Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to Avoid Cliches

Do you feel you have a set-up like this at home?

This will be a reasonably short post today. All about how to avoid the common cliche. 
I was talking with my husband late last night, all about books, publishing, writing technique, etc. (Because he totally surprised me when he said he wanted to write a novel and I probably gave him a shifty-eyed glance, trying to tell if he is serious or not =)
One of the things I talked about with him, being a newer newbie than myself, was cliches. 
And a thought came to me. 
My old technique, when I was newer to the craft, was to look online and find lists that people had made on the most common cliches used. Now that I am older and wiser I know that just looking at lists isn't going to help me NOT use all the cliches out there. 

There are so many traps we can fall into. And for me, the thought was (and I'm sure you've come to this conclusion) that EVERYTHING we write is inspired by something. 

NO, go look back at your work. You'll see that I'm right.
So, here is the technique I have put into place (and hopefully followed somewhat in my own writing), and told my husband to think about as he writes:

  • Come up with an idea for your story.
  • Think about (and write down) at least three different sources that may have influenced you in creating that scene/idea/whatever.
  • Now think of something totally different to use in its place. Something that can't be traced (as far as you know) to anything else.
Now, I know this isn't foolproof, because let's face it, it's hard not to be inspired by the things around us. But this has worked relatively well for me.

Another thing to keep in mind that is great for inspiration are personal experiences (whether our own, or others we know).
A lot of people have similar experiences, and that's okay. These themes are great and relatable to our audience. The thing that makes them great as examples is that no one persons life is like another. And the little details you can pull from these situations make them more real/believable.
I compared this to how an artist works. If an artist were to simply draw a face, or a building, say, they probably would look fine if they were a great artist. BUT, if an artist looks at something else for reference, they see a whole lot more going on. For example, there is a shade there that they didn't think about placing in the picture, or added color, here that they wouldn't have thought about otherwise. 
Disclaimer: no this isn't from my artwork collection. =)
All of these things make something unique.
And I think this is a great technique to use even if you think you've completed your MS. Take a look at all those scenes and ask yourself again and again:
(That's Peter Jackson advice right there!)


Jenna Cooper said...

This is really great advice, and something that I know I need to work on!

Stacy Coles said...

Hi Kathryn,
Thanks for your comments on my "Inspiration" post on my saythiswrite blog. I'm glad others can relate to these situations.
I love this post of yours about looking at things in new ways and looking for new things. Very helpful since I am in the midst of a youth novel right now. I'm constantly asking my daughter (11) what she would think would be interesting and what would grab her attention in a story. Trying to look at this storyline through her eyes to inspire me. She's a huge help! So was your post. Thanks.

Rachel Brooks said...

You're right, Kathryn. It's very important to look at things in different ways and see how you can make them better. That's why there are so many revisions that go into a great story :)

Cheryl Reif said...

I love the comparison between crafting a novel and crafting a piece of visual art. You're so right--when we reference some sort of "source" as we write, it helps us to make the writing more vivid. (This is why my children know to specify what I can and cannot write about in their lives....)

K.M. Weiland said...

Good post! Something I've found extremely helpful in avoiding cliched plots and characters is reading widely in my chosen genre. If I'm familiar with what's out there, I'll know what's been overdone and what can be played just a little bit differently to give it a new spin.