Fantasy loves fire, and why not? Not only is it beautiful, but it possesses the ability to reduce near anything to ash. But when a story comes along where people are given inherent control over the element, they’re often of a very specific personality type – fiesty, hot-headed, and burning with anger, often with some snark and sweet red hair. The strength of their emotions – especially rage – can even lead them to lose control of their powers, adding a healthy dose of drama to any story.
Why it’s bad: Like most tropes, it’s not necessarily bad. However, with the popularity of stories about gifted kids with superpowers and elementals, it’s one that gets used ad nauseam. If I’m reading or watching anything involving those elements, I can essentially figure out a fire character’s personality and future plot points right away (i.e. their powers will get away from them and they’ll hurt someone, they’ll expose their powers at an inopportune moment when they lose their temper, etc). It takes away a certain level of surprise from the audience, because we can probably guess where you’re going with this character and their arc.
How you can fix it: Avatar: The Last Airbender is a perfect example of how to use and reinvent this trope. In Avatar, you have your typical feisty firebender, Zuko, a heel-face turn who ends up getting his own redemption arc. During the course of the show, you learn that firebenders are actually taught to use their rage to control their powers, which is certainly playing up that element-personality cliché. However, Zuko’s sister is a much cooler character, who rarely loses her head during moments of intense emotions; she even has blue fire, which not only denotes how powerful her powers are, but also her level-headed (though arguably insane) nature.
Then, there’s Zuko and Azula’s uncle, Iroh- a wise, father-type figure whose personality is focused on warmth and kindness. While this might seem strange in a world where character has a strong link to power, it’s not so weird if you take a moment to think about it. After all, how many people will gather around a warm fireplace this winter with their families? Avatar took this trope of power-personality and used it in a way that’s rare to see. Fire isn’t just about destruction, after all, but it can also sustain life, and the trope is constantly broken down and reimagined throughout the series.
Bottom Line: Fire is not just raging destruction. It’s complex and full of both dangerous and life-sustaining features, so don’t be afraid to let that show in your characters. When writing about any element-personality, keep in mind ways to change your way of thinking about certain powers and how to reinvent them in your story.