by A.F. Stewart
Every genre has its classic tropes and fantasy is no exception. There’s the noble quest, the human suddenly drawn into a magical world, the chosen one, the great warrior making a stand against evil, the peasant that turns out to be a lost king, and so on.
Each trope, of course, has its tried and true formula. They are timeless and they work. But they can sometimes feel a bit stale. So here’s a few ways to shake things up.
Traditionally, a typical fantasy (especially epic fantasy) hero is male. An easy way to mix things up is to write a heroine instead of a hero and not just an aberration of your world’s society. Not simply a lone female that rose
to the occasion, but create a culture where women are an integrated part of the warrior class, or are wizards, or whatever profession you need. If your noble quest is led by women or that peasant that turns out to be a lost queen, it puts a new spin on the story.
Another way to gender switch is to make your villain a woman. A smart, devious, power-hungry woman laying waste to villages and putting your hero through the wringer lends a different perspective to the narrative.
A terrific example of this is the fantasy novel, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, where the main character is not the male wizard, but the female apprentice.
Consider making your villain a woman. A smart, devious, power-hungry woman laying waste to villages and putting your hero through the wringer. #writetipClick To Tweet
The majority of fantasy heroes (or heroines) are strong, capable, and get the job done. They have flaws and make mistakes, but they can generally swing swords, do magic, and save the day. So a way to flip that trope is make your main character bad at his job. If a chosen one can’t even lift a sword, let alone swing it, there will be problems saving the world. This works especially well if you are writing about a displaced human in a fantasy world or for a humorous fantasy novel.
And the talented Terry Pratchett does a great job with this twist in the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic.
The Unlikely Hero
The Noble Warrior, the Chosen One, the Heroic King. All classic fantasy characters who fight to save the day. Now imagine if they turned tail and ran from the battlefield, or took an arrow through the eye and died. And if this happened in the first few chapters of the book? Who would step up to take their place?
The Sidekick, that’s who. The page, the tag-along, the younger brother or sister, who suddenly and reluctantly assumes the mantle of hero or heroine.
One example of this is Un Lun Dun by China Mieville where the “Chosen One”, Zanna, is incapacitated and her friend Deeba has to step up to defy the prophecy and save the day.
Who says the main character has to be human? How about a snooty elf as the chosen one, whose not all that sure he wants to save humanity. Or a dragon as a good guy along on a quest, or a goblin warrior to save the kingdom. Or that lost monarch who happens to be part siren. The possibilities abound.
An excellent example of this is The Kaelandur Series (Melkorka, Maharia, and Dyndaer) by Joshua Robertson. The main character in this epic fantasy series is Branimir, an enslaved Kras (basically a goblin-like creature).
Who says the main character has to be human? Make your hero an elf, wizard, goblin, robot. Anything!Click To Tweet
The Villain as Protagonist
Now this one flips everything on its head, by making the villain the main character of the story. Perhaps he sees himself as the Chosen One, and he needs to rid the Kingdom of an imposter. Or he wants to be the Noble Wizard fighting against oppression and that pesky King is in his way. And what does the destruction of a few villages, or some cities matter in the end, as long as it’s for the greater good, right? The villain won’t see himself as evil or bad. After all, they do say every villain sees himself as the hero in his own story.
I’m cheating a little bit with this example, as it does lean more towards the horror genre, but Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard is a great villain-as-the-main-character book. And it does have dark fantasy elements like vampires and necromancy.
About the Author:
A steadfast and proud sci-fi and fantasy geek, A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada and still calls it home. The youngest in a family of seven children, she always had an overly creative mind and an active imagination. She favours the dark and deadly when writing—her genres of choice being fantasy and horror—but she has been known to venture into the light on occasion. As an indie author she’s published novels, novellas and story collections, with a few side trips into poetry. You can follow her on twitter or join A.F. Stewart on her website.
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