Wordy Wednesday: Non-Cliche Cliches

A couple quick things before we get started:

  1. Yesterday was my last first day of school! (Unless of course I get a masters someday, which is THE HOPE, but we’ll see.) It feels so weird to be a senior in college. When did this happen? WHEN?
  2. My first post on the collaborative writing blog The Book Creators went up Monday! I talked about balancing writing with school. Read it here.

It’s only the second day and things are already insanely busy. Here’s to surviving.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

A while ago my wonderful critique partner Ariel Kalati suggested I talk about crafting non-cliche romantic subplots.

This is an interesting one, because “cliche” itself can be such a moving target. (Check out a post on that right over here.) But romance is certainly one of the easiest parts of fiction with which to fall into writing cliches.

As mentioned in that other post, everything has been written before at some point. EVERYTHING. So it’s less about doing something original (which is impossible) as much as doing something unoriginal in an original way.

For instance, look at people. There is literally nothing about us that is original. You’re left-handed? So is 10% of the world’s population. In as few as fifty random people, there’s almost a 100% chance that someone else with share your birthday. And I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve shared with other Julias/Julies. (Answer: almost all of them. And Julia/Julie weren’t even super popular names the year I was born.)

But it’s not our individual traits that make us who we are, but the conglomeration of all of them. Sure, there are tons of other lefties, and people born on April 21st, and people named Julia. But the number of people who share those traits with me go way down when you combine all of them. And they go down further when you consider other things too, like how I’m allergic to chocolate, or how I’m obsessed with books, or how I’m a vegetarian.

Cliches are like this as well. So I believe it’s fine to begin with something that might be “cliche,” as long as you build from that in order to create something original.

You can do this in a few ways–and they don’t just apply to romantic cliches, but cliches in general.

So, ways to write cliches without being, well, cliche.

Twist Cliches

This is the easiest one. Take a cliche and twist it in some way. Maybe you’ve got star-crossed lovers, but they’re in space. (Ex: Beth Revis’s Across the Universe.) Or, for example, one of my novels has a pretty big focus on a love triangle, but it’s the male love interest to my female narrator at the center, rather than the more traditional “female narrator juggles two equally hot boys.”

The point is that you’re taking something familiar, then changing a key aspect about it. (This is the general principle behind a lot of retellings going on these days. Study them. They’re popular for a reason.)

Play with Cliches

Instead of just changing one thing, turn a cliche on its head. Maybe make the reader believe you’re following a well-worn path, then BOOM: plot twist. You’re actually doing something else entirely. (I’m going to avoid giving examples for this one, because spoilers, but this can be such a fun one. You literally use reader expectations against them in order to create a less predictable story. It’s diabolical.)

Justify Cliches

If you’re using a cliche, you need to have justification for it. Why can your story not function without it? (Because come on now, if your story can function without a cliche, WRITE WITHOUT THE CLICHE.)

And this shouldn’t just be justification in your head. It needs to be on the page. Show the reader why your story can’t function without the cliche and, more than that, why your cliche-infused story needs to be told. (Because a bad story needing a cliche to function is one thing; a good one is something else entirely.)

A really good example of an author doing this is Stephanie Perkins in her Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. All three romances have technically cliche elements (love triangles and miscommunication and parental disapproval oh my!). But the stories are larger than their cliches and they wouldn’t function without them–so, the cliches work. Which leads me to my last method:

Build on Cliches

Even if you’re doing a full-on Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers bit, your story needs to be greater than the cliche. Other things need to be going on. Your characters need to be original and dynamic and real.

How many times have we known people whose real life relationships legitimately felt like they were out of a novel? Chances are, when this happens you don’t look at your friends all like, “Uck. I’ve totally heard the one about the meet-cute with the new guy at school before. Your life is so cliche.” No, you know the people involved, which means the individual details you’ve gathered over the years come together to define your friends, and by extension the relationship, so that it feels unique and fresh instead.

Feeling cliche and being cliche are two different things. It’s the feeling you want to avoid more than anything else. So figure out what feels right to you and run with it.

