1. ena18
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    ena18 Member

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    How cliched is cliche? (fantasy)

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ena18, May 30, 2011.

    Alright, I'm going to come out right now and say that my idea has probably been done hundreds (if not thousands) of times before far better than I could ever hope to achieve. However, I can't coming back to this idea of mine that's been simmering for a few years in the back of my mind. The basic premise is as follows:

    In my fantasy world, there are two kingdoms of Man, one in the north and one in the south. It is possible for people to learn magic, however it is incredibly rare as the physical toll of using magic is immense. Other races are treated as slaves or worse by men, including elves who are used as slaves, house pets, and/or prostitutes.
    The kingdom of the south is gifted with an area that is rich with resources, whereas the kingdom of the north (due to climate changes) has been left to starve in an icy winter that has lasted centuries. The kingdom of the north invades the kingdom of the south, forcing the main characters from their homes and into the wilderness where they must learn to survive without their comforts.
    The group come across a blind hermit who has learned magic, but refuses to use it any more as the magic is what caused him to lose his sight. He helps the survivors endure the wilds. Eventually, the prince of the southern kingdom (who is one of the survivors) decides to learn magic so he can exact vengeance on the King of the North. He recruits mercenaries in the lowest places and sets a course to invade the now ravaged Kingdom of the North.

    Obviously this isn't where the story ends, but just looking at the premise, I can already see large parts of "A Song of Ice and Fire" and "The Wheel of Time" in my thinking, hence why I'm not sure whether it has the capability of standing on it's own two feet in a word...

    Any comments/suggestions would be welcome!
     
  2. -oz
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    -oz Active Member

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    Being inspired by books isn't a problem, ripping them off is. To be fair, I haven't read either A Song of Ice and Fire or the Wheel of Time series (I know, I know, shame on me). If your story is unique though, it doesn't matter if it tells "the same story". Stories are about people and how they deal with change. Make your people unique, make your change exciting, and I don't think you'll have any problem with your story being "too cliché".
     
  3. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    A song of Ice and FIre didn't come out that long ago, at least the general premise of his story was regarded as stock fantasy at the time. But he defined his work through his characters, each one unique and vibrant and that's what set the series apart. So yes your plot can still work if you do the same.

    But as the general premise goes, it's pretty standard fantasy stuff. Try to summarize the enticing features of your book in a paragraph. If everything comes off as hackneyed then you have a problem. But if there's something fresh, then you have a concept well worth investing in. It's kind of like a premature query letter. It's nice to think ahead sometimes.
     
  4. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Also, emphasize the darker elements of the setting, like the slavery element. Darkness is a great way to make a story shine compared to its peers, for it makes it deeper, and sometimes forces the reader to ask difficult questions.
     
  5. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    That, good sir, is a cliché.
     
  6. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Really? That depends on the story in question. Darkness can be cliched, if used improperly, which it frequently is, creating something that sounds immature. Also, to understand what a cliche is, we must understand what a sterotype is.
    A sterotype is a dead archetype, so a cliche, in many ways, is an element that used to be extremely good and still can be however has been repeated of often in the same way that people have become sick of it.
     
  7. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    It doesn't matter, I think, if you have some sappy idealistic story or some dark raving cynical madness. Both can be written well even with cliches and stereotypes as long as you don't let those cliches and stereotypes run the story for you. You, as the writer, should decide where the story is going, not the cliches and stereotypes. They are just possible tools you may need.

    For example, this isn't fantasy, but it'll work: "I love you." It's a cliche. It's been done more times than there are people alive. Yet it's still used, and it can still be used to good effect, as long as the writer makes sure the reader has already sympathized with and connected with the characters and that the "I love you", despite being a cliche, becomes unique for those characters in their own situation, if that makes sense.

    Thus, the important thing is to have a good story with good characters and plot. Evil uncle? Powerful magical sword? Silly romantic tension? It's all been done since the beginning of storytelling. But there's a reason why it still survives, even in great stories - because the storytellers decided to twist those cliches and stereotypes in their own unique way.
     
  8. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Wheel of Time was inspired by Lord of the Rings. Jordan admitted that. It is by no means a rip off of Tolken, although you can see similarities between the two if you look close enough.

    Immitation is flattery. Plagerism is when you steal another's writing word for word or change it slightly for your own needs.
     
  9. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    And supposedly Lord of the Rings too was inspired by Scandinavian/Germanic mythology. After all, Tolkien's professional job was an English/Literature professor (or something of that sort), so he got many of his ideas from there. There were also fantasy authors from before Tolkien who inspired him as well, and whose ideas he probably reused too, so ultimately there's no shame in being similar to someone.
     
  10. ena18
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    ena18 Member

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    I think everything that has been said is true, and at the end of the day, I will have to look at my own story and see if what it offers is unique and interesting enough for people to want to read.

    I was already heading down the 'make it darker and grittier' route, as I really wanted to focus on how much magic has a negative effect on the people who use it (sort of like a what would you do/give to do magic scenario)
     
  11. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I meant that the following -
    the idea that darkness makes something deeper - is a cliché. You're not wrong. "Darkness" is used to give depth to a plot or character, but it is a cliché, given how overused it is.
     
  12. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Ah, I see what you're saying. Okay, well, that goes back to my archetype-sterotype comparison. If done well, it's a fresh take on an archetype. If done poorly, it's just another cliche.
     
