3 Common Types of Fantasy Characters and How to Subvert Them

3 Common Types of Fantasy Characters and How to Subvert Them


Although Fantasy fiction has drastically changed through the decades, several types of characters reappear time and time again. Using them in your story may be an advantage, as it can give the reader a sense of familiarity, but it can also make your story feel similar to many others.

In this article, we'll summarize the overall approach to successfully subverting any character type. We'll then explore three common characters in Fantasy fiction and look at a few ways to subvert them.

Why Subversion?

It's easy to write cliches in your Fantasy story. If, like me, you consumed hundreds of Fantasy TV shows, movies, and books, then your mind will be full of ideas you associate with Fantasy (and likely so does everyone else).

The reluctant hero, the damsel in distress, and the dark overlord are just a few examples of characters that may become cliche if written similarly to every other Fantasy book on the shelf.

On the other hand, using these types of characters can give your story a sense of familiarity. The reader may feel your story belongs in the Fantasy genre (in reality, any story can be Fantasy, but in truth, your readers will have clear expectations of what Fantasy is). You may even get away with writing fewer introductory chapters if you use types of characters that are well-known and established in the genre.

Subversion is a technique that can allow you to use these character types while avoiding turning them into cliches, overall improving your story.

How to Subvert Characters

The key to subverting a character type (or any other key element of your story) involves two steps:

  1. Identify the components that make up what you're trying to subvert.
  2. Reverse one or more elements.

You may subvert anything about the character: physical traits, personality traits, or even more abstract components such as humor and likeability (imagine a detestable court Jester that is not at all funny). 

Reversing multiple elements, although not strictly necessary, gives you the best chance of creating a unique spin on the character type. Subverting multiple characters in a story and making them work with or against each other can create original and compelling stories.

The Wise Old Mentor

Gandalf-type characters have appeared time and time again in Fantasy, and most of them feel the same.

To subvert the old mentor type, we can look at the various components that make it up:

  • To have a mentor, you must have a mentee.
  • A mentor usually has something to teach.
  • A wise old mentor is, well, old.

The first subversion could be to write a mentor that mentors themselves. Who said your protagonist can't pick up a self-help book and learn on their own?

A second subversion could be an incompetent mentor who has either nothing to teach or teaches the wrong lessons. They could do this intentionally or by mistake. For example, they may be secretly rooting against your character, giving them wrong advice that could get them killed. If they are on your protagonist's side, they could be incompetent or delusional, and make up things to look knowledgeable.

The third subversion would be a mentor who is younger than the mentee, potentially by a lot. A real-life example of this can be found in chess. Some teenagers are highly skilled and could easily teach a middle-aged beginner. They could have wisdom in the game, accumulated in hundreds or thousands of games, and pass this along to someone much older than them.

The Skilled Rogue

Imagine an agile character skilled in close combat and a master of short-range weapons. Perhaps they are also a burglar or an assassin.

Subverting this type of character can be done in a few ways:

  • The skill component
  • The crime component

For instance, we may make our rogue incompetent, and successful only by sheer luck. Or we could make them a law-abiding citizen forced into crime, extremely skillful in a trade they detest.

The Damsel in Distress

The Fantasy genre has its share of Princesses stuck in towers waiting for the Prince to save them. To subvert a damsel in distress, we can look at the following:

  1. They are, well, in distress.
  2. They're usually a woman. 

A first subversion would be to write a damsel that is not truly in distress, but acts as if she is. An example of this is Princess Fiona from Shrek, who is highly skilled in combat but still acts as if she is helpless. Another variation of this subversion is to make your damsel an assassin trying to murder the helpful Prince, waiting until she gets the right opportunity.

 The second subversion is simpler: making your damsel in distress a helpless Prince who must be saved by the Dame (a female knight).


In this article, we learned what subversion is and how it can be used to elevate your stories by writing classic Fantasy characters in a way that feels fresh and non-cliche. We explored three types of common Fantasy characters and a few ways to subvert them.

Andrea Cerasoni in Rome, Italy
Andrea Cerasoni

I'm Andrea, a Software Engineer, Technical Editor, and aspiring Fantasy Author. I'm originally from Rome, Italy, but am currently based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. I read and write classic Fantasy: the sword-and-shield, dragons, and wizards kind. In my articles, I talk about writing fantasy fiction, productivity, coding, building a website or platform, establishing a personal brand, and more!

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