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What are your tips for avoiding falling into cliches?

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

P.S. Sorry this is going up after midnight. I have no good excuse. It’s just the whole getting-used-to-being-back-at-school thing. (So much fun, amiright?) If you’re back this week too, best of luck!

Wordy Wednesday: Cliche, Cliche

I’m writing/scheduling this post ahead of time, because Wednesday I’ll be in Chicago on a spring break work trip (Ch1Con 2015 flyer campaign and researching for a novel).

So far this week I’ve been buried under preparations for going out to Chicago, plus doctor’s appointments, plus internship applications–so it’s nice to have midterms behind me and this week off from classes, even if I am using it to work. (Although also, let’s be honest, talking to librarians/bookshop owners/teachers about the conference and being a tourist downtown are probably the best job descriptions ever.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

The one other thing I’ve been doing a lot of since spring break began is ingesting stories*. I’ve been watching a ton of movies, catching up on TV shows, and, of course, reading.

And, of course, taking in all these stories in such rapid succession means that the similarities they (and a ton of other stories) share are extra obvious.

Welcome to the sweet torture of reading/watching a really good story only for a love triangle/Chosen One/green-eyed romantic interest to pop out. (One of the books I read this weekend actually had all three of those cliches. Amongst others.)

Cliches drive me insane. They’re lazy writing, they make the story boring because they take away from its originality, and they take me out of the story because I’m noticing these things caused by them.

Different cliches annoy me at different levels, though. Like: A love triangle can ruin the book for me. A green-eyed romantic interest, on the other hand? I honestly couldn’t care less, beyond the fact that I do notice it. (2% of the world’s population has green eyes vs. 185% of YA boyfriends.) (But also, green eyes are really freaking awesome for symbolism. And pretty. And there are lots of fun ways of describing them. So I’m good with them.) (Okay, you caught me. I’ve totally done the green-eyed romantic interest thing, too. Shhh.)

Considering the book with all the cliches from this weekend, I realized that the reason some cliches are more annoying than others is because they affect the plot more. There’s a good chance it doesn’t matter in the long run that Mr. McSwoony Pants has green eyes, but love triangles are rarely things that get brushed aside in favor of a larger plot. Instead, they get woven into every fiber of the story, so that you end up with things like Katniss fretting over whether to choose Peeta or Gale in the middle of a FREAKING REVOLUTION. (Or, you know, the entirety of Twilight.)

So here I am. Rattling on about how terrible cliches are. Which, in itself, is kind of cliche at this point.

–But I don’t believe in a black and white nature to cliches.

I think even the worst of the worst cliches can be awesome if done right. I’ve seen so many good boy vs. bad boy or childhood BFF vs. new kid love triangles that it’s really hard for one to seem original now. But I still have hope for wonderful, new, unique love triangles. Because the thing that annoys me about love triangles isn’t love triangles themselves, but the way they’re handled, and this is true for all cliches.

Everything has been done before. EVERYTHING. I can’t tell you how many times a friend or I have wallowed in self-pity over the fact that we just had a shiny new idea, or have been working on a project for several years, only to see something that looks exactly like it come on in a TV spot for a new movie.

Heck, a professor is saying every story ever written can be summarized in one of six plot types. Even Romeo & Juliet wasn’t an original story. (Hello, rip off of Pyramus and Thisbe.)

There’s no such thing as a completely original story.

So it isn’t about what you write, but how you write it.

That book I read this weekend with all the cliches annoyed me (a lot). But there were also a lot of good points to it and I’ll definitely keep reading the series.

So don’t worry about writing cliches. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Write what you want to, do your best at it, and everything else will fall into place.

It’s nearly impossible to write a 100% not-cliche story. Embrace where you do fall into the cliches and make them your own.

You never know. Maybe you’ll be the one to come up with a new twist on the classic love triangle. (#TeamEdward? #TeamJacob? No. #TeamAuthor.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*I apologize for this. I’m starving right now so the only form my brain can function in is food-related verbs.