Killing Cliches: Part 1

Writing isn’t all fun and games. We all know, it can be hard work. Sure, sometimes it really seems to flow and we hammer out pages and pages of pure, juicy, almost perfect draft. But, even though it’s those moments we live for, those aren’t the most frequent moments of our lives: Writer’s block is a nasty plague on our lives and our land.
Recently, my WIP came to a screeching halt when I realized it wasn’t original. My story, tentatively titled Wanderlust, was a fairy story none more original than the Banana Banana Banana Orange joke. So, this kid walked into Faërie, heard about some wizard, and went off to defeat him.
BORING!
I needed a new idea, not just a new story. I was in very, very deep yogurt. Perhaps you’ve been there before, but didn’t know how to just ‘come up’ with original ideas? How can you make your story interesting again? How can you write a book worth reading?

Fighting the Clichés
Whether you’re stuck in the middle of the writing process, or slogging your way through outlining, clichés will haunt your work. Your imagination is lazy. Very lazy. Almost as lazy as mine. What chance do you have against the clichés mighty power? First, you must recognize clichés, wherever they appear. How?

Find The Transplant Character (Setting, Conflict, Context, etc…)
Many times, clichés are born of the most recent YA Dystopian blockbuster, or maybe the latest MARVEL Movie. Yes, it’s true. Even though Fan Fiction has it’s place, that place is NOT in your novel. If Tony Stark, Katniss Everdeen, or Robin of Locksley end up in your novel, KILL THEM. (Except maybe Robin Hood… just ask him, very nicely, to leave.) The same here goes for settings, descriptions, emotional complexes *cough*lovetriangle*cough*, and anything else you can think of. If half of your novel is based on last month’s box office hit, there’s a reason you’re struggling with originality.

Leave Character Roles Behind
I’ll be the first to say, that character roles have their place, but if your novel is lacking original conflict, blame your supporting cast. Allies, Mentors, *cough* love interests*cough*, and even villains (on their many different tiers) have the ability to add unexpected, engaging conflict which will open up hundreds of new directions for your story to explore.

Use the Second Idea
90% of the time when you ask your brain to come up with a story something-or-other, it will spit out a cliché. The good news is that You can eliminate most all clichés from your writing if you stick to “the second idea” rule: never use the first idea your brain comes up with.  It’s a cliche.

Make your novel come up with the second idea, and your novel may just take that first, massive leap into the vast sea of originality.

Don’t Lose Heart
I’m sure some of you have read other blogs which address the issue of clichés; it’s one of the biggest struggles writers face today. Writing is hard enough when you have to come up with hundreds of ideas, but it becomes impossible when you have to scrap all your ‘first ideas’ and dig for seconds. For some that is nearly impossible, for others it is fully so. There are infinite possibilities, and that makes our jobs so, so hard. But there’s hope, and there are people to help. How do you kill a cliché?

Use the First Idea
WAIT.  Don’t kill me for contradicting myself.  I need two seconds to explain. I’m not saying you should use the first idea, but you should use it. Regardless of how cliché it is, the first idea has a couple of attributes which make it useful.
• The first idea is fitted to your story
• The first idea is fitted to your characters
• The first idea is an idea.
It’s fitted to your story, that’s why it was an idea in the first place. Whatever you come up with in the end, must also fit in your story, so it must be in some way related to your first idea.
The first idea is fitted to your characters. It’s hard in the planning stage to keep true to your characters while simultaneously working to advance the plot. Probably your first idea, however cliché, will stay true to your characters. That’s invaluable.
Finally, the first idea is an idea. There are literally infinite possibilities and that harms rather than helps our development process. Use your first idea as a springboard. It’s a start, and it rules out certain possibilities.
But how do you use your first idea? The most helpful advice I’ve ever received on dealing with clichés is to turn them on their head. Do the exact opposite. Sure that sounds strange, and unlikely to succeed, but it’s true. If your fantasy villain lives in a volcano and dresses in black, move him to a prosperous port city, and dress him in fine but not too pompous linens of colorful hues. If your story is a dystopian sci-fi where the undersized resistance group is fighting the over-reaching government (dressed in white plate armor, of course) consider the government’s motives: Why are they like that? What are they trying to protect the people from? What would happen if the government did collapse? Are they really the ultimate bad guy? If your hero is a haunted type, with many inner demons from his dark past, why is he like that? What if he was haunted by what he hadn’t done, rather than what he had? What if he is a secret agent who has seen dozens of others (maybe even some who weren’t agents) rush into a conflict and die, but he has never done anything. Ever. (Bonus points if his motivation for hanging back isn’t fear.)

A Final Word
Our culture is media-saturated and completely entertainment oriented. Because we’re so surrounded with these clichés, it’s impossible to remove them completely from your story. Just remember these two things: It only takes one original idea to support a compelling story. And every cliché you find in your novel is an opportunity to make it that much better.
How do you destroy/disintegrate/override/reintegrate clichés in your novels? Let us know in the comments below!


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Brandon

Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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  1. Nate June 30, 2015 at 8:08 PM - Reply

    This is giving me insight into how you write your books. Keep it up!!!

    • Brandon July 5, 2015 at 12:00 AM Reply

      Cool. Maybe you could explain it to me sometime.
      😉

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