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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What's Up Wednesday


What's up? Well, I'm always up for talking about books, writing them and reading them. I happened across an interesting blog called Urban Fantasy Writers via a post on Urban Fantasy Fans. The author of an article about "fantasy clichés" really got my writer's mind whirling, and not in a good way. A lot of what he calls cliche are basic story elements you'll find in a variety of genres, not just fantasy, and when handled with imagination and originality they can make a good story even better.

He mentions six "clichés" so I thought I'd give my take on each one through a series of blog posts over the next few days.

1. Receiving tutoring from the old wise man.
This is the first cliché he covers, which is actually not a cliché but a common trope for most stories where the main character looks to a mentor character for advice and guidance. Does this mentor always have to be a bearded old man? Of course not. But the fact that he or she is old is a distinction because it indicates this individual has been around the block a few times and is in a position to offer sage words of advice.

Choosing the form the mentor will take is immaterial. Who gave guidance to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz? The lovely good witch Glenda. Let's move up a few years to something modern and in my genre, and we can look at Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Who gives advice to Harry Dresden? Bob the skull. Now let's move away from fantasy altogether and look at the classic movie The Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi was an old wise dude sans beard, but he knew what was what and showed the kid how to Karate chop his way to a trophe.

The point is not the image of the mentor, but that there is one. Does there always have to be one? No, but the mentor is a classic character and adds wonderful layering to a complex plot. Whether it's an old man, an oracle, or a group (i.e. The Dark Crystal), that wise and mysterious figure will council the MC with advice that's often cryptic as it helps him or her learn the lessons necessary to complete his or her character arc.

I actually have two mentor characters in Knight's Curse, neither of whom is a bearded old man, but their wisdom and knowledge helps guide Chalice toward her goal. No one teaches her to fight or makes her decisions for her, but she uses the knowledge from her mentors as a tool to reach her goal.

Do you have a venerable, white-bearded wise man in your story? Do you consider the mentor a cliché character?

3 comments:

Esther Jade said...

In one respect, I think the mentor character is a cliche - because we see it all the time. But on the other, it's true to real life - most people do have people who fill the role of mentor in their lives. So, on balance, I would agree with you Karen that there's nothing wrong with having a mentor in a story.

I don't have a mentor in my current WIP but it wasn't a conscious choice to exclude that role. It just ended up that way (mostly because all the candidates to be the MC's mentor died).

Just_Me said...

I have two father-like figures in my current WIP. One is the MC's boss, the other his partners' father. Neither are white haired and they don't consider themselves old. But they do keep my MC in line.

Anonymous said...

I think the real question at hand is: What is the difference between a cliche and an archetype?

I'm not sure what the answer is. I know what *I* think the answer is, and it's a tad cynical: An archetype is a cliche done well enough to make it palatable. :)

It all comes down to presentation. Presented well, by a skilled storyteller who pays attention to his story craft and really works to breathe life into the story, even the most tired old hacked up storyline becomes fresh, new and wonderful.

For example, Ye Olde Coming of Age Storye, of a boy growing up into an adult. Ignoring completely such literary fantasy works as the Belgariad or several Elfstones books, you can take Star Wars as one of the best-done versions of this story. The original trilogy, that is. When it jumps back in time to the secondary trilogy, what is in effect the *exact same story* just doesn't fly. Why? Presentation.

It isn't because the YOCoAS is stale and bad--because the Matrix came along and did the SAME THING, *AGAIN*, only it had a far better presentation of its story. The original Matrix, I mean. I choose to believe that only one of those movies was ever made. :)

Anyway. Maybe archetypes work when the creator uses them as a framework upon which to build a detailed and cohesive story world. Maybe it's when a creator uses them as a shortcut to make his job easier, instead of thinking things through, that they become cliches.