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The average present-day human whisked away to a fantasy and/or scifi world is a common trope. It can be used well, or end up in boring stories.

I feel like this trope is a bit overdone, but still want to use it.

The part that worries me the most is the integration of the Muggle character into the setting. I'm afraid it will end up being perceived as a lazy way to add a cabbagehead or as some sort of wish-fulfillment story, or even break the suspension of disbelief.


Is it still possible to play this trope straight?
What does it takes to integrate an average Joe in a fantasy setting well?
What basic criteria should the Muggle character (personnality/motivation/etc.) meet to not be a walking cliché?

  • This is, loosely, a Hero's Journey. Try Campell's Hero with a Thousand Faces or the book/TV doc The Power of Myth, or the writing book The Writer's Journey, for some basic structural guides. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Aug 23 '16 at 15:43
  • @LaurenIpsum Thanks, I'll look for PDF versions. (Also thanks for the edits, spell checkers are far from perfect). – Babika Babaka Aug 23 '16 at 15:54
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    if English is not your first language, I strongly do not recommend jumping headfirst into Campbell. Watch/read The Power of Myth first, where Campbell discusses his book with Bill Moyers and makes the same material way more accessible. Thousand Faces is very informative, but it's not easy. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Aug 23 '16 at 16:41
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This trope has been used lots, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there are no new ways to approach it. There are thousands of iterations of the same stories, but they're each different and engaging because they tell their own tales in their own way.

In order to make your story feel fresh, you just have to do something different with it, whether that is done with plot, setting, magic, characters, or something else. Worldbuilding.SE is a great place to start off with trying to come up with new ideas and angles.

You could start off with the character accidentally being summoned into another world that was trying to conjure a powerful demon, and got the spell mixed up and summoned a random person instead. You can have someone introduce technology into a fantasy world by accident, setting off a battle between technology and magic.

As for integrating the character, you can approach that in any way you want as well. Perhaps they are transported to a world where the people look like humans, but the MC is actually much stronger than most people in that world, despite being average in our world, giving them a physiological advantage over others whilst they learn about how to survive in a fantasy world they are not yet accustomed to. Incorporate their unfamiliarity with the new world into their character growth, as they develop their understanding of this new world, so do they develop as a person.

As for something necessary for the character, I would say they would definitely need to have an opinion on returning to their own world. Whether they love the new place, hate it, or have mixed feelings, they would not suddenly forget about it.

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Is it still possible to play this trope straight? Yes. Setting doesn't drive a story. Characters do this. They have to be interesting, rounded and with a purpose. In this type of story the purpose is usually to get home but not always. As long as the characters are worth reading then using this trope is fine.

How to avoid making this kind of story boring or stereotypical? Come up with a twist. Do something different with it.

What basic criteria - meet to be interesting? There's no answer for this one as an interesting character is a matter of personal opinion.

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  • Thanks for the answer. I will rewrite the question, it's not clear enough. For the part about the criteria I am not looking for opinions but for some sort of generic guidelines or even a checklist (eg : the character must have a reason to be there, opinions about what he sees, a reason to interact with the inhabitants of the universe, etc.), to evaluate my character and see if I relied too much on the usual bland hero used in this trope to develop it. – Babika Babaka Aug 23 '16 at 14:53
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Older fantasy definitely used this. More and more, the fantasy that is being released is a re-imagining of mundane old Earth with a secret-society-magic-supernatural layered on top of it.

The key, I found in most novels of this sort is to be creative with the mode of entry into the magical world. In each of the HP novels, and the Chronicles of Narnia and other similar stories, entry into the world was a little different each time, a variation on the theme of being whisked away. The mode of entry should also have an impact on the story. One story I read involved someone entering the alternate by being thrown out of their car when it crashed, another was when a person got shot in the head;and each of these entries figured into the conclusion of the story.

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