I think as a reader, many of us are turned off by the clichés we come across in Fantasy stories. Generally (generalizations are generally true), Fantasy themes fall into the category of good versus evil in some way, shape, or form. Generally, Fantasy plots are our heroes killing the evil ones to save the world/princess/etc…, overcoming all the obstacles before facing the bad guy.
First theme: good versus evil is a cliché, and it’s prevalent in most genres whether in the form of vengeance, retribution, or otherwise. The key for the writer (I think) is to muddy the lines a bit. Maybe the hero/heroine isn’t all that good and maybe the bad guy isn’t all that bad. For example, in ‘The Bounds’, my heroine, Robyn, derives a type of sexual pleasure when killing. Because of her experience, she understands the motivations of the bad guys and (hopefully) the readers root for her to fight the repulsive urges. On the other side, my bad guys, Keepers, actually strive to maintain an orderly and peaceful society—not a bad thing, although their reason for doing this is warped. I like the stories that mix it up a bit. If you read Donalson’s ‘White Gold Wielder’, the hero, Thomas Covenant, enters the alter-world thinking he’s dreaming, gets an erection, and rapes a girl. Not a proud start for Thomas, but we come to love the terribly flawed and reluctant hero.
Next plot: Kill the bad guy save the girl…right? Star Wars—rescue the princess and kill the bad guy or save the galaxy by killing the bad guy. It’s a cliché that sells every Superman story ever written or filmed. As a writer, I think to myself, how much do I deviate from such a simple plot? My hero has to have a goal, right? The story has to go somewhere and what is better than killing the guy who murdered your family, right? I think the most memorable stories are the ones that don’t fall into this cliché. In Fantasy (more speculative fiction), I can think of Auel’s ‘Earth’s Children’ series where she chronicles Ayla’s adventures…no bad guy (except in the first book). Taking a look at ‘Jericho Solus’, the plot was Jericho’s journey to discover who he was and why he existed. The book I’m currently working on is along the same lines in that I stay away from the clichés of “good versus evil” and “kill the bad guy, save the world”.