Here’s a fiction writer’s question – what are clichés? They’re scenarios or characters that are predictable, that fit into a neat little category, and that show up often. Usually, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to refrain from using too many clichés in a story because it makes it a little flat. Dynamic, unexpected characters and scenes keep your readers on edge. They say, “Huh! That’s not how I thought that conversation would play out. Let me read on and find out what happens…”
An easy way to steer clear of a cliché character is to make their personality exactly the opposite of what you would expect. Take a princess for example. A cliché princess is fluttery, meek, and timid, right? How would you counteract that expectation? By making your princess fiery, stubborn, tomboyish and rebellious!
Except… rebellious princesses appear all over the place in modern young adult fiction. Strong female leads are the norm. Suddenly, what seemed like a fresh character idea turns out to be… common.
Don’t get me wrong, what I said before was true – try out opposite personalities on an otherwise predictable character. It works most of the time. Just be cognizant of ideas other writers have already exploited, and see if you can twist your character to partially or completely evade those expectations. Remix the clichés, if you will.
In English class today, we did some free writing about identity and non-conformists. I drew a connection to my writing there. Conforming to the conventional is like writing with a ton of clichés. It’s predictable and a little monotonous, just another fantasy story amid a sea of others.
But once you start experimenting with new ideas, your story begins to stand out. It becomes the one your reader picks up off the shelf because the blurb on the inside cover sounded unconventional and fresh. Your story itself no longer conforms – its new. And that’s a really cool thing.
That’s what I look for when coming up with ideas for novels. I read enough books to know what story clichés are repeated across the young adult world. I make it a point to form a story around the exact opposite. I have a folder on my desk crammed full of story ideas, more than I’ll probably ever be able to turn into books in my lifetime. But that folder is full of male narrators, plot twists, unique family situations, and of course, messy romantic subplots. They were all spawned by seeing and doing… the opposite.
If you’re a writer and have a hard time coming up with ideas, try my strategy. What about the books you like is repeated? How can you make it different? And work from there.