1. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Clichés and borrowing ideas

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Man in the Box, Apr 23, 2012.

    Basically, two questions:

    1) Most people here comment on how you should evade using clichés and such, but how exactly do you do that? I can't think of any plot devices which haven't already been used before by seasoned authors... I'm coming to the realisation that the question is not "what?" I use with regards to plot devices but "how?" I use them. Same with clichéd character roles like the everlasting Obi-Wan archetype.

    2) With borrowing ideas I mean, for example, you watch a movie or read a book and there are particular scenes in those which showcase stuff that might fit like a glove in your own plot (of course, not copied, but adapted). For example, the hero overcoming a lesser obstacle in order to reach the main villain (like a game's mini-boss), or creatures of the night (could be vampires or whatever) being shown in scenes revolving around sex, drugs and other vices. Is it not frowned upon to, say, borrow a little from here, a little from here and build your own stuff with those borrowed ideas, knowing they weren't exactly yours in the first place?

    I ask because here in the forum I feel like the readers won't respect what I write unless I come up with something that really stands out and amazes people. I admit it's a bit intimidating... Maybe I'm wrong?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no one can tell you how what you write will be perceived by readers until you write it!
     
  3. MeganHeld
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    MeganHeld Senior Member

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    I agree with mammamaia. You have to start writing first. You may have these concepts in your head but they will change. Clichés do appear in writing, it is everywhere in life, just do not overuse them. All I can say is just do not "borrow" characters well known. You can "borrow" places because most cannot be changed from reality.

    Start writing a bit and see what happens. You will never know if you have a book that amazes one person until you do. That's from my personal experience.
     
  4. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    A cliche is an idea or device that has been used, all too often, to the extent that the very mention of the name causes a string of unbreakable ideas to pop into the readers head. Vampires / Elves / Werewolves to name but three that are regularly bandied about.

    It could just as easily be attributed to: the wise old man, the guy with the big bushy eyebrows who just happens to be a baddy, the ditzy blonde, the innocent and helpful humanoid robot and so forth.

    Avoidance is advisable because 1) these types of cliches and sterotypes are boring and often switch readers off and 2) avoiding them will fire your creative spirit rather than letting it wallow in old ideas, 3) you will probably stand a better chance getting published if you avoid them.

    Plot's are slightly trickier because, as has been said many times - there are only a finite amount of them.

    We all, either intentionally or unintentionally, borrow ideas from things we have observed or experienced during our life when we write - whether that be actual empirical experience, dreams, conversations, research, books or movies. Avoiding turning them into common cliches and stereotypes is the name of the game.
     
  5. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    New ideas become tropes, tropes become clichés, clichés become trite, trite can be averted, averted becomes new idea. It's the circle of literary life.
     
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  6. JHockey
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    JHockey Member

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    I can see what you mean here. I was reading a literary criticism of a piece of writing and it was picking up on clichés all over the place. It is dangerous to judge certain words as a cliché before you see the context within which the writer places those words. If he is just using it in line with some same old pattern then the reader will soon switch off to it. The main thing, for me, is that clichés not be at the heart of the concepts and ideas you are trying to express. I can't, for instance, see much wrong in using a cliché within a characters speech here and there as we all do use them in regular speech.
     
  7. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    I feel like we can't avoid these types of things. In literary theory this is referred to as intertextuality - EVERY texts - draws its source from an earlier one and they are all in conversation with one another. There are certain literary tropes that cannot be avoided and keep in mind that NO WORK is truly original. I feel like artists have a better understanding the value of borrowing and gleaming from other artists. There's this artist, I don't know the name, who took Vermeer's "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" and made it modern. So she's taking a picture of herself with an iphone, making tea and dressed like a hipster etc. They've taken a classic and iconic image and translated it into something new. Just my two cents.
     
  8. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    It's just like I always say, the secret to true creativity lies in knowing how to hide your sources.
     
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  9. highwaymanlee
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    highwaymanlee Active Member

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    that be true
     
  10. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I don't think it is borrowing, copying or whatever if you could give your own plot twist and turns, add your own spin to the tale. I mean a plot or a cliche scene doesn't make a story, there are so many elements of story writing that should ideally work to give a readers an enjoyable read. How many times I have seen good cop-bad cop story, yet I still watch such movies if the writer takes care of the character development.

    About cliches though, I hate cliched phrases, it sounds so stilted and insincere. But, clearly that's not your problem.
     
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    No one thing or character is a cliche in itself, so even though recently overrepresented in YA lit, vampires, werewolves, wizards etc aren't in themselves a cliche. What a character does can be cliche because it got overused as a plot device. Also, whenever the writing is poor and predictable, the story feels like a cliche because there are no surprises. Intelligent plotting, themes that are relevant to the author and well thought-out twists will make any story good, regardless of the premise.
     
  12. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    When it comes to cliches, it's usually good to avoid them if possible but it won't be the death of your story if you include it. And when it comes to "cliche" characters, sometimes changing one small thing about them is enough to create a new character for your story. For example... I don't know if you've heard or/watched "House MD"... it's a medical mystery drama. But the producers of the show make no secret of the fact that they took the idea of House's character from Sherlock Holmes. Literally the most famous "mystery solver" of all time, and they jacked a lot of the traits from that character including his drug addictions, eccentricity, genius ways of reasoning through a problem, etc. They changed a few small details here and there (mainly the fact that he's a doctor and not a detective). But the other thing is, the show is known for being a character driven show. So if it really bothered people how similar House is to Holmes, then they probably won't like the show.

    So that should really tell you how sometimes something cliche can be a very positive thing for your story. Usually cliche's are cliche because they WORK.

