Friday, November 13, 2015

Plots – Part 2 “Clichés and All”

Last week, I introduced this series, and today I get into the thick of it.
For the purposes of this series, I’ll be “creating” a plot. We’ll follow a girl named Addy through all her adventures. Sound interesting?
Well, it sounds vague if nothing else. So I’d like to expound on her story a bit in today’s post. Today, we will fill her story with tropes and the common facets of plots known as clichés.

First, let’s establish the setting. There’s a country, and it has trees and things. It’s got one city (plus random villages that will pop up when convenient), where the king lives.
You know, let’s have our first real cliché, one that isn’t even plot related. Let’s make Addy royalty. She can be the king’s daughter. Yes. She is a princess now. All hail Princess Addy.
Even better, let’s apply what I like to call “Discontent Royalty Syndrome” to the mix. Addy now hates being called “Your Highness” and wishes she had less servants to pamper her (because everyone hates having other people do things for them).
Before we get on to the plot, let’s make sure she has a hobby… oh! She likes to ride horses far from the castle, without any guards. Because, after all, our medieval story world is so different from the real world that no guards ever follow the princess and she always rides without a sidesaddle because she’s such a tomboy.

I’d like to pause our story for a moment and talk about what is wrong with this setup so far. Hopefully you can catch my heavy sarcasm when I talk about a lot of this. But just to highlight:
-Main characters who are royalty
-Royalty who hate their position (let’s be honest… this never happens).
-Flat story world in which there are trees and things and random villages. We really ought to world build some, hm?
-Tomboy heroine. If there is any kind of cliché main character, it’s a girl who rides horses and acts likes she’d rather be a boy.

All of these things together are what makes this introduction to our story bad. On their own, most of them aren’t horrid. Characters who are royal aren’t bad in and of themselves. But constant use of them as main characters has suddenly made it predictable.
Now. Let us return to our story, and add some real plot.

Our story opens with a fight between Addy and her father. She storms off, goes for a ride, and returns to find her parents brutally murdered. Her scheming uncle takes the thrown and tries to kill her.
She flees. She finds her way to the forest (where there are trees and things, like random villages) and meets up with rebels who have decided to bring down her uncle.
Addy joins the rebels, discovers their leader is her father’s long-lost, left-for-dead stableboy. He trains her to fight with a sword, which she manages to catch onto in a day or two. If she’s lucky, she’ll also learn archery and hunting. The stableboy (we’ll call him Tom) and Addy fall in love at some point.
The rebels attack her uncle’s keep. They’re repulsed and Tom is hurt quite badly (yet somehow manages to get all the way back to the forest while bleeding out). Addy then leaves the rebels and sneaks into the castle (which, we find out, has a dozen secret entrances for no real reason) and almost kills her uncle. Pity stays her hand and she flees.
Again the rebels attack, this time they win. Addy is crowned Queen, her uncle is banished forever, and Tom kisses Addy in time for all the young girls reading the book to squeal as the last page ends.

Fantastic. We’ve written a book, people. Took me less time than NaNoWriMo will, that’s for sure.

Do you see what I’ve done?
I’ve done almost no work, yet I’ve recreated portions of stories, even entire novels. This matches quite well the storyline of several novels (some published, some not) I’ve read.
Surely you caught some of the clichés I stuck in:
-Main Character is orphaned at the beginning (potentially in the prologue, because orphans automatically equal empathy, you know).
-Evil relative with no motivation seizes power
-MC somehow finds rebels who let her join. This is unrealistic, for one thing, because the rebels are fighting the royalty yet they let one join. Okay.
-Convenient love interest. Tom is Tom, which means Tom is a random flat character who supposedly died but didn’t.
-MC learns necessary skills with ease. No one learns how to fight with a sword, bow, or any weapon in any short period of time. Years? Yes. Weeks? Not ever. Ever, K?
-The MC feels pity for the villain. Yes, the reader is supposed to identify with the villain at least a little. Yes, feeling pity is a good thing for the MC to feel. But should it stop them from finishing their job? This MC sounds too perfect, to me.
-Easy victory. I didn’t give details, but the ending in my little outline felt rushed. If the outline is rushed, imagine what the rough draft will feel like!

Time for the part of the post where I apply what I’ve made fun of to your life, right?
Does your novel have clichés in it?
Mine do. Every single one of my novels has clichés in it. Every novel does. There’s no way around them.
For instance:
-I have an MC who is an orphan (including but not limited to Main Characters in A Merchant’s Guard [1], Asher’s Song [1], Agram Awakens [3], and The Biography of a Very Bad Man [1]).
-I have rebel groups (including but not limited to Asher’s Song and A Merchant’s Guard).
-I have random dream sequences (including but not limited to A Merchant’s Guard).
-I have flashback prologues (including but not limited to Asher’s Song).
-I even have royalty as main characters (Agram Awakens).

See. Everyone has clichés.
However, it’s what you do with the clichés that makes all the difference.
-In my novels with orphans (especially Agram Awakens and The Biography of a Very Bad Man), the lack of parents isn’t the focus of the MC being an orphan. Their being an orphan is just a consequence of something else. Not to create empathy, but to create a realistic life for them. In fact, their being orphan’s rarely even comes up as necessary information. It’s a state of being, not a mental illness.

-My rebel groups aren’t automatically good guys (in fact, they’re generally considered bad), nor do they blindly accept the MC (in all cases, the MC either starts the rebellion or is considered a hostile by the rebels).

-Dream sequences… are clichés I’m working on.

-Same with flashbacks… see: everyone has something they need to work on.

-My royalty are content with their position, even envious of those with more power. They use that power (often in ways we might disagree with). It makes them human even as we disagree with them. They make me ask “would I do that exact same thing if I was in their place?”

Clichés are not the root of all evil. If they were, we’d be doomed.
What about Addy and her story?
Well, over the next few weeks, we’re going to improve her story. Piece by piece, we will turn her story into a near-passable plot.
That’s the best thing about plots.
No matter how messed up they might be right now, there is always, always, hope for them.

What about you? What kinds of clichés do YOU have to deal with in your novel(s)? Leave a comment and share! We can empathize with one another as we struggle through royal orphan clichés, right?


  1. Haha that was awesome. Your sarcasm makes me laugh every time.
    Very helpful post!

    1. Good, I'm glad my sarcasm makes at least ONE person laugh. ;)

    2. ;)
      That's a great idea, showing us how to improve Addy's story. Keeps it interesting :)