In fiction, tropes are like garlic and onions. They add richness and flavor to a dish. Something is missing without them. Too many though, and the food starts to taste a little sweaty, the way moldy old gym clothes smell. They overpower what could be a good dinner.
All of the tropes listed here are good things, in moderation. It’s when they’re overused that they edge over into being clichés, and that’s when we know it’s time to stop using them. Each trope is accompanied by a book recommendation that stays away from the stereotypes, for your reading pleasure.
1.The Most Evil Empire to Ever Evil
We can take it for granted that the entire political mass running this show is Evil (haha, no, they’re totally not modeled on Nazis at all!) So they don’t need a reason to burn the previously anonymous Chosen One’s village, send in the Ominous Henchmen™, torture or kill entire families and conquer rebellious countries with extreme prejudice.
Nope, they are a textbook literary example of pure totalitarian with inexplicably unlimited resources and landmass. They’ve never seen the movie, so they don’t know that supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony.
For an Evil Empire that gets plenty of backstories; The Black Company By Glen Cook.
2. Faux Medieval (With Bonus Modern Sensibilities about things like Rape and Hygiene!)
Tolkien did it, George R.R. Martin did it, and wow did they succeed. Of course, it’s tempting to try it. You need your similar-to-the-British country, somewhere warm and sunny that’s a-little-Spanish or kinda-Greek, your vaguely-Vikings with their ships, and for comedic relief throw in some backstory barbarians. Don’t forget the Monarchy!
Barmaids are optional, but they totally won’t stand for any amorous advances because they are 15th century in appearance but 21st century in their attitude, and somehow everyone enjoys a good, hot, anachronistic bath once a day.
For a trilogy that doesn’t seem like Tolkien-lite, start with The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.
3. Apostrophe + XYZ = Exotic
Look, I get it. Coming up with names is HARD. The urge is strong to add flair by using lots of random ‘ everywhere. Apostrophes aren’t sprinkles. Authors, consider the plight of your poor readers. They’re standing around gushing about your novel at a Con somewhere and then the dreaded moment arrives. They have to try to pronounce J’xalel the B’zir’ian warrior. Think of the wincing, the hundreds of different pronunciation guesses, the questions forcing you to come up with the ‘correct’ way to say it during a panel. And resist the urge.
Easy to pronounce yet awesome, Moon Called by Patricia Briggs.
4. Uncommon Amounts of Common Nouns
Imagine reading about The Guardians, who must wield The Sword of Pure Light, which was given to them in The Garden by The Wise Wizard. The Sword will free them from The Tyranny . . . sorry, the tyranny of The Dark One who rules the Land of Death. After a while, you even start to think in capitals. Yes, the occasional mysterious sounding noun lends grandeur to a fantasy setting. Remember though, it’s possible to go overboard.
Lots of grandeur, little capitalization: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
5. Whiter Than Rice Homogenous Races
Look, statistically speaking the probability that there is an ugly Elf or Fae somewhere is pretty high. They can’t ALL be inhumanly beautiful. Can there be a Dwarf once in a while who actually hates caverns and gold, and would rather open up a nice bakery in the nearest city (in the sunshine)? Must all Orcs have a gravelly voice, nasty looking skin diseases, and enjoy man-flesh? Humans vary widely in personality, so your magical races can too.
Character development; it’s not just for Literary Fiction. Plus, #weneeddiversebooks and some magic that doesn’t come attached to the white skin.
An examination of racism that makes you laugh while you wince: Thud! by Terry Pratchett.
6. Chainmail Bikinis
Does this one even need an explanation?
Scantily clad ladies who also kicked ass with a broadsword were all the rage for a while in the 1980s, but thank you, Jesus, they are mostly an endangered species now. Cover artists: before you stick a female assassin in lingerie, go outside. Go take a walk. Get some fresh air. And reconsider your design. No one is fighting evil with cold poky metal chafing at their lady bits, OK? Just no one. Don’t come at me with Return of the Jedi. Leia didn’t really have any choice in her attire (and you should read some of the trivia about how often that costume slipped).
Not a bikini in sight, still a strong female lead: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor.