Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cliches large and small

If you talk to Sheena and Melanie about what it's like to write with me, the first thing they'd probably tell you is, "she's allergic to cliches."

Okay, maybe the first thing is, "She's stubborn. Trying to get a new idea past her is like trying to give a cat a pill." But that wouldn't make an interesting blog topic, so we're just going to slide on right past that to cliches.

Tropes can be tough. Many genre readers actively seek out familiar ideas or plots. As previously discussed, I adore stories with girls dressed up as boys, even though I'm pretty sure I've read just about all the places those stories can go.* I'm also a sucker for unique settings (loving Alif the Unseen right now),

But there are other plot devices that I'm heartily sick of. ::cough:: dystopians ::cough:: I almost always stop reading a plot summary if it mentions a thief as the main character (only in part because no one could ever be better than Eugenides or Locke Lamora). Or any story of a long-lost heir. Or a young girl (is it just me, or is it almost always a girl in these situations?) who has a suddenly-appearing power that is (a) different from everyone else's, and (b) is anticipated to have world-changing events.

But lately, I've been starting to pay more attention to the small cliches. The little plot and character devices that crop up again and again in the stories I read. The worst thing is, I have no idea how to avoid them in my own writing. Here are the two that have been bothering me lately.

1. Is he/she telling the truth?????

This is a fairly common situation in fantasy. A person comes up to our hero and tells him a Shocking Thing. And then the character has to spend pages upon pages agonizing about whether or not the person is trustworthy. I've gotten pretty good at skimming these passages.

But I also have no idea how to fix this. You can't have characters go around believing everything they hear without having them being ridiculously naive. And omitting or shortening the explanation makes them seem careless or thoughtless. So, any ideas on how to fix this without the use of truth spells?

2. Magic is real!!!

A universal issue in urban fantasy or any other story where magic is hidden or not well known. There always seems to be several scenes where a character has just discovered magic for the first time. It's worst when it's the POV character, and there have to be several paragraphs, pages, or chapters of that character thinking they are dreaming or hallucinating.

It's a totally understandable reaction. If a unicorn walked by me on the street, I'd probably go straight to the doctor's. Or pinch myself hard. But as a reader, I get ridiculously bored of characters blowing off events that happen because they don't believe this fantasy world is real. Again, any thoughts, or examples of authors avoiding this trap?

What are your least favorite cliches, large or small?

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*Did anyone else make the mistake of trying to read Defy by Sara Larson? What a disappointment. Never mind the problems with the heroine, I almost quit reading when I found out about the breeding houses. See, all orphaned girls are put into houses so that the king's soldiers can breed future soldiers on them. And this war has already been resource-draining. How does it make sense that they'd try to go for such a long-term strategy for such a disastrous war? Anyway.


  1. This is my opinion on the subject.

    Happy endings have been done a billion times, but that doesn't make me like them any less. I think there's a difference between a cliche, and a tired cliche. And when you read a lot, you start to see a lot of things repeated until they are no longer powerful, or sometimes things get done so well, that anyone else trying it feels like a lesser copy. I think that's why cliches can get annoying.

    But if an idea energizes you as a writer, then it's not going to come off as tired. Even if it's been done to death. There's a reason why writers often write similar things, and that's because similar themes work. And sell.

    My least favorite cliche is when a girl is human and her boyfriend is immortal and special. I was cool with it up until Twilight, but all those copycats made me go FEMINIST RAGE! on the idea. But it works sometimes, and people still buy it. Until they move onto a different trend, which gets old quickly as too many people jump on it, and then the trends shift again, and eventually those cliches that bug me will have flipped, and I'll be bugged that the girls are always so powerful, and their heroes don't deserve them.

  2. Sheena a agree with the normal girl/immortal boyfriend thing. So many times I'm left wondering what he sees in her. There really needs to be a good reason why a supernatural being is so obsessed with an average human that hopefully goes beyond her smelling really good.

    I don't think I'd like the flipped version either although I have a story idea for one of those. I much prefer for romantic couples who are equals. I like to feel like they deserve each other.

    My pet peeve cliché is parents keeping a huge secret from their teenage child that ends up putting the kid in peril. Like City of Bones. Clary's mother really should've told her and trained her for the very dangerous shadow hunter world. That one drives me nuts.


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.