We’ve been running a series this month to help you avoid clichés, tropes, and stereotypes in your writing. Today, Wrimo Alice de Sampaio Kalkuhl shares her top 3 tips for making your writing glow with originality:
It’s August, and if you participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, then you just finished a month of writing. You’re reading back through what you wrote (even though everybody told you to put it aside for a while), or have given it to beta readers, and maybe you’re finding that your main character sounds a lot like the one from that book you were reading when you were about to start writing your Camp project, or there’s a scene that could have been pulled from the movie you watched a few weeks ago. If some things are feeling too familiar while re-reading your work, you may have fallen into the cliché trap. Getting out of it is easy: You simply rewrite some scenes, putting a twist on each cliché you found.
1. Know your genre
The best way to avoid falling into the cliché trap is to know your genre. Most clichés are just overdone tropes. Tropes themselves aren’t too bad; they are story points and character traits that make your story identifiable as part of your genre. For example, if you are writing a Nordic Noir, a common trope is that your (generally male) main character is divorced. This trope only becomes a cliché if you go too far with it—which in this example would be to also make him an alcoholic who can barely pay his rent.
2. Think about how you got an idea
Maybe that scene that you wrote after reading Let the Right One In feels so uncomfortably familiar because it is in fact very similar to a scene in the book. Often you don’t mean to copy scenes from books or movies, but they make their way into your head. One thing you can try to do is go back and read the passage of the book you read or watch the scene in the movie you watched that feels familiar. Try to figure out what made it stick in your head, and write a scene with your characters that echoes that feeling, or uses a similar detail, while still having some differences.
3. Actively search for tropes
One of the best ways to avoid clichés is to search for a genre’s tropes:
- Overly sarcastic productions is a YouTube channel that talks about tropes. If you don’t have the time for their videos, they also tweet about tropes.
- Brooding YA hero is a parody account of clichés about male YA leads. Not only is it good for a laugh, but it also shows the clichés that happen when you’re trying to make your series too similar to The Hunger Games, Divergent and others.
Just to give an example, I’m a horror author, and the most common horror cliché is the broken-down car. It’s been used in Dawn of the Dead, The Girl with All the Gifts, 28 Days Later and more. But even though it’s overused, “broken-down car” as a trope represents a pivotal plot point, so it has to be replaced with something less cliché.
In every horror story, there is a moment where the characters get hope (i.e. a car to drive away with) that is immediately taken from them (i.e. said car breaks down). This rough plot point is something that can be explored with less cliché elements.
Clichés can be avoided easily, just be aware of the ones that could appear. Only let the right tropes into your book.
Alice de Sampaio Kalkuhl is an author living and studying Genetics in Manchester. Her debut novel Energy equals milk times coffee squared was published by Champagne Cat after she wrote it for NaNoWriMo 2016. It’s the first in a series about Alice blogs about all things writing and Science on alice-in-quantumland.blogspot.co.uk.
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from alexcoitus on Flickr.