Tropes and Clichés

I’ve been thinking a lot about tropes and clichés lately. Between editing a previous trilogy with a  foundation built on tropes–including everything from the Chosen One to vampires and werewolves to old men who know all yet tell nothing–and planning a new series that uses even more–and this time, purposefully–plus simply observing the dialogue surrounding the industry, with the constant desire to have something new, without clichés and tropes, grace the bookshelves; it is hard not to think about these things and form an opinion about them. Are using clichés and tropes good? bad? Do they help or hurt your writing? Does writing become less if they are incorporated?

I don’t have an answer to those questions. Opinions, sure, but no answers. Because every answer to them is subjective, like the opinions that help form those answers. Here are my subjective musings:

I’m very thankful for the tropes and clichés I’ve incorporated into my writing, because they have taught me a lot. I know the Chosen One plotline has been done a lot in fantasy. That didn’t stop me from writing a book about a boy who was chosen, through luck and unfortunate circumstance, to save the world. It also wasn’t the reason I wrote that book, either, to incorporate those clichés. Instead, I simply wrote a book about a kid named Darryn, who just so happened to fit the Chosen One mold. As I learned more about Darryn, that was what he fit into. That is how the story took shape and I went with it. Does that make him and his story cliché? Absolutely. Does that make him impossible to be unique?

I don’t think so.

Yes, his story incorporates a ton of tropes. Yet he is still different because it is a new story. It is a story written by my hand, with different characters and a different world. Will it feel familiar, one day, to readers, if it ever makes it that far and has a chance to be read widely? Yes, definitely. Yet will they find something they still enjoy, something to complain about, something they hate, something they love, regardless of how many tropes I used?

I hope so.

In my quest of querying and publication, Darryn hasn’t gotten the light of day due to the tropes that build the foundation of his world. And I understand that, 100%. It isn’t the most original storyline. Though I wish Darryn would get a chance, I haven’t given up hope on him yet. One day, I think his story will be read. And that will be exciting, tropes or no tropes. To be quite honest, however–and show my own naiveté–I didn’t realize how many tropes I incorporated until I started trying to get it published. And while I have my own spin on them, they are still tropes and they are still roadblocks, currently, in my publishing journey.

But in my writing journey, they have only opened doors.

You see, like many creative souls and many people in general, I doubted myself and I doubted my craft. I still do. Even as I began mapping out Darryn’s story, discovering what was going to happen next, I doubted whether I had the chops to make it happen. It took me a long time to start writing it, because I doubted myself as a writer. So perhaps, unconsciously, tropes surfaced in the story to give me confidence; writing something similar that I have read dozens of times and enjoyed might help convince myself this “writer thing” isn’t a fluke. I don’t know. I never really thought about it. And despite having the dream to get published one day, I didn’t write Darryn’s story to get published. I wrote it because I had a desire to tell it and that desire outweighed any other fears or doubts or tribulations. It was the story on my heart and so I wrote it. And then I edited it. Over and over again. I tried to craft it in a way that readers would enjoy reading it and maybe, yes, one day, it would get published.

And then it got rejected. Over and over again.

Too long, they said. Too generic, too cliché. Not original, not unique. Try again next time. 

Though the rejections hurt at first–and the doubt that I could never write anything original and would always be a cliché-writer took hold–eventually, I shook off the negativity and continued Darryn’s story. It might not be “good enough” to be published, but he certainly wasn’t done with me. So I wrote the second book. Then, the third. Two prequel-type books linger in the back in my mind. Seeds have been planted to allow for a sequel-series, if I wanted to explore that avenue. Then, editing all the while, I moved onto a separate book, in a new genre, new age range and an entirely different plot. And I finished it. And now, as I slowly plan out the bare minimum for a nine/ten book series, eager to start writing it despite having no idea where it is going, I’ve shared the central idea with a few people; friends and family and a few writing colleagues. The initial response:

Wow, that sounds awesome! Or: It’s going to be a lot of work, but I can’t wait to read it once you’re done. And, my favorite: That’s so unique. I love that idea.

