17+ Popular Fantasy Tropes and How to Revitalize Them

Fantasy literature has long been a beloved genre, filled with iconic characters, magical worlds, and epic quests. However, with so many stories following similar patterns and themes, it can be challenging to find unique and original ways to stand out in a crowded market. And this is where the use of tropes in writing comes in.

Tropes are expressions that are commonly used in a figurative sense. They might be sayings or scenarios and often have an associated well-established pattern that can be roughly predicted.

Okay, so if you want to write a Fantasy story. That makes sense — you must first master the use of tropes.

In this article, we will examine some of the most well-worn fantasy tropes and provide creative strategies for revitalizing them. Whether you are a writer looking to break new ground or a reader seeking fresh perspectives, these tips and tricks will help you breathe new life into classic fantasy themes.

What Is A Fantasy Trope?

A fantasy trope is a specific type of literary trope (a recurring theme) that is usually found in fantasy fiction. Worldbuilding, plot, and characterization have many common conventions, many of them having ultimately originated in an unbelievable or rather imaginary story.

Simply put, a trope is a widely used term covering various storytelling elements. From plot structure and character to imagery and figures of speech, tropes come in all shapes and sizes.

These fantasy tropes might be sayings or scenarios that have a well-established pattern that can be roughly predicted. The Latin and Greek roots of the word meant any figure of speech, and a change in direction, which is fitting. Tropes tend to outline the direction that a piece is going to go in, in terms of story.

Tropes are genre-specific. This means that they will only be common in one kind of media. For instance, you’d be more likely to see a “comedy of errors” style episode in a sitcom than you would in a gritty detective novel.

Why Do Writers Use Fantasy Tropes In Their Writing?

In the hands of a skilled writer, tropes become tools for idea connection, establishing narrative, and creating deeper exploration in literature. Fantasy thrives on the interplay between the familiar and the fantastical, and tropes are the bridges that allow readers and writers to travel this imaginative world together.

These recurring devices and motifs otherwise known as tropes that populate fiction are a staple of fantasy. From the damsel in distress to the prophesied hero, these familiar elements weave their way into countless stories. But why do writers so readily embrace these tropes? The reasons are as varied as the fantasies themselves, but they boil down to three core benefits: reader connection, narrative foundation, and creative springboards.

Here are a few reasons why writers adopt tropes in their writing:

READ ALSO: When To Use Too or To: Simplifying These Tricky Twins

1. Tropes serve as bridges

Tropes act as the gap between the writer and the reader. They establish a common ground and expectations that allow readers to comfortably enter the fantastical world.

The farm boy thrust into adventure (think Luke Skywalker or Percy Jackson) is a recognizable trope that instantly sets the stage for a coming-of-age story. Readers understand the basic arc of this character and can anticipate his growth and challenges. Tropes provide a sense of security, allowing readers to relax into the narrative while still being surprised by the main aim of the story.

2. Fantasy tropes help in building a narrative

Fantasy tropes offer a framework upon which writers can build their unique worlds and characters. The classic hero’s journey, with its trials and transformations, provides a roadmap for crafting a compelling protagonist. Similarly, the trope of the hidden magical lineage creates a sense of destiny and imbues the characters with inherent potential. These well-worn paths free writers to focus on the details that make their stories stand out: intricate magic systems, richly developed settings, and characters that subvert or redefine expectations.

Check out the 41+ Homographs Examples for Writers

3. Tropes are springboards for creativity

Finally, tropes can act as springboards for creativity. A familiar element can be twisted, challenged, or even mocked to create something entirely new. Consider the trope of the all-powerful evil empire. Writers like Terry Pratchett play with this trope in his Discworld novels, where the Empire is hilariously inept despite its increasing evil. By subverting expectations, writers can breathe new life into old ideas and keep their readers engaged and surprised.

READ ALSO: When to Use ‘Too’: Understanding ‘Too’ for Everyday Use As A Writer

Here are some of the most popular high fantasy and epic fantasy tropes you’ll like to use in your writing.

1. The Secret Heir

An orphan ends up being the long-lost scion to a royal throne. This fantasy character is often raised on a farm or another humble situation that contrasts their true lineage. Maybe they lost their parents at a young age and were sent away for their own protection. Perhaps they were switched at birth in some sort of hilarious misunderstanding. Maybe their mother had a summer fling with an undercover prince in her gap year.

2. Magical artifacts

High fantasy often gets hung up on doohickeys—magic necklaces, enchanted wands, haunted heirlooms, you name it. In The Lord of the Rings, this is obviously the ring. Magical Artifacts often give their possessors some kind of power or magical ability, and they’re often necessary in the final fight against the bad guy.

It’s also pretty common for authors to combine the Magical Artifact trope with the Chosen One’s trope by making the Chosen One the only person who can successfully wield the Magical Artifact.

3. Reluctant hero

Fantasies are often filled with men, women, and other creatures who don’t see themselves as heroes and will often go out of their way to explain why they don’t have the right stuff to be one. Nevertheless, many of them end up performing better when it matters most.

4. The Quest

Fantasy novels are often based around one big quest. The quest may take different forms (release a captive person, find treasure, slay a dragon, battle an army, etc.), but the quest is what keeps the fantasy story going, it is what keeps the readers glued.

SEE ALSO: When to Use Italics: When and Why to Use Italics

5. Side quests

Of course, while the questers are questing they may find they have to do some side questing (sometimes to help with the main quest, but sometimes for other reasons). The main quest may be to slay a dragon, but then, a side quest may be to get a special weapon that could help slay the dragon.

