GenreWorld Building

Pushing Past the Cliché by Lisa J. Peck-MacDonald

No writer wants to write a work riddled with clichés consciously, but how does one avoid them and stay true to the tropes of their genre to meet readers’ expectations?

Bestselling Sci-fi author David Van Dyke, who has sold more than 400,000 copies of his novels, defines that the difference between a trope verse cliché:

Tropes embed a socially conscious message and keeps the reader engaged and interested. Clichés, on the other hand, are a form of preachy fiction where the reader doesn’t want to hear what is being said.

He explains that the difference is like going to church where the listener is bored out of their mind (cliché) versus when they are inspired by the sermon and feel transformed in some way (trope).

Kris Kennedy, USA Today bestselling historical romance author and popular writing teacher, says tropes are the key to genre writing success.

She says that tropes “encapsulate the transformative conflict the protagonist will face.” They are the “shortcuts for saying, ‘Here’s what this story is really about.’”

Kennedy explains that “tropes stand for something else. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ isn’t just about someone considered beautiful by societal standards, and someone considered ‘ugly.’ It’s about a redefinition of beauty, value, society, and belonging. We know that, implicitly.”

Tropes have evolved from classical times springing forth from mythology, legend, and fairytales. The word trope derived from the Greek meaning “turn, direction, way.” Thus, if a writer includes a trope consciously in their work, they will be turning the story in a certain direction or way that the readers expect.

But the writer must also do the turning in a way that is not cliché.

Their job is to bring freshness to the piece. They are literally balancing resonance and promise to the reader with originality and surprise.

The obligatory scenes are important places to look at how the writer balances the trope and cliché. The obligatory scene is the scene the reader will be picking up your novel for and expecting. It is the scene the reader buys the books for. It is the emotional scene they can’t wait to experience. In a romance, it is the two lovers declaring their love for each other. In sci-fi, it is being called on an adventure. In a literary work, it is experiencing the main characters’ insights or the impact of their emotions and intellectual thinking.

If the writer does the scene like every other writer, or there are no surprises or twists, the work will feel riddled with clichés and will not stand out in the reader’s mind after they finish the piece. Doing the same thing over again is not honoring the trope. The tropes’ purpose is to meet the emotional need of the reader. It gives the reader a starting point of unpacking the story.

On the other hand, if the scene is different enough, has enough change to make the readers mind light up, or tears flow, or any other strong emotion, the reader will walk away from the piece remembering that scene for years to come. It will become a part of them, and just hearing the title of the work will bring back those strong emotions.

The challenge of writing meaningful stories that push past clichés and still achieve the readers’ expectations is not an easy one, but by looking at why readers read and how to go deep and meet those needs is one that I hope every writer is up to tackling.

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Lisa J. Peck-MacDonald is author of 23 books, including The Superstitious Romance, which hit Amazon best-seller list March 27-29, 2016 in Romance and ...