July 1, 2009 at 2:39 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Ooh, this whole thing is contentious. But never being one for subtlety or tact, I’m just going to dive in at the deep end with my opinion.

One thing which seems to be a big thing in the writing world is the avoidance of clichés and, in essence, the exclusion of any novel which follows a “classic” formula. I’m not so keen on this, because when I was about eleven (and writing a novel that was a complete Harry Potter rip off – shush) it really disheartened me getting such strongly critical reactions about that. I mean, I know my novel at that time was too unoriginal to be acceptable, but some of the novels which get hammered aren’t. It’s important to respect your fellow writer, even though constructive criticism is good.

In my opinion, originality is overrated. Sure, it’s always cool to have something new, but not to the exclusion of strong, sound plots that have stood the test of time, being handed down generation by generation.

As a reader, I love the old clichés. I love those wonderful fantasy stories where there is a quest which means the hero or heroine must travel the land. I love the normal magic systems – having to get to grips with a new one irritates me. I love all the clichéd, common, boy meets girl variations, I love those action thrillers that always seem the same, I love the regency romances which scarcely vary.

I buy the book because I love that story, I know I love that story, and that is what I am looking for. Say there is a certain type of book I love, but its plot is considered cliché by writers. Therefore no one dares to write it. So there aren’t many out there… There are plenty of rubbishy ones written by writers who aren’t all well-educated in cliché-avoiding like us Twifties and AWers, but no good ones. Those books would be really likely to sell, as there is an audience out there just waiting.

This isn’t written to say that you should go ahead and rip off Lord of the Rings or Twilight, but rather for those who have written a book and been told it’s been done before. There are only a finite number of plots – it’s how you write it, your voice, your characters, the spin you put on it which matters. So as long as your novel isn’t boring and repetitive don’t give up on it just yet.

Just my two pence (or cents for you Americans) on this. Please chip in with your own opinions in the comments section – I’d be interested to see what others think.




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  1. You know, Janet Reid and several other agents have laughed at noobs who refuse to tell even their prospective agent their novel’s plot for fear it might be ripped off. As if agents have time to steal plots, honestly!

    It really isn’t about the plot, in a way. I mean, you need to HAVE one, but it’s okay if there have been similar storylines before–I’d almost promise that, even if you think there haven’t, there have. But hopefully yours is different somehow, that there’s a level of suspense because the readers don’t know 100% for sure exactly what is going to happen next. Otherwise there’d be no point in reading to the end.

    Are your characters real? Do your readers forget that these people don’t exist? Do they breathe?

    Is your voice clear? Does the narration sound stuttery or stilted or awkward? Do readers forget to watch the clock and lose their sense of hearing because they forget any world outside your story exits? (Okay, if you answered yes to that last one, either you’re arrogant as hell or you’re a lucky bastard who needs to stop worrying and submit a few queries already.)

    Anyway. Originality DOES matter, but not originality of plot in the general sense. If your characters are new, if your voice is vivid, if you give your readers a reason to finish the story then go ahead and write your cliche. Just write it as if nobody knows the ending.


    P.S. Feel free to drop me a line if you want to talk shop sometime, veggie1 -at- gmail -dot- com. I think I’d love to talk to anybody nifty enough to read a twifty blog.

  2. I feel exactly the same way. I love a good mystery – a dead body, a bunch of clues, a close call with the killer at the end. But, like you said, people are so convinced that the old formula is overdone that the more capable writers aren’t really bothering with it. And what I’m left with are big bowls of literary oatmeal that leave me wondering how they ever made it onto the shelf.

    Boy meets girl works. Fantasy quest totally works. There’s room in the publishing world for experimental stuff but I’m a bigger fan of the tried-and-true. When I don’t have to struggle with the plot, I find I’m more able to connect with the characters. And that, for me, is the best part.

  3. I completely agree. Sometimes it just works to return to some form of method (anyone notice some serious similarities in Jane Austen’s stuff?) because that’s what makes for good stories. For example, folks just plain like it when the good guy gets the girl. Maybe it happens a lot, but that doesn’t make it a bad story because it happened. What counts is the story. If you’ve made it unique enough and written it well enough, it should be able to stand on its own merits.

  4. Hehe I agree Meta. I love my old Cliche’s as well. Don’t get my wrong, the whole book shouldn’t be a walking clich’e but a subtle twist on an old classic is always nice.

  5. I agree! There are only a certain number of plots – it’s how they are written, reworked, how much you like the characters – that’s what makes a book great =]

    Becky x

  6. I love really original books, but I will also go for any new twist on zombies or werewolves or vampires. I’m a big fan of boy meets girl with lots of conflict. They can’t be together because he’s a ghost. Or she’s a part of a lower caste system. Or they’re from different time periods. Maybe those are cliche ideas, but every time you read them, they feel fresh. The characters are different. The style is different. The place and time are different. And they keep selling because people love cliches with a new twist. So do I. :) Yeah, if I see something really unusual on the shelf, I’ll probably pick it up – but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with another zombie book, as long as it’s not exactly like something I’ve already read.

    P.S. I desperately want to read about some really, really scary vampires, i.e. Salem’s Lot or 30 Days of Night. Seriously. What happened to the bloodthirsty monsters that give you nightmares?

  7. Meta,

    I completely agree! Cliches don’t make a book bad. Bad writing makes a book bad. An idea can have been done a million times before, or be completely original, but if it’s badly written, it’s not a good book.

  8. I think originality does have its merits. I’d much rather read a book with a plot I’ve NEVER heard before than a plot I’ve heard a million times. But – and this is a big but – like everyone else has mentioned, it’s all about the writing. If the plot is new but the writing sucks, the book is doomed; however, if the plot is old but the writing is new and fresh, said book will get lapped up. The best, of course, is a fresh plot AND fresh writing. =]

  9. I think that you’re diamonds rest in your characters. Hell with the plot. If you have a unique plot with crappy characters… you aren’t going to sell anything.

  10. Having written a story completely about cliches (it was even called “cliche,” I am going to have to agree with you totally. :D Everyone here has said it so much better than I have, but it is how it is written that really matters.
    I think the mention of regency romances was a good one. Any romance, really. Every romance author follows the same basic form, but not all of them can produce a novel that makes you want to sit around reading all day. There is so much more than plot.

    Did I just make sense or were my cold medications hindering me?

  11. All I have to say is THANK YOU. You can still write about an unoriginal idea and make it original. If you can’t put a new spin on an old idea, THATS when you have a problem. You don’t have a problem is you use an old idea.

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