    And as to your other question, I too was initially bothered by the idea of stealing someone else's plot.... but then I saw a few different TV shows do the same "Strangers on a Train" based plot even to the point of mentioning the movie in most of the shows. Nearly every crime drama/mystery show out there that I've seen has done a plot like that before. And these are the professionals. So if they can do it, you can do it.
     
  13. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    A lot of TV shows just end up remaking old films within their format.
     
  14. sunwave
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    sunwave Member

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    I am with the rest of them. A cliché is a bad thing, but not everything that has been used before is a cliché. Some things are used very often and are still not considere cliché just because they are very plausible (single parents, for example). Other times something that might be cliché is written in a very intersting way and can still be a good read. I think the main thing you want to avoid is your readers going "hey, it's one of THOSE plots/characters/events". As long as you keep it interesting/surprising it doesn't have to be 'new'.
    In fact, I might add that it's nearly impossible to be 'new'. How many writers were there before you? Enough to lose count, even if you only take the ones that were succesfull. So it's not the point of something being re-used or being cliché, but how it seems to the reader. If you combine ideas well, and change them a bit to suit your own stories, then nothing is wrong. Why try to invent something new?

    Look at it as a LEGO structure: There are only a limited number of differen blocks, and everyone uses those. Still, there are an infinite amount of possibilities and nobody will blame you for using the same blocks as them.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    good point! :)
     
  16. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    People obsess too much over finding complicated and original plots. There aren't all that many basic plots, anyway. It's how you bring the bones to life that counts.
     
  17. aimeekath
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    aimeekath Senior Member

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    I guess cliches are inevitable but you have to avoid overusing them. I think that writing a totally brand new kind of story that's never been seen before is improbable and very intimidating, so it has something to do with the way in which you write it and what themes and ideas are running through the story.
     
  18. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    I think the technical meaning of cliche is 'overused', but my impression is that when most people complain about something being cliche, the problem very often isn't that it's very common (since many other story elements can be common and not annoy people). It's that it's poorly thought out - maybe the early codifiers were well done, but lots of people have just ripped off a popular story and screwed it up in various ways. Then others copy them, and you end up flooded with poor-quality examples of that story element. But that doesn't mean you can't take that story element and write it well, by thinking through exactly what is annoying about the cliched portrayals.

    For example, in one story, I had a planned character who was a girl with similar powers to the protagonist, but who had been sexually abused and was emotionally messed up as a result. My Dad figured she was cliche, and on closer thought, I agreed. I realized what really bugged me about this kind of character is that many authors will portray sexual abuse as having a much more serious impact than all of the more unusual sorts of traumas that other characters experienced. And it occurred to me that my protagonist, who was forced to murder his loving mother in self-defense (long story), would be more messed up than a sexually abused kid. So I wrote her instead as a girl who has some issues but copes well and almost immediately spots the protagonist's character flaws. And I emphasized the protagonist's issues more - he spends much of the story just barely keeping himself from breaking down by a mix of emotion-suppressing magic and heavy use of denial.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Cliche is largely cliche. Real cliche is a metaphor or phrase that has been used so often it no longer conveys its intended meaning. For example, "slower than molasses in January" doesn't mean much in these days when most homes have central heating (i.e. don't get especially cold in winter) and most people don't use molasses much.

    Likewise, "sharp as a whip" doesn't mean much when you hear it now. Neither does "sick as a dog", if indeed it ever made a lot of sense.

    In current language, the word "cliche" is used with very little thought, as a label to slap on anything that resembles something the speaker has seen previously.

    It has lost all useful meaning. It's as sterile as an irradiated rabbit.
     
  20. smackrabbits
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    smackrabbits New Member

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    For me, clichés are a very relative thing. If you use one heavily cliched character type, for example, but the world you put him in is absolutely fascinating and he is surrounded by other interesting characters then the initial cliche doesn't matter. If I'm invested in the story, for whatever reason, I'm more willing to forgive so I would make that your main priority, rather than fretting about cliches as an abstract concept. It's how you use them, or don't them that is the issue.

    As for 'borrowing ideas', the notion that nothing is original anymore is a cliché in itself. Your ideas might be unoriginal, but if you put them together in your own way then it's still entirely possible to come up with story that seems unique. I take inspiration from everything; lyrics in songs, books, video games, films, t.v, anything that sounds cool, significant, or helps your story. You just have to put your own stamp on these inspirations, and put them together in a unique way.
    For example, the idea of the 'best meth in the land' from the Breaking Bad series fits perfectly into a story line I had been struggling with for a while, providing motivation and context for a specific scene that I've had in my head for ages but could never justify. The root idea isn't mine, but what I'm doing with it certainly is.

    I will add, however, that if you're writing pure fantasy, it might be easier to avoid clichés and come up with a seemingly original concept, compared to writing a romance or something.
     
  21. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I agree on the most part with the above posts. It is unavoidable that audiences will draw comparisons between works that deal with similar subject matter, especially if they're in the same 'genre.' What matters is that you write your story, even if it has some resemblance to other works. Having similarities to other literature is impossible to avoid and things like plot structures are often repeated.

    Write your story and don't worry too much. I've read many books that I feel like I've read before a hundred times over and sometimes a new take on an old story can surpass the original.
     
  22. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    There are no cliched (not a word, but whatever) ideas. Only bad writers. If you love the story you are telling and devote the time (and have at least some skill, which time will develop anyway) to developing the work then anything can work. Look at the Codex Alera series. The author took a bet that someone could not give him two silly/overused (ie cliche) ideas and write a compelling book. The ideas were the "lost roman legion on another world" and Pokemon.

    We got a best-selling series out of it. Not my favorite, but the sales speak for themselves.
     

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