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Thread: "Cliched Trash"

  1. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Radone View Post
    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.
    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.

  2. #17
    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.

  3. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by JamesL View Post
    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.
    Do you happen to have a link to the article?

  4. #19
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Asur View Post
    Do you happen to have a link to the article?
    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).

  5. #20
    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.

  6. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Alchemist View Post
    Like some have said or alluded to, the tropes themselves aren't what is cliche, it is how they are used.
    Absolutely. Or I wouldn't have read so many mysteries over the years.


    Randy M.

  7. #22
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    Not wanting to be rude, but that cake analogy is exactly the kind of elitism I was talking about (even though it did leave me craving cake). The last few sentences seemed to say "Don't hold it against those poor traditional fantasy writers. They're not good enough to write anything better." A lot of times a well made vanilla cake is much better than an overcooked or poorly composed chocolate cake.

    By the way, I found the text of the Lynch article at http://speculativehorizons.blogspot....sy-clichs.html

  8. #23
    Speculative Horizons Moderator JamesL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Werthead View Post
    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).
    Oops, I actually posted the whole article on SH. Still, no death threats as of yet.

  9. #24

    I dig dwarf,s and elf,s and quest,s.

    I am fairly new to reading fantasy,but the whole reason i started reading is because of my love of Sword and Sorcery and D&D quest,s and LOTR ect. My guess as to why some folks get tired of this stuff in fantasy is because they have read evry great fantasy book from LOTR to what ever is current and are burnt out and want somthing different in there fantasy reads. But like you say,If you take out all the great races and the quest,s and so forth,You dont have much of a fantasy. Thats my take on the subject, But what do I know?

  10. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by Zedar View Post
    By the way, I found the text of the Lynch article at http://speculativehorizons.blogspot....sy-clichs.html
    Mr. Lynch nailed it. I can't disagree with a thing he wrote.

    Cliches can be useful and fun when done right. It's when they aren't thought out that they fall flat. The Dark Lord wants to conquer the world. Why? Well, because that's what Dark Lords do. And the heroes must stop him. Why? Well, because that's what heroes do. Blech. The cliche is not the problem with those so much as the complete lack of motivation.

  11. #26
    Chill out - it's only me
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    Cliches are cliches for a reason.
    They can be used at the drop of a hat.
    They're easy as pie to use.
    They make writing look easy.
    A lot of writers won't touch them with a ten foot pole.

    It's pointless to beat around the bush on this one.
    Let's let the demon out of the closet and put him through the Spanish Inquisition
    "no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

    (I'm done...)

    But seriously, cliches are cliche for a reason. We wouldn't use them unless they so accurately described an idea/situation, in a way that other words simply can't.

    We use cliches because they make sense. They're devices that all readers can identify with, all readers can understand. A wonderful piece of writing has many layers - cliches, as well as more subtle devices. I read this story a while ago about a man who woke up in a desert, not remembering how he got there. He had beaten his pregnant wife, and then plunged himself into a river. It was a dialog between himself and a guard who stood over him, giving him handfuls of water.

    The best line was something like:
    "Can there be no forgiveness for my crime?"

    "Don't you think some crimes are undeserving of mercy?"
    Obvious cliches:

    Water: symbol for purity, baptism, relief, cleansing.
    Desert: a "wilderness", a void, an emptiness, an unforgiving alien landscape, a place where no help can be found, and where only the strong survive.
    Guard: gatekeeper, protector, unquestioning loyalty

    Of course, upon further reading, it becomes evident that the desert is the writer's view of Hell. The writer also uses irony to describe the landscape
    A sea of sand...
    (almost) similar to

    Water water everywhere and all the boards did shrink;
    Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink;
    Tale of the Ancient Mariner
    Cliches are what we understand, what we can relate to. They are so evident in our own perception of the world, that they pretty much make sense upon the first hearing of them. They also create a bond with the reader. A lot of times, writers can be distant and arrogant. The reader recognizes the cliches and automatically feels more included in the story.

    As to the LOTR thing, I dare you to write a High Fantasy adventure epic that:
    a. comes close to LOTR and
    b. uses none of the same devices Tolkien used in his books.

    Seriously, it's impossible. He was the father of modern High Fantasy adventure epics.

    And what's involved in an epic?

