4. Being abducted from earth to a different world.
Today I'm continuing my argument about fantasy clichés based on the article at Urban Fantasy Writers. A space alien abduction might be cliché, but there are plenty of other ways a character can be transported from one world to the next, and for a variety of reasons. This is a story element, folks, not a cliché. Calling this plot point a cliché is practically like saying that making villains evil is cliché. Not every story has one, and those that do don't have to be the same.
What are the different reasons a character might find him or herself in a different world?
Quest: This could involve traveling to an alien world or alternate dimension. Lots of fantasy stories feature a quest of some kind, like finding the magic amulet or rescuing the princess. However, I've heard many agents say they'll reject a story with this kind of quest story line, but I suppose if it's different enough, it could pass. It's all about the writing.
Amnesia: Here's an interesting idea, having the MC suddenly find himself in a place he doesn't recognize and has no idea how he got there, or even who he is. The story is spent trying to solve the mystery. There was a television show like that a few years ago, but it didn't make it past the first or second season, so the mystery of the guy's identity was never solved. I've always wondered about that...
Accident: An incantation goes awry and the character doesn't arrive in the destination he'd intended. Time travel stories are good for this, like H.G. Wells' Time Machine. Great conflict potential. I also remember an episode on the Angel TV series where Cordelia is accidentally transported to the demon dimension of Pyleia after reciting an incantation from a book. Turns out it wasn't really an accident because the Powers That Be sent her there on purpose. Great episode (I have all 5 seasons on DVD).
Adventure: A curious character intentionally travels to another dimension, planet, or place in time just to see what it's like, and encounters all kinds of fascinating surprises. Maybe he finds love. Maybe he finds the true purpose to his life. Maybe he realizes adventure isn't what it's cracked up to be. Great theme opportunities here, and some interesting character arcs to explore.
I think the appeal of the alien world or alternate dimension is the sense of awe we enjoy when encountering the unknown. Speculative fiction is all about the unknown, and whether we choose to fear or embrace it. It's one of the most exciting aspects about the genre. Avoiding it because it's misconstrued as cliché would be like giving the entire genre that distinction. If that happened, what would I have to read?