After finishing Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES, a YA dystopian novel, it made me think of how the author had managed to make her characters suffer, provide a good pace and write excellent, grabbing hooks while also keeping the story fresh. Original. Now, maybe it’s not as original as I thought--maybe it’s like an awful lot of dystopian fiction out there? Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve read YA or scanned the bookstore shelves for something to read—but it was enough to keep my interest, enough to want to finish the rest of the series.
I’ve often wondered why I’ve passed through the library or bookstore, looking for something and eventually leaving almost disappointed. I think I’ve finally figured out why: the originality of ideas are slim.
A strange question that’s bugged me all week, while trying to brainstorm an idea for a possible NanoWriMo project, is: How do writers twist things to make possible clichés or overdone ideas fresh again?
Now, I know everything’s already been done. It can’t be helped that something you came up with follows a pattern—whether due to the genre, characters or situation, but something you can help is the uniqueness of the idea. Putting your own spin on it, twisting the cliché into something that readers haven’t heard before or into something relatively new.
Only question is: “How?”
One way is to play around with the cliché. Figure out what makes it cliché and overdone and try to do the opposite or change elements of that idea to create something that is fresh such as the damsel-in-distress becoming the heroine. Another way is—depending on the requirements of your story—is there a way to blend genres or to mix two different pieces of an idea together to put a new spin on the plot itself? A good example of this is the series of Shrek films done by Dreamworks, using clichés to create comedy. You can also use clichés and change them to fit a more serious or dramatic subject matter or genre such as the TV show Heroes—taking the cliché of the superhero and making the characters almost super normal, with no idea how deeply they are connected, or in some cases, that they exist.
However, clichés also appear when creating inhuman characters or entire races of creatures, not just in plotting. When designing new creatures or new races for your world, consider blending animal and human traits in unexpected ways. However, if this creature is to become a major character or have prominent parts in the story, your readers have to be able to relate to him or her—so it’s important to humanize the character.
An excellent example of humanizing an alien or a human with otherworldly abilities is Spiderman. Alternately, the creators could have had Spiderman look like a spider, however, they chose to keep him a human, but gave him spider abilities such as climbing walls and shooting webs from his wrists.
This method of creating a new species and, if needed, adding humanizing traits, allows for a fresh spin on the typical use of creatures that may have either just been used as pets, methods of transportation, or as weapons. Plus it works well with the world-building of your story—with this new creature the myths and origins can be created by the writer, and thus enriches the novel’s culture with something possibly unheard of.
While trying to avoid clichés, questions you can ask while creating your novel, are the typical: who, what, where, when and, most importantly, how? Who is your character? What or who are they searching for in your novel? Where is your novel set? What time period is it set? How do the events relate to each other and the characters themselves?
Also, ask yourself the big question: “What if?” What if the bomb went off? What if one of them dies? What if one of the characters had a terminal illness? What if he or she had this habit? The possibilities are endless. One way to make otherwise cliché things new again is to add something unusual or unheard of to it, to put the theme in a new light or maybe tell the story in a new POV (point of view).
Another important question to ask yourself is: “Why?” Why did you choose to tell the story this way? Why use this POV and what purpose will this character serve? Why blend these two genres or elements, what purposes will they serve in the scope of your novel? Asking why as you build your novel, with the intentions of twisting and changing clichés, will help determine if the idea works, whether or not the changed cliché helps or hinders your intents and direction for the story.
But what if you can’t find a way to mix the plot or change a cliché? Story generators and sites such as Seventh Sanctum and Chaotic Shiny can help with jogging the creativity. Another resource to look in when considering clichés, and changing them into something readers haven’t seen, is mythology and fairytales. Perhaps take a fairytale or a myth and add a modern twist to it or (if writing primarily fantasy) use the myth/tale in such a way that may pay homage to the possible inspiration of your novel. An example of this would be likening the tale of Little Red Riding Hood to a serial killer, the specifics of his victimology and the types of trophies he may collect (such as red clothing).
These are among the various methods you can try out and consider while creating your novel. Asking these questions and using the resources available, will help you battle clichés, change them and, ultimately, enrich the novel—making things new and unique or giving your story a fresh view—for your readers.
Thanks for reading!