    In Norse mythology, you have a Perfect Hero (Strider (because I can't spell his real name)), you have the treasure (the ring), you have the reason for the conflict (dwarves and their meddling earth magic), the wise ones (elves/ents), the supreme evil (Sauron), the evil hoard (orcs/goblins), the theatrics (any battle), and sometimes you have the love interest (Strider and that elf chick... can't remember her name... (put down your stones and pitchforks! It'll come to me eventually!)). And you have the grand quest where the perfect hero overcomes all odds (think Beowulf and Grendel, or Sigurd and Fafnir) and comes out the better through blood, gore, violence and a good helping of healthy slaughter.

    It wasn't Tolkien who created these cliches. These have been around for centuries. Tolkien just brought them to the fore when he wrote his books. And they're good books, and they remind us what an adventure story is.

    But try to write an adventure story that doesn't use even one of Tolkien's devices. You can't - he used them all.

  12. #27

    Cliches are lazy

    To the above poster who said But seriously, cliches are cliche for a reason. We wouldn't use them unless they so accurately described an idea/situation, in a way that other words simply can't.

    We use cliches because they make sense.

    I have to disagree. Cliches are lazy. I dont understand how you can say the repition of already used symbols/themes/ideas can be used to describe words or situations in a way that other words cant. If this is true plz show me an example of this.

    The anecdote you provide is example of this as i dont think you can argue that the ideas of purity/wilderness/ and protector could only be described or are somehow better described because the writer chose to use those symbols. This is a case of how well one writes not what cliches/symbols one chooses.

    Secondly as to your challenge about Tolkien thats complete BS. Can you define comes close in some universal manner. Because there are many works such as The Book of the New Sun, Lord of light, and the chronicles of amber which I consider high fantasy (well maybe not lord of light) and which among others i think are better than LOTR.

    Lastly the final idea you give is kinda offensive and insulting. Are you implying that a work which is not based off of Norse/european mythology is not high fantasy? The statement that you cannot write an adventure story without using one of tolkien devices is funny. I can point you to plenty of adventure stories and fantasy stories which use none of tolkiens "devices".

  13. #28
    The point was not that a different story could not be constructed- rather it was that there are themes and motifs that are utilized in any book and they were also utilized by Tolkien. Many of these 'cliches' are devices that will truly show up in any fantasy novel because they are the themes and motifs that make a fantasy novels what they are. That said the motif for Lord of Light is in fact the same motif used in countless previous stories- the Hero Redeemer.

    Like Frodo, like Beowulf, like Christ- Sam is a hero redeemer. Sam comes to the rescue of those to whom he is not obligated in any way and rescues them from certain destruction (continued enslavement). The motif has been used over and over again to the point where one could ask why? Why is this motif so loved that it shows up in countless stories and countless cultures?

    The point is- any story uses previous themes and motifs. This isn't unoriginal or lazy. It simply represents the fact that on some level we are drawn to this story. We love the hero and desire to be like them- why should we not love their stories?

    Now about Tolkien that certainly is a valid (or nearly valid) claim. Tolkien's works are interwoven with many, many themes that stretch back to the beginnings of human history-- coming of age, hero redeemer, good vs. evil, and many many other themes and motifs are present. I would challenge you to find a fantasy story which cannot be connected to LOTR by some motif.

    I can tell you right now you can forget about Zelazny- his stories are chock full of these themes (think about the most basic concept of his Amber universe- chaos vs. order).
    Last edited by Pellinore; June 9th, 2008 at 09:57 PM.

  14. #29
    I don't really mind cliches so long as thery're not used as a crutch to propel an otherwise flat story lacking depth or characterization. Too often there are stories written with characters who too closely fit the preconcieved mold of what has come before.

    Give me lots of cliches so long as the personalities are interesting and the story isn't written in such a way that makes it seem rushed or overly formatted.

    If you like 'traditional' fantasy then fine, but if traditional means the same types of quests composed of characters whose limitations, strengths, and weaknesses are all the same, then I want no part of it.

  15. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Zedar View Post
    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.
    I agree with you here, Zedar. I enjoyed the Belgariad when I was younger, and although I don't reread them now and enjoy them as much, I still respec them as books. I don't look at a novel and judge it by how closely it follows Tolkien-esque plot, but rather I look at how it is written and what the other does with those "fundamentals"

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