considered wildly divergent from Tolkienesque) had already become a cliche about 3-4 years ago. Hence, poorly received books that claimed to out-dark the darkest works, such as Brian Ruckley and David Keck. I have a theory that in another 5 years, when amnesia sets in, or when new readers, who haven't read the stuff from the 70's and 80's, come along, they'll complain about repetitive grim, drab worlds full of gray characters and conflicts. Then, a very well written Tolkienesque fantasy will come along, and seem like a burst of happy sunshince. All that was old and tired will be fresh and new and vice versa.
     
  15. catsrule1

    catsrule1 Registered User

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    The only criteria I use to judge a book are how well the book is written and how enjoyable it is to read. There are almost no original ideas recently in literature, or at least they are rare. To suggest that a book is a Tolkein ripoff because it has elements of elves, dwarves, and a quest in it - would be similar to saying a book about a trip to the moon is a ripoff of Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. They are simply extrapolations from good literary ideas. Some are well written and readable, some are not.
     
  16. Cranky Hamster

    Cranky Hamster Registered User

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    Well, yeah, that's my point. ;)

    It's not to say vanilla cake is bad. It's a perennial seller, consistently one of the top choices, and available at any shop you care to visit. Many people try it (or the runner up, chocolate/"dark and gritty") as their first cake, and continue to love it forever.

    And a lot of the really inventive attempts turn out kind of gross and indigestible. They just usually don't make it to market. When they do, jaded fans will rush to embrace them and normal people will say "yeah I dunno, yak-milk yogurt and green cacao pods don't sound that tasty, think I'll have some of this nice vanilla cake over here."

    I'm going to quit belaboring the analogy here, although I suspect it can be extended to cover pretty much every commonly-discussed fantasy topic on these boards.
     
  17. Pellinore

    Pellinore What, what, what?

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    I don't know, it does seem a bit elitist to assume that change is better. That is to assume that Tolkien and early fantasy is inferior to later fantasy on the grounds that others imitated them, and to then say then that anything different is superior due their 'freshness' seems quite so. Vanilla is my favorite sort of ice cream, white cake is my favorite sort of cake, and good classic fantasy is my favorite sort of book.
     
  18. Asur

    Asur Registered User

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    Do you happen to have a link to the article?
     
  19. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    I think he's referring to Scott Lynch's article in Bantam's Pulse magazine, which for copyright reasons cannot be reprinted online (at least not yet).
     
  20. Alchemist

    Alchemist Registered User

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    Yet, yet, even in the Lynch quote he is emphasizing novelty over authenticity ("...pay around with them a bit"). To me this only deals with surfaces not depth. I mean, if we have dwarves that ride horses on the plains, we're moving so far away from the essential quality of the dwarf archetype as to beg the question: Why bother? That is, why bother making the plainsfolk dwarves? I mean, if you want them to be short and grumpy, just make them short and grumpy humans. But when fantasy authors start shifting things around like that, it ends up seeming somewhat masturbatory.

    Like some have said or alluded to, the tropes themselves aren't what is cliche, it is how they are used. I'd rather read an honest, enjoyable "vanilla fantasy" than a pretentious, trying-too-hard-to-be-original "flavored fantasy" that ends up being more clever than soulful, more mental masturbation than wonder-inspiring.