Today I am pleased to have a guest post by Michael J. Sullivan on the topic of fantasy tropes. I just reviewed his Theft of Swords yesterday and found it a very enjoyable traditional fantasy. In this post, I think Michael makes some really good points about tropes in fantasy and what people often mean when they say they are tired of fantasy tropes. I hope you enjoy it, too, and thanks to Michael for stopping by today!

Michael Sullivan


Hello, my name is Michael J. Sullivan and I want to thank Kristen for having me here today.  For those that don’t know who I am I wrote a six-book series called The Riyria Revelations. The series has been picked up by Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group) and they are releasing it as a trilogy: Theft of Swords (Nov 23 release – although print books are already in bookstores), Rise of Empire (Dec 15), and Heir of Novron (Jan 31).  The best way to describe this series is traditional epic fantasy and Kristin asked me here for my take on using tropes in fantasy.

I guess I should start out by talking about tropes in general just so that we are all on the same page. Some people think tropes are clichés (which are stereotypes and trite) but in reality a trope is something that is familiar in the mind of your audience.  I write traditional epic fantasy, fantasy that I loved as a child, so there is a nostalgic quality to a lot of what is in The Riyria Revelations.

There have been times that I have heard fans of the traditional fantasy novels lament the repetitive themes and exhausted archetypes of the genre. They say they are tired of the same old hero-vanquishing-evil and want something new, something more real, more believable. To me sounds like someone saying they love chocolate, they just wished it wasn’t so chocolaty and that it tasted more like vanilla.

Part of the problem comes in that people say there is no such thing as a truly original idea, and every book borrows from ones that have gone before. It’s a valid point, and one that really can’t be argued with. But here’s the thing…it’s all about how you execute your story and what you bring to the genre. When I look at Harry Potter it has some of the most standard themes in the genre. Think about it…he’s an orphan…destined for greatness…there’s an ancient evil trying to destroy the world…and Harry must defeat it.  This has been done hundreds maybe thousands of times in the past and yet, for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the Potter series because the way in which Rowlings told the story was so enjoyable.

My thoughts are that I don’t think people hate to read the same type of story, they just hate to read bad stories. There are an infinite number of ways to combine old ideas to create new books. If the plot is good, if the reader cares for the characters, if the setting feels real, then it doesn’t matter that at its root is something you’ve seen before. In truth the fact that it is familiar is one of the things that makes it feel so welcoming…like your favorite pair of shoes or a beloved sweater. They are comfortable, and inviting and you like being with them. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me.

Of course, not all people will feel the same way, and that’s a good thing because variety, is as they say, the spice of life. If you do like something that has a familiar feel but breathes some fresh new air I hope you’ll look into my Riyria Revelations and if you do give it a try, please drop me a note and let me know what you think. My email is in the books and there’s nothing more that I love then hearing from people who have given me some of what is most precious to them…there time and thanks once again Kristin for inviting me to post.