Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How do you know?

A reader recently emailed me and asked: How do you know when you've fallen into writing a story that is predictable or cliche? And how can you avoid that?

Good question! In a world of forbidden cliches, this one can be tricky.

See, I just used a cliche there and didn't even realize until I closed the sentence! ha!

Avoiding cliche phrases can be hard enough, but its often even harder to avoid cliche or predictable IDEAS. I think the main thing to remember is to keep it fresh, and keep it true to you and your voice. If you do that, you won't be repeating a worn-out idea.

If you think about it, romance novels all follow the same pattern or formula. Boy meets girl or re-connects with girl. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again, boy and girl live happily ever after. Of course there are variations, such as maybe the girl loses the boy, or maybe the boy only gets the girl once at the end, instead of twice in a book, etc. But the premise is the same. Yet how many THOUSANDS or more romance novels exist today that would be considered fresh, enjoyable, unpredictable reads?

I've heard it said before that everything has been done. There truly is no completely unique idea anymore for novels. I find it hard to believe in one regard, but in another, it does make sense and is probably true. The reason it doesn't seem this way in the industry is because each author has her/his own unique viewpoint, outlook, perspective, and voice keeping their idea and their story fresh. And you do too! :)

I think if you've started writing a novel that seems to you to be cliche or predictable, then it probably is. So if you recognize that, change it! Add a twist. If its suspense, kill off the person that seems the obvious culprit. If it's a romance, create a love triangle. Add some surprising element of backstory that deepens the plot and gives the character new motivation or conflict. Take time to plot and see where your story is lacking. Then brainstorm a cure.

If anyone has any specific ideas/plots they are concernred about and feel comfortable sharing them, feel free to do so in the comments section to this post. I'll try to answer each one as best as I can. :)


  1. I think (as the inexperient, leaning-as-I-go wannabe writer that I am :) that the main question is whether you're having fun writing it/thinking about it. Because if you're bored, than chances are other people would be to. But if it's something you can't get out of your head, then I think there's something to it. Because we can go crazy trying to figure out what other people would think of our story, but we can only be honest about how we perceive it. And if we're part of our target audience, then we're on the right track! (at least that's my guess :)

  2. The cliche things I'm struggling with is  like  this- a novice MC with a really great idea falls for either a 
    1. Higher up in the company guy
    2. A guy at competing company

    & she falls for him only to spill her guts & he steals her secrets. That could be a little cliche/predictable. 

    Or I was thinking it could be YA with working on a school project with the same outcome but still has sortof been done before

  3. Tonya, either one sounds interesting to me! I think most of it depends on how well you develop the plot, but I don't think it's that cliche - especially if you make the guy seem perfect in the beginning. It could be a cool twist! (And then how about throw in a guy that seems like the bad guy but turns out to be the one in the end? Just sayin'! But go with your gut :)

  4. I agree, Anne! Well put :)

    Tonya, Anne had some good points for you as well. My first reaction to your workplace scenario is GREAT conflict! Conflict drives a story. Good job there. But my concern is that's not a heroic thing for the male to do, obviously :) So is there another male interest or is this a women's fiction about a woman who gets burned? You might have better success making it a love triangle, one "good" guy and one "bad" guy, yet the girl doesn't figure out who has her best interests at heart until later in the story. I personally love reading about workplace romances!

    Yes, that plot has been done before but its a favorite for many, and because its YOU writing it, it will be unique from the others.

  5. Thanks Anne & Betsy! You have a lot of great things for me to think about. My mind swirls so much it can be hard to settle on a firm idea bc I always find another what if? Which in the moment seems more exciting that whatever I was working on? Ugh!
    I have some more ideas for the conflict, one of them including another guy- I just didn't want to put the whole plot out there. I could email more specifics if your really wanted.
    Today I was thinking what if the girl were the bad guy. At first I thought that wouldn't work for an MC but as you pointed out Betsy it's basically a romance plot. Which I believe you mentioned the other day when you write romance you use the hero/heroine POV which could be done there.
    The funny thing is I've never set out to write romance I've always wanted to do chick lit, but I don't know if I'm clever enough for that or contemporary womans fiction. So I wonder if I should attempt to work it as romance? Or idk, do you get what I'm saying?

  6. I'm afraid to keep giving advice since I'm not experienced like the ladies of this blog, but in my writing pursuit :), I have learned that at some point you gotta stop questioning your gut and just go with it. So don't worry too much right now about the category that it would be in, just enjoy discovering the story! I think all our self doubt can take away the joy of writing, and it should be fun for you before it can be for anyone else. So just do it! My guess is that you have good instincs and just doesn't know it yet :).

  7. Thanks Anne! Yeah, self doubts get. I need to write down all my thoughts & see which i like the best

  8. I agree with Anne! Trust your gut and just write. Don't make it harder than it is :)