By Andrea Fausbøll
Mar 9, 2022


As an avid fantasy reader and fan, I’ve seen my fair share of tropes.

In the process of writing my own fantasy book, I thought I might make a list of the most common tropes and how to use them, but most importantly how to make them your own.

Remember, it is up to you if you want to include any tropes and how you use them, as long as they make sense to your narrative drive.

Throwing in a trope, just for the sake of it, is not going to improve your book or plot – it might just muddle it or throw you off course.

The Chosen One

Ah, a classic. Famously known from Harry Potter, where he alone is the key to saving the world from Voldemort.

Harry Potter’s scar in form of a lightning bolt further strengthens the testament as “the chosen one”.
Generally, this trope revolves around the protagonist needing to fulfil an important purpose or goal often to save the world or defeat the evil.

The main conflict revolves around the protagonist and they have been chosen (knowingly or unknowingly) to resolve the conflict.

The Secret Heir

The protagonist has grown up their entire life in a humble environment, sharply contrasting to their true (often royal) lineage or bloodline until it is one day revealed.

An event or catalyst then catapults the protagonist onto a journey of self-discovery where they must navigate the dangers, politics and power of their true identity.

You can find a list of books with this trope here.

The Evil or Dark Lord

The Evil Overlord resides and rules in a dark corner of the kingdom or in another country entirely.

They are surrounded by their followers and acolytes who do their dirty work while they strategize and plan.

The Evil Overlord is often looking for world domination and will smash anyone standing in their way.

An example is Sauron from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series.

The Resistant / Reluctant Hero

Often, the Resistant Hero is also the Chosen One and these tropes, therefore, play out well together.

The protagonist is forced onto a journey or path they absolutely do not want to pursue. They strive to return to their “normal” life and want to be kept out of politics and conflicts.

Sometimes, the notion holding them back is a lack of confidence or some past event that has made the protagonist swear off certain things, ie. Like magic.

You can find a list of books with this trope here

The Mentor

Another trope that plays well with any of the above-mentioned tropes.

The Mentor plays a significant role in the protagonist’s life and prepares them for what is to come, but also helps them grow and develop into the full potential of their character.

The Mentor often leaves before the big challenge – whether they sacrifice their life for the protagonist or for some other reason cannot continue the journey with the protagonist.

This often creates distress, grief and heavy self-doubt and the protagonist must decide to continue on alone, often deciding to honour the legacy of the Mentor and defeat the evil.

You can find a list of books with this trope here.

The Powerful Artifact

This trope is often seen across a wide type of genres. A powerful object or “holy grail” must be saved from falling into the hands of evil.

The object can commonly be used for “good” and “evil” and it thus depends on the individual channelling its powers.

The Artifact has often been lost for a long time and both sides frantically search for it in hopes of achieving their goals. Commonly, the object is inanimate, but in some cases, the Powerful Artifact resides in a character.

An example of this is the Shadow and Bone series, in fear of revealing too much I will have to leave it at that but go read.

Another example of the Powerful Artifact trope is Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

The Luring Evil

An evil force was defeated long ago and locked away, never to wreak havoc again.

Untiiiiil, now that is.

Thirsty for revenge the evil force will stop at nothing to regain its power and control.

The Evil Force either breaks free on their own, by tricking a naïve character, by the release of a follower or supporter or accidentally by natural causes.

An example of this is Peter Pettigrew performing a ritual to bring back Voldemort… yikes.

The “Here Comes the Cavalry” Saviour

Personally, one of my favourite tropes, just because I love the drama.

All is lost. The Evil Force is winning and the heroes have already lost countless lives.

Now they must surrender or die.

But in the distance, a faint sound comes closer, it grows and grows until an army of supporters take shape on the distant horizon ready to save the day.

This gives the protagonist the final hope and power to defeat the evil and save the world.

(Please excuse all my Harry Potter examples) Who can forget when Fawkes, the Phoenix, saves Harry from Salazar Slytherin’s Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets? Not me..

Good vs. Evil

Another favourite, just because of the potential it holds if it is done right.

This trope focuses on the battle between good and evil.

The strongest storylines don’t just perceive good and evil to be contrasting and opposites.

Instead, they tell a story of how they intertwine, how they feed off each other and how nothing in this world is black or white. Urghh, I love this theme.

You can find a list of books with this trope here.

The Quest

The protagonist (often the hero) is called on a quest where the goal is typically to either find something or someone, defeat a villain or destroy an “Powerful Artifact”.

The Protagonist is often joined by a cast of secondary characters that all feed into the storylines.

You can find a list of books with this trope here.

How do you make a trope your own?

It is more than fine to use several tropes in your story, as long as they make sense to your narrative drive.

If you decide to use them, chances are you have already incorporated some twists and turns to make them fit your storyline, essentially making the tropes original.

This is the absolute key.

The secret here is to keep the reader surprised and wanting to know what happens next.

If you use a trope straight on, chances are you readers will see the trope coming miles away and will lose interest.

Putting your own spin on the trope is what makes your book memorable and keeps your book from feeling like a rerun of the thousands of other books using the same trope.  

Challenge your reader’s expectations:

Pick out the trope you wish to use and pinpoint the most common way to use the trope.

Now, look at whether you can challenge some of these basic notions while keeping other original traits intact.
What is your first thought when you think of The Mentor trope?

Probably an old bearded man as old as he is wise – am I right?

Here you could twist it and write up a character who is perhaps young and quirky, but still acts as a sort of mentor for your protagonist.

Remember, being a mentor can mean many things, it doesn’t have to be in the most common sense.

Playing around with tropes can give you endless possibilities that lend you an air of originality and uniqueness to your storyline.

Another way is to make the reader believe that you are following a certain trope, but then you throw in a twist surprising your reader and making them realize that all is not as it seems.

Write down what would usually happen in a certain trope and then play around with twists and turns, that will throw your readers off course and keep them reading.

For example, if you want to include The Evil Lord trope, consider whether you can blur the lines.

Is he truly evil? Are there aspects of good in him? How do they intertwine? Can you make your reader feel sympathy for him? Does the Evil Force have to be male? Could you make the Evil Force female?

Weave in backstory

Making sure to include relevant backstory is an easy way to make your characters stand out even if your trope doesn’t.

If you are considering working the Reluctant Hero trope make sure to include lots of interesting and meaningful backstory.

Why does your protagonist not want this role? Why are they being so reluctant? Why are they scared or nervous?

Weaving in backstory will add depth and meaning to your character and in turn make the trope less cliché. Focus on the character arc, the internal change your character goes through.

If you manage to make your reader understand why the protagonist feels so strongly about this, you will succeed in making your reader sympathize with your protagonist and as a result, your reader will keep reading to understand how the protagonist will deal with their fate.

Also consider, whether you want to roll out the full Reluctant Hero trope or if you want to make your hero accept his fate in the end, ultimately adding a twist to the common use of this trope.

In the end, the (writing) world is your oyster and you are free to make as many twists, turns and combinations of tropes as you wish.

I repeat, as long as it holds a purpose to your storyline and isn’t solely thrown in there for the sake of using a trope.

Happy writing!

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