Turn It on Its Head
So here I was, sitting on my porch after spending most of the day at the emergency vet with a diabetic cat, wondering what the hell I was going to write about for this week’s blog. And, lo and behold, Adrienne and skyesblue paved the way for the me with their brilliant articles about cliches. They did all the work and the set up, and I get to ride on their coattails! Thanks, ladies!
Now, ever genre has its cliches. In fantasy, it’s the heroic quest, the secret prince, the chosen one, the farm-boy-turned-hero, the ass-kicking chick, elves/dwarves/orcs, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
Or no, I take that back—the cliche isn’t so much any of those elements, but more the way they’re handled within the story.
Take William Shakespeare (bear with me for a moment). For the most part, the stories he adapted to stage were already well-known to his contemporary audience. The plots weren’t original, the elements making them up weren’t original, and his audience certainly recognized not only the characters but the character archetypes portrayed. Hell, just look at Hamlet: “prince wrongfully deprived of his kingdom has to take it back” has been a damn cliche from times far more ancient than the Elizabethan period. It was what Shakespeare did with those familiar stories, those cliches, that got people’s attention.
So, writers, take those cliches and turn them on their heads. Take a step to the left and look at it from a new perspective. What if the secret prince rejects his royal heritage and chooses a normal life instead? What if the guy tapped to receive the Hero’s Call has to be coerced into it, because he hates the kingdom that needs to be saved, hates everyone in it, and really wishes they’d all just fuck off and die? What if the heroine doesn’t use her powers for righteousness when it comes down to the line, and instead makes the selfish choice? What if the young, coming-of-age characters aren’t the focus of the book, and the heroes are really the mentor-archetype characters instead?*
Cause here’s the secret, chickadees: certain story lines have power, and the difference in whether it’s perceived as a cliche or not lies solely in how you handle it. Give it that fresh perspective, that twist, that way of looking things that only you have. Your readers will thank you for it.
* Yeah, those are all examples from my books. I leave it to my readers to judge whether I successfully subverted any of the fantasy cliches or not, and will say only that I tried my best.