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.

**********

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!

TCWT Blog Chain: Friendship in Fiction

The prompt for this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain is:

“What is something you feel is generally written well in fiction? What is something you feel is generally written poorly?” 

I’m going to focus on something that I think is generally written poorly: People whose lives aren’t defined by romance.

I get it. We all love the attractive love interest. Being in love is beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with writing romance.

But I hate this idea we seem to have fallen into that our stories need it in order to be good.

Relationships can be meaningful without including sexual tension. Look at our day-to-day lives. How many of us have a boyfriend in high school versus how many of us have a best friend? And while, yes, even us eternally single people probably lust after someone once in a while, the people who are truly important in our lives are the ones who are consistently there, who we can tell anything to, who are with us through both the bad and the good: our friends.

There are so few stories in which the central relationships driving them aren’t romantic. Like the only ones I can think of off the top of my head are Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, and the Harry Potter series. (Noting that those all do still include romance. Romance just isn’t absolutely, 100% central to them.)

And you can’t tell me that non-romantic relationships can’t be entertaining or exciting or fulfilling. I banter with my roommates as often as I do with guys I’m interested in; while I didn’t have adventures in Amsterdam with Augustus Waters, over the summer I did with friends; and there’s something to be said for how fulfilling it is to put on a play, or go to a concert, or just drive through empty streets at two in the morning with falling snow sparkling beneath the street lights, singing at the tops of your lungs with people you really care about who really care about you.

I can’t speak for everyone’s teen experience, obviously, but friendship defined mine.

I’d love to see more stories that focus on relationships that aren’t romantic. Stories about our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, our classmates. Stories about the people who play the most integral roles in our lives.

Stories about you and me and how you can love someone without being in love.

And I think that’s something that’s beautiful, too.

Like this blog chain topic? Check out the rest of the posts throughout the month:

5thhttp://whileishouldbedoingprecal.weebly.com/

6thhttp://jasperlindell.blogspot.com/

7thhttps://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/ and http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/

8thhttp://miriamjoywrites.com/

9thhttps://ramblingsofaravis.wordpress.com/

10thhttp://semilegacy.blogspot.com/

11thhttp://kirabudge.weebly.com/

12thhttp://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

13thhttp://maralaurey.wordpress.com/

14thhttp://dynamicramblings.wordpress.com/

15thhttp://theedfiles.blogspot.com/

16thhttps://horsfeathersblog.wordpress.com/  

17thhttp://www.juliathewritergirl.com/

18thhttp://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

19thhttps://gallopingfree.wordpress.com/

20thhttp://www.alwaysopinionatedgirl.wordpress.com/

21sthttps://deborahrocheleau.wordpress.com/

22ndhttp://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/

23rdhttps://clockworkdesires.wordpress.com/

24thhttps://introspectioncreative.wordpress.com/

25thhttp://wanderinginablur.blogspot.com/

26thhttps://anotefromthenerd.wordpress.com/

27thhttp://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.com

28thhttp://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

29th – https://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

~Julia