6. Ancient (and powerful) artifacts

Ancient artifacts could be a special sword that the greatest heroes of legend used in battle or a legendary wand that amplifies magic in ways that sorcerers could only dream. Or books (that have magic or other special knowledge). Speaking of which, don’t forget…

7. Libraries filled with books

Knowledge is power, but there are few places where this is true more than in fantasy fiction. As such, libraries are special places, whether they’re institutional libraries or personal libraries (for those privileged enough to have one). Mass-produced books often don’t exist in fantasies, so each book is a special tool that can be used for good or evil.

8. Fantastical creatures

By the way, don’t forget the importance of fantastical creatures in fantasies. Some of the creatures may be good, others bad, and many unaffiliated, though they serve their own purposes to move the story along. I’ve mentioned dragons, but there are also elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins, giant spiders, and orcs, and that’s just if you’re in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

9. Training moments

Whether it’s a farmer learning how to wield a sword or a farmer learning how to practice magic (seriously, farmers!?!), a common fantasy trope is to show how a person goes from being inexperienced to the greatest warrior or sorcerer of all time ever. That means there have to be training moments when they fail and flail about and say, “I’m never going to be able to do this,” though, of course, they will.

READ ALSO: When to Use “Nor”: Clear Examples to Get It Right As a Writer

10. The Evil Overlord

The Evil Overlord is that wicked person we usually find in fantasies. The character is one that always reveals wicked intentions and is surrounded by followers.

The Evil Overlord is also often bent on world domination. As opposed to anti-villains who are morally grey, the Evil Overlord is, well, pure evil.

11. Hidden truth or inheritance

This trope can be interpreted in different ways and can connect with the “Chosen One” trope. One possibility is that there is a secret heir to the throne of a kingdom; that heir may or may not realize they are the heir. Or there may be a character who is supposed to inherit a fortune or special powers. Or there’s a secret prophecy or bloodline that is revealed that changes everything (or at least some things).

READ ALSO: When to Use Is and Are: Solving the Singular vs. Plural Puzzle

12. Damsels in distress

This trope is popular to make female characters helpless captives who need to be saved. More fantasy stories are turning this trope on its head and making male characters the captives (if there are even captives in the first place).

13. Orphan hero

So many fantasy stories have a main protagonist who is an orphan (or learns they were orphaned or thinks they were orphaned). The use of the trope orphan hero already tells the readers how the orphan overcame the circumstances to become great.

SEE ALSO: When To Use Too or To: Simplifying These Tricky Twins

14. Best ever

Whether protagonist or antagonist, most fantasy novels are filled with hyperbole. Characters prove themselves to be the best warrior ever; the most evil warlock ever; the strongest sorcerer ever; the greatest horse rider ever; the best archer; the most amazing blacksmith; the most fearless ship captain; etc. Fantasy fiction often buys into the “best ever” trope.

15. The Chosen One

A character who is alone capable of fulfilling an important purpose, and whose responsibility is to resolve the plot’s main conflict — which will often be to save the world.

You can find this trope in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling. Before he becomes the ‘Chosen One’ who defeats the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter is just a boy who lives under the stairs at the home of his cruel aunt and uncle. Receiving an invitation to join Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he quickly gets to know that even within this new magical world, he’s someone special: the famed ‘Boy Who Lived.’

READ ALSO: When to Use There and Their: Unlocking the Mystery of ‘There’ and ‘Their’

16. The Mentor

The mentor is a wise old man, usually a wizard who comes into the hero’s life to tell him to drop everything and head out on a quest!

The mentor may even offer to train the hero in the magic arts or teach them to wield a normal version of the magic weapon they will eventually use to defeat the dark forces and save the day.

17. The New World

This common trope is an alternate version of medieval/renaissance era Western Europe, where magic is real, and it is populated by the various fairy creatures and monsters of the European folklore tradition.

How To Make Fantasy Tropes Interesting In Your Writing

A trope is a fantastic framework on which to build your story. They are generalized plot points, characters, and popular scenarios because they resonate with people; you can improve them by adding your own personal interpretation and allowing them to resonate with specific people who have had similar experiences. 

The use of tropes in writing can be fun to use when you are using them to explore a question. Why would the character go here? Why would they fight together? What happens when everything is said and done, and the quest ends? Who said the hero needs to solve every problem? What if a classic fairy tale was retold with more gradients than a simple good vs. evil plot? By deconstructing the trope and examining its different elements, you can make your story more enjoyable.

This technique can also be used to totally defy the expectations of your audience. Let’s say you have selected an elderly man as your mentor. What if he’s really the villain and he’s only helping the hero to make sure he has all the wrong information? This allows for an excellent third-act revelation and gives you plenty of opportunity for foreshadowing and hint-dropping.

You can surprise and astonish your audience with an unexpected turn of events if you follow a trope and then take a different turn. However, if you choose this path, make sure that the plot twist is woven into the story from the very beginning and leaves a subtle trail of clues for readers to find on their second reading of the book.

FAQs On Fantasy Tropes

What is a fantasy trope?

A fantasy trope is a specific type of literary trope (a recurring theme) that occurs in fantasy fiction.

Why do we use tropes while writing?

They’re the building blocks of storytelling. They can help you relay a message or information to the readers in a few short words or images. 

How can I improve the use of tropes in my writing?

One good way to improve the use of tropes in your work is by not blindly following the usual formula of a trope. Take a common trope and twist it a bit to catch your readers off guard a bit.


Tropes, when used appropriately, can help your readers find familiarity and relatability in your story, ease them into a new world by giving them something new to expect, and shock them if the trope is overturned or twisted excitingly. They are a jumping-off point for you the writer to get creative with.


We Also Recommend