The Minxes would like to congratulate Natalie Charles, winner of New Voices 2011. Even if you don’t normally read romantic suspense, read this one. The story will grab you.
If you’ve followed the New Voices contest (as I have - devotedly!) you’ll have heard the editors’ advice to avoid cliché. This is just a re-statement of what the editors have been saying at conferences for the last few years. 2010’s buzz words were ‘innovate, don’t imitate’ and this year it was ‘unpredictability’. But really these are all just different ways of saying the same thing: avoid cliché.
In the immortal words of Blake Snyder in Save the Cat: “You can be near the cliché, you can dance around it, you can run right up to it, and almost embrace it. But at the last second you must turn away.”
I was extremely fortunate to get feedback on my NV entry (see here) and one of the comments the editors made was that my set-up has been used often before and I need to be careful that it doesn’t slip into cliché.
Clearly the use of cliché isn’t an issue for them, since they praised my very clichéd opening (Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there lived a princess.) but it’s what you do with the cliché that’s important. My next lines show that I’m going to turn the cliché on its head: She wasn’t like any of the princesses in other stories. She didn’t sweep floors, or wash dishes, or sing with the birds.
The day after the editors posted the feedback, I re-read Blake Snyder’s chapter of Save the Cat, entitled ‘Give me the same thing ... only different’, an entire chapter devoted to avoiding cliché, and he sums it up with these words:
“In every aspect of creation - from the idea, to the way characters speak, to the scenes themselves - putting a fresh spin on it (whatever “it” is) is what we do every day. But to know how to avoid the cliché, to know what tradition you are pushing forward, begins with knowing what that tradition is.”
Yes, it really is that easy. Once you’ve studied your genre, when you’ve read enough books that are similar to what you want to write, when you’ve examined the movies in that genre, you’ll start to spot the clichés: secret babies, marriages of convenience, certain type of hero or heroine, certain turns of phrase. That doesn’t mean you can’t use these elements, just that you need to tread carefully when you use them.
“When it feels like a cliché - give it a twist. When you think it’s familiar - it probably is, so you’ve got to find a new way. But at least understand why you’re tempted to use the cliché and the familiar story. .... True originality can’t begin until you know what you’re breaking away from.” - Blake Snyder