Saturday, May 25, 2013

Battling Clichés

What’s wrong with prophecies in a fantasy novel? Specially with the Chosen One. I have it by accident, but it’s kind of different. I think if it’s justified and well done it can work, what do you think? Any advice on writing it and being original? P.S.: I CAN’T delete it, it is really important. Thank you so much!

Taken from on the archetype “The Chosen One”:

“The ultimate victim (or beneficiary) of Because Destiny Says So. The oldest and most common Super Hero Origin. The easiest way to turn an Ordinary High School Student into the only thing preventing The End of the World as We Know It. Take it for granted that they are the Only One.”

The examples listed above are all tropes in The Chosen One archetype that have been done so many times that their classic definition is a widely recognized cliché. That’s what you want to avoid when it comes to using The Chosen One as a plot device.

When people say not to use the “prophecy” in a fantasy novel, it’s usually because it’s been done to death, and also because it’s used as an unquestionable catalyst to put the story in motion. Oftentimes, instead of components coming together synergistically to create the story, The Prophecy can be used as a cop-out, a “greater power” that cannot be questioned, which propels the story just because.

So, if the answer to the big question of, “Why this character?” is simply, “Because,” that can frustrate readers.

However, this doesn’t mean you need to avoid The Prophecy and The Chosen One at all costs. Classic tropes can be used, there’s nothing wrong with that. Even the dystopia subgenre, only a fairly recently recognized subgenre (although it’s existed for much longer), already has its common set of tropes and clichés.

The trick is to take the trope and do something other than the cliché. If you’ve read widely enough, you know how authors tend to utilize the aforementioned, and you can discern what worked for the story and what didn’t. Take what you know and apply it to your story, do something that you haven’t read yet with The Chosen One, something that hasn’t been done.

Make it fresh, original, twist it, do something different and unexpected.

Sometimes this’ll take a lot of thought and planning. Sometimes you’ll have to pull components from other stories, other genres even (crossing genres is always an awesome way to break out of the typical clichés). Combine different elements and then ask yourself if the story is weighing too much on the cliché.

A trick I use is to write up a summary that would go on the back cover (or the query), and then I can more objectively see what this story might look like to someone else so I can ask myself:

  • Does this read like too many other back covers?
  • What makes this story unique?
  • What stands out?
  • If it’s lacking pizzazz, how can I change things up?
  • If there are clichés, what can I do to drop-kick some originality into them?

The most important thing in the end is that you write the story that you want to write, because that’s what will keep you writing. Don’t write what people want you to write about, and don’t let people tell you what you shouldn’t write, because plenty of writing advice tells you just that. You’re in charge of your own story, so if your story hinges on The Prophecy and The Chosen One, then work the heck out of it.

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)

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