Unique, they said. Calling one of my stories unique, when my first work has so many tropes, it was as if I was trying to pack them all in, instead of being completely unaware until after the fact. Of course, I recognize all this is biased praise, looking at the source. Yet it got me thinking and here’s what I conclude:

Clichés and tropes aren’t for everybody. They have been around for ages and at some point, they worked, enough to become the elements in stories that, now, agents groan over and audiences beg for something different. Some people label them as overdone. Some people hate them. Some people use them as the mark of a “poor” writer. These people may be right. I do agree that branching out and trying to create new, engaging storylines is never a bad thing. I hope to write stories that reach that calibre, one day. At the same time, a little familiarity never hurt me, and also, excites me, in a way. When I read a new book with tropes and clichés as center-pieces for the plot, it makes me wonder: if I’ve read this plotline a dozen times and here it threads again, what did the author do to make it different? It’s almost like a game, setting up my expectations through familiarity and then suddenly changing them when the twist hits. I think that is another way to make something unique.

Personally, I will always be indebted to clichés and tropes. They helped build the first novel I ever attempted and didn’t give up on, but instead, finished. They helped me thicken my skin through the rejection process. By unknowingly using them and suddenly having them pointed out to me, I became more aware as a reader and a writer, and started challenging myself to think outside the box. And now, as I begin work on my next series, they have been the direct inspiration–and will play a major role–within that series; a series that has already been coined unique (even biasedly-coined) and I haven’t even written a page yet.

Should you use clichés and tropes in your writing? That’s up to you and the stories you want to tell. If you want to be published, the more creative you can get and the more outside-the-box you can think, they better your chances are. You might want to stay away. But if you have a story in your heart where tropes abound, write that story. Sure, it may not get published. But it matters. It is your story and it will help you, in some form. Tell the stories in your heart. Listen to advice and criticism, but never abandon yourself and your work. Stay true to that, keep fighting, keep writing, keep learning, and you’ll make it, in whatever form “making it” takes.

Cheers.

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About Nicole Evans

Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. She has five completed manuscripts: a trilogy about destined heroes that fail anyway, a science fiction standalone that pits the natural desire to love against the natural instinct to kill during the extinction of the human race and a new series about a writer who can't get published and gets the chance to live a life that all writers dream. She also has two scripts done. Currently, she is about to start writing the second of a nine book series while planning two more. (If you can tell, she really likes this whole writing thing.) Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works part-time as a supervisor in a library at the University of Kansas. View all posts by Nicole Evans

5 responses to “Tropes and Clichés

  • hsdeurloo

    I love this post. It’s a real look into where writers start. Clichés are the beginning and you got them out of the way and have stronger writing because of it. Rooting for you!

    • inkstaind13

      You, my dear, are lovely! Thank you so much for the response. I think that is so true. Using tropes and clichés aren’t necessarily bad–they can be a great starting point that can build into something greater. But I think, with the push for something unique and brand new all the time, some writers might be scared to even start, fearing falling into only writing these things. But even so, you’re still improving your craft and will, if you work hard and keep writing, find a way to write something more original. Always rooting for you, too!! 🙂

  • philcharlesr

    Hi Nicole, this message isn’t really relevant to tropes/cliches, but I couldn’t see a way to send you a personal message. I just wanted to pickup on your comments about trying to get published, and mention a couple of sites I’ve come across that might interest you. (I’ve not actually used them/submitted my work as its not ready to see the light of day, but they look like good options in my opinion). First, http://www.inkshares.com are a cross between a publisher and crowdfunding platform. Prove you’ve got some interest in your book and they’ll publish it. Also http://www.bookouture.com are a small traditional publisher. They look like they care about the authors they publish, and treat them well. Hope those prove useful, and wish you a pleasant day regardless. Great blog posts by the way :).

    • inkstaind13

      Hey Phil! Thanks for sharing those links. I’ll definitely have to check them out, after I go through the revision process…again. Never ending, the works of writers, right? I hope you’ve had an equally pleasant day and super appreciate you stopping by and saying hello! You rock! 🙂

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