13 Fantasy/Sci-fi “Clichés”

In a continuation of my cliché post, I thought I’d share some of the more entertaining “Stories We’ve See Too Often”, which is a part of the submission guidelines of Strange Horizons magazine. Several made me laugh in knowing condescension (I even arched an eyebrow and stroked my chin), while several made me cringe in shameful recognition (cheeks aflame).

Er…the magazine specifically requested I not refer to their list as clichés, so we’ll say they’re only sorta “clichés”. The quotes add sarcasm, which therefore lightens the negative connotation of the word…<cough, cough>…right? Enjoy!

  1. Creative person is having trouble creating.
    • Writer has writer’s block.
    • Painter can’t seem to paint anything good.
    • Sculptor can’t seem to sculpt anything good.
    • Creative person’s work is reviled by critics who don’t understand how brilliant it is.
    • Creative person meets a muse (either one of the nine classical Muses or a more individual muse) and interacts with them, usually by keeping them captive.
  2. Visitor to alien planet ignores information about local rules, inadvertantly violates them, is punished.
    • New diplomat arrives on alien planet, ignores anthropologist’s attempts to explain local rules, is punished.
  3. Weird things happen, but it turns out they’re not real.
    • In the end, it turns out it was all a dream.
    • In the end, it turns out it was all in virtual reality.
    • In the end, it turns out the protagonist is insane.
    • In the end, it turns out the protagonist is writing a novel and the events we’ve seen are part of the novel.
  4. Technology and/or modern life turn out to be soulless.
    • Office life turns out to be soul-deadening, literally or metaphorically.
    • All technology is shown to be soulless; in contrast, anything “natural” is by definition good. For example, living in a weather-controlled environment is bad, because it’s artificial, while dying of pneumonia is good, because it’s natural.
    • In the future, all learning is soulless and electronic, until kid is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a book.
    • In the future, everything is soulless and electronic, until protagonist (usually a kid) is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a wise old person who’s lived a non-electronic life.
  5. White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk.
  6. Story is based in whole or part on a D&D game or world.
    • A party of D&D characters (usually including a fighter, a magic-user, and a thief, one of whom is a half-elf and one a dwarf) enters a dungeon (or the wilderness, or a town, or a tavern) and fights monsters (usually including orcs).
    • Story is the origin story of a D&D character, culminating in their hooking up with a party of adventurers.
    • A group of real-world humans who like roleplaying find themselves transported to D&D world.
  7. People whose politics are different from the author’s are shown to be stupid, insane, or evil, usually through satire, sarcasm, stereotyping, and wild exaggeration.
    • In the future, the US or the world is ruled by politically correct liberals, leading to awful things (usually including loss of freedom of speech).
    • In the future, the US or the world is ruled by fascist conservatives, leading to awful things (usually including loss of freedom of speech).
  8. Superpowered narrator claims that superhero stories never address the mundane problems that superheroes would run into in the real world.
  9. The narrator and/or male characters in the story are bewildered about women, believing them to conform to any of the standard stereotypes about women: that they’re mysterious, wacky, confusing, unpredictable, changeable, temptresses, etc.
  10. Author showcases their premise of what the afterlife is like; there’s little or no story, other than demonstrating that premise.
    • Hell and Heaven are run like businesses.
    • The afterlife is really monotonous and dull.
    • The afterlife is a bureaucracy.
    • The afterlife is nothingness.
    • The afterlife reunites you with your loved ones.
  11. Teen’s family doesn’t understand them.
  12. Twee little fairies with wings fly around being twee.
  13. In a comedic/satirical story, vampires and/or other supernatural creatures come out publicly and demand (and/or get) the vote and other rights, but people are prejudiced against them.

My favorite is #11. Twee… It’s just a funny word. Ha, ha — I even giggle as I type.

Happy Thursday, ya’ll.