A reader emailed me to ask, "I was wondering though if you had any advice for me as to how to make a cliche plot not so cliche."
One of my tips is to read a lot, especially in the genre you write. Not only does it help you know what's being done in your genre, it helps you determine what's fresh and what's not. How would you know "my knees went weak" is a cliche unless you'd read it in 10 different books? And it works for "bigger cliches" too, not just phrasing. I read an article last year saying red-headed best friends had become a cliche. When you read widely in your genre, you'll get a good idea of what's "done" and what's not.
But helping you determine what is a cliche doesn't help you change a cliched plot, does it?
Freshening a plot takes work. It involves pushing yourself, pushing your characters. A good place to start is asking questions - what if he's not handsome? What if she's not beautiful? What if the step mother isn't evil? What if no one is rich or poor, they're all just middle class? What if what she thinks she needs to solve her problem isn't it what she needs at all? What if it's actually the thing standing in her way? What if they're misunderstanding a key piece of information? What if they don't get a "happily ever after?"
Part of creating a fresh plot is not settling for the first idea that pops into your brain. It'd be great if our ideas were all perfection, but if you're like me, that initial idea needs work. Needs poking and prodding. Needs to be molded into something bigger and better.
If you write a genre like romance, freshness can be tough to come by. Romance stories follow a formula. (If they don't, they're not true romances, they just have a love thread.) Romance is:
Boy gets girl.
Boy loses girl.
Boy gets girl back.
Twilight, a romance. Gone with the Wind, not a romance. Because at the end, they're not together.
In a genre where the story follows a formula, what makes or breaks it is the characters. Say your hero is a country music hot shot, a guy brimming with confidence. And say your heroine, the main character, is a nobody. Very shy and insecure. What might keep them from being cliche romance novel characters? Their insides.
Why is she shy? Maybe she's been in abusive relationships. Maybe everyone in her family is outgoing, and she wasn't able to get a word in. Maybe she used to be outgoing, but embarrassed herself on stage one time and is now shy.
Also, what in her life is she confident about? We almost all have something we feel we're good at or can find security in. Maybe she's outgoing with kids or the elderly. Build in those contradictions.
Same with those confident characters. Where in their life are they broken? Where are they insecure? Susan May Warren did a fabulous job with this in Finding Stefanie. Her hero was a handsome, confident actor ... but he had MS. Wonderful character. Love that guy.
Developing layers in your characters will help build a freshness into your story and plot. Just whatever you do ... don't make the best friend a red head.
That's a joke.
Okay, those who placed last round are:
Jordan Newhouse (received 2 votes for second)
Clare Kolenda (also placed third)
Rye Mason (also placed third)
Alyssa Liljequist (received 2 votes for HM)
Jenna Blake Morris
I'm still waiting to hear back from a few winners. I'll probably post winning entries tomorrow. Don't forget to enter this round's contest. Happy Friday, everyone!