In a lot of science fiction and fantasy, there are certain ideas that are simply run-of-the-mill for both genres. Certain ideas that are just shared throughout the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. However, I’d say just as many are unique to the story you’re reading and shouldn’t be tampered with. In this article, I’m going to be listing a few standard ideas in fantasy and sci-fi literature to be used at your leisure, and some ideas that are off-limits and should therefore be avoided.
First, advantages that come from using these standard tropes and ideas: it makes your writing easier. Building a house is easier and less backbreaking if you buy lumber instead of cutting it down yourself. And since you’re not starting from scratch (well, COMPLETELY from scratch, that is), it can be pretty fun as well.
One final note before getting into the article: I’m only going to list things that won’t get you a copyright infringement lawsuit if you put them in your story. Anything that would should be considered not a “shared trope” and therefore doesn’t belong on this list. I’ll give a few of those later s you know how to avoid them.
Starting the list with Fantasy, The first (and most obvious) shared trope is the idea of magic. You might have thought I was going to say “middle-ages style fighting”, but that’s a given when it comes to fantasy (and it’s not always the case, for the record). To the point, most Fantasies have a analogous and mysterious “power”, sometimes called magic, sometimes having its own name. Whatever the case, however, it’s something that can and should be present in any fantasy novel.
Another very common idea in fantasy is the idea of fantastic good and evil sentient races, such as elves, dwarves, talking animals, orcs, goblins, werewolves, minotaurs, etc. This is less essential than the idea of magic or “power”, but it’s an untrademarked and fairly common characteristic of fantasy literature.
Aside from the time frame, (which, again, is a given) there’s the idea of hand-to-hand combat. Before you blurt that such a thing goes hand-in-hand with the time frame, it does not: see the movie Dune. (a space fantasy where humanity is technologically advanced yet almost no one uses guns because of shielding technology, favoring blades instead) An element of hand-to-hand combat or sword-fighting is still common but probably the least necessary of the elements I just mentioned, but a fantasy without any kind of sword-fighting still seems weird and out of place.
Alrighty, let’s talk kinds of warriors: most fantasies include at least two of three kinds of warriors: the upright forces of moral good, the downright(?) forces of moral evil, and the “rangers” (shady-ish good guys who work from the background and are given less credit than they deserve). The “rangers” can either be good guys or bad guys (usually good guys, though) due to their shady characteristics.
Lore! That’s another big one: many great (and even some not-so-great) fantasy stories have some kind of premise, some kind of backstory. However, this backstory is often employed in other kinds of literature, so it’s actually not all that special to fantasy. What associates it with fantasy so closely is that so many fantasies have it, and that many well-known fantasies have it.
Okay, here are some things you’re going to want to avoid: duplicate names, similar descriptions of places, and pretty much anything that takes ideas from one novel and doesn’t share them with anything else. If it doesn’t occur in more than five fantasy novels, then don’t use it. Also, be wary of friendly sentient dragons. Those are acceptable, but are still pretty obscure and uncommon, so watch out for any that might accuse you of plagiarism.
While I was originally going to declare some intellectual middle ground when it comes to science fiction (and yes, before you ask, hyperspace is allowed) but this article is getting a little longer than I intended at first, so I’ll save that for another day. If you can think of any other common tropes in fantasy that I missed, feel free to drop a comment down below.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!