  13. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Thank you for saying this. There are so many writers and storytellers who don't get this. An idealistic, happy-happy story can be potentially as "deep" and engrossing as a cynical one where everybody is going to die. Lord of the Rings was generally idealistic, compared to, say, A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet both are recognizably some of the most celebrated works of the fantasy genre. Or, as another example, Seinfeld wasn't really a "dark" story, even if it did have some black humor, yet it's considered a classic sitcom with interesting and well-developed characters. Many of the better sitcoms are also like this, with well-developed characters and generally light-hearted stories that still oftentimes may make good commentary on various issues.

    Thus, you don't need to throw in rape or murder or genocide or byzantine politics to make a story more complex. In fact, if anything, you may need to have both "light" and "dark" in a story to make it truly deep and complex.

    For example, in one of my current projects, which is a light steampunk, fantasy world (without magic, though), the story revolves around a young, 18-ish Crown Prince. At first glance, the story is very dark: the Crown Prince is the heir to a gigantic empire that is falling apart because of internal fighting between various factions within and without the government; furthermore, this is the age of Industrialization, when labor is being manipulated by the wealthy; there are also large-scale wars occurring in other parts of the Prince's world where hundreds and thousands are dying.

    Yet, there are still parts of the story where things become more light-hearted. The Prince fools around with his friends; he spends time doing mundane things; and he might even have some relaxed, laid-back moments with those he trusts, including some people who are publicly his enemies but in private are valued friends.


    Ultimately, like all things, there is no point in throwing in "dark" elements just to make a story "deeper". If the story is inherently light-hearted or idealistic, and if it works better that way, then keep it so. There can be "depth" in light, just as there can be "depth" in darkness. A story which has rape and murder thrown in an blatant attempt to make things seem "dark" might turn off readers.


    Yup, I think that sums it up well.
     
  14. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless you're V.C. Andrews, in which case rape is an every day occurrence in one of your novels.
     
  15. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Okay, I have to ask this. Are the characters of Lord of the Rings more developed in the book, or are they still as heavily cliched as they are in the movies, and judging by the opening scenes of the Hobbit I read? Because, that's one of things that has kept me from reading them. Lord of the Rings, from what I've read about, strikes me as an example where something is executed so well, that it's liked, despite its content problems. I'm not trying to offend anyone who likes the series, but my point is that to me, Lord of the Rings isn't a good example of avoiding cliches. Now, perhaps it's because it created those cliches, however usually when a story creates cliches, itself still rises above them because of how it developed them.
    Now, I'm actually very curious about a Song of Fire and Ice, so I'll look to reading that, it might get me to give the fantasy genre a second chance, since I usually hate fantasy.

    Well, to make up for this, I'll give my own comparison. This time, between two works that are both dark, but one is incredibly bad because of it, while the other uses it perfectly.
    I'm going to compare Watchmen, and Countdown. The former is one of the best comics of all time, while the latter is a train wreck of a story that will probably haunt DC for a very long time. Why? The former is still a good story, that develops its characters the entire time, while also developing deeper themes using its grey morality. The latter, on the other hand, relies on killing characters, occasional fan service, and just over all trying to shock the reader into liking the comic with exploitation movie tactics. Bad exploitation movies at that. But anyway, the key lies in execution, and still developing a good plot, instead of relying on shock tactics, with darker storytelling.

    For an example of a book to me, I'll compare Harry Potter to... a book I sadly can't remember the title of, which isn't because I disliked it, and Harry Potter actually got darker than it. The latter is very black and white, yet I still enjoyed it enough to read all four books, and while I may not like it today as much, I still remember it fondly. Why? Honestly, in some ways I don't know, but in others perhaps it's because of the latter's extremely good execution.

    Okay, I don't like Harry Potter. I tried reading it for 5 books, and just couldn't finish the series. Why? I just didn't get what the big deal was. This is a very normal story to me about a magical school. You could say this was one of the first of its type, except this concept has been done a truck load, and arguably better, in Japan for example. America perhaps not, but I just feel like the story doesn't take any risks with cool concepts. Light hearted, dark, whatever, the author should innovate on how they do magic for example. Wands? All their spells are tied to wands? That's, kind of ridiculous to me, and also, the author makes an exception to it that begs the question of why they don't just develop all their magic that way. It felt to me as a, at times, cheap way to limit someone's magic usage. The way they cast spells too, the word way, felt REALLY cliched. However, I can understand why some people like the book, I just don't. I hope no one now hates me because I've revealed myself on two classics, one of which is held up as one of the best of the fantasy genre.
     
  16. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ above

    Harry Potter is not old enough to be a classic. And Tolkien is widely regarded as the father of modern fantasy. His book didn't use a cliche, it created the cliche. He executed the architypal "farmboy goes on epic quest to destroy dark lord" story so well that from that point on the premise would forever be regarded as somewhat trite. Just like how any book about a school on witchcraft and wizardry might now be considered a cliche.
     
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  17. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Ah, I see. Okay, thank you The-Joker. Now I get it better. Okay, I probably still wouldn't like Lord of the Rings, but I can get now why it became such a classic.
     
  18. Frog
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    I hesitate to urge you to try it, but I think you'd be pleasantly