Here are some tips to help you think of a unique story! Cliches can be a good thing: when done cleverly. And yes, they do exist for a reason: because they convey our thoughts so clearly. But think about it, using cliches is the easiest way to convey something, and if we use them too often – that’s just being lazy. If you want to be a serious writer, it’s your job to think outside the box. Here are some cliches you can consciously try and avoid.
- He Was A Boy, She Was A Girl. Can I Make it Anymore Obvious?
Girl sees Boy; Boy sees Girl. They fall in love either instantly or after Girl overcomes her initial dislike of Boy on seeing evidence of his Secret Soft Heart (can you say Pride and Prejudice?). But then (oh no!), a Deep Dark Secret is revealed and Boy and Girl and torn apart, betrayed and hurt. Eventually they reunite, either because a Terrible Event Occurs that makes them reevaluate the relationship or the Trusty Best Friend comes to their rescue. Sure, this plot has been tried and tested and retested and reinvented and recreated, and then retried and retested some more. And maybe your book will still do well, because who doesn’t love a feel-good love story? But unless you make it extraordinary through some original, absolutely mind-blowing twist, it will fade away, a love story among love stories—easily read, easily forgotten.
- A Tree is Not A Good Hiding Place. A Tree Is Not A Good Hiding Place. A Tree is Not…
A tree is not a good hiding place. If your character is being pursued closely in a forest, and their pursuer does not think to look up where the tracks end, they are made instantly ridiculous. Of course, this philosophy extends beyond trees. If you want to write a sequence where your protagonist is being pursued, make sure they use their surroundings intelligently, whether it’s down a street or across a plain. You’ve created this world and you can bend it to your will. Try to surprise your readers; maybe even make them laugh. After all, escaping a villain doesn’t need to be heroic, or a dramatic demonstration of power and intelligence. Ask yourself if your solution sounds familiar in any way to you and at least two other people. If it does, create another. Keep going, and remember that you are the god of your own world.
- Well, Isn’t That Convenient?
A letter delivered to the wrong hands. A sudden change of heart. A secret passageway opening precisely where they’re trapped. A dropped clue that is never missed. Two dates at the same restaurant. A single notebook contains every piece of vital information on an entire organization. What an un/lucky coincidence! If your plot is ever suddenly and dramatically changed by a single coincidence—rewrite. Plot twists are all well and good, but unless you trace the causal actions and motivations—aka, unless you hint at their existence or possibility beforehand—they are worth very little. What I mean is this: if there a secret passageway in the castle, hint towards its mysteriousness and/or the possibility of a labyrinth before your protagonist ever enters it. If a notebook is filled with all the information your protagonist is looking for, explain how was it gathered and by whom and how, in all in the gin joints, it managed to make its way to the protagonist. Always ask how, always question why. It will strengthen your plot and make it bulletproof.
- Who Needs a Reason When It’s Just in Their Nature?
Voldemort was incapable of love because his mother used a love potion on his father is weak writing. No, it doesn’t matter that it’s J.K. Rowling; it’s weak. Blaming the actions and beliefs of a character on their so-called inherent nature is both, the most convenient and the weakest tool that all writers have at their disposal. Of course, if you’ve created an entire race of beings incapable of feeling love, then kudos. However, if you have not, if you are talking about people, there has to be something more. Good people are not good without reason. Evil is not evil without motivation. Epic battles between the two are not forged out of thin air and boredom. To say someone is a villain because they killed, and that they killed because they’re a villain, is too shallow to convey anything about your character to your readers. Just as an every person has their reasons for doing what they do and saying what they say, so does every character. They are a sum of everything they have ever experienced. So, throw away the love potions and ask your characters why they exist.
- Happily Ever After?
Okay, so your characters have been through a lot. They’ve fought literal and metaphorical battles, overcome dragons and societal pressure and opposing forces. Don’t they deserve a happily ever after? Sure. But if they’re holding each other in their arms while the world melts away into overwhelming joy—the end—then you’ve got some work to do. The old fairytale happily-ever-after trope was created for children by Disney and deliberately left unquantified because love was, ridiculously, supposed to be enough. Over the last few decades, novels have explored this trope in every possible way: and readers are getting tired of it. Why? Because it isn’t realistic. This doesn’t mean that your characters can’t be happy; they can. But happiness comes at a price (if they’ve fought dragons, it’s probably PTSD) and if you want your characters to be well-rounded, this price and how they pay it should be part of your ending. Make your readers not want to let go of them.
Written by Rheea Mukherjee
Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth (Unnamed Press /Penguin India 2019) which was shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live First Book Award. Her work has been published and featured in Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Vogue India, Out of Print, TBLM, and Bengal Lights, among others. She co-founded Bangalore Writers Workshop in 2012 and currently co-runs Write Leela Write, a Design and Content Laboratory in Bangalore, India. Rheea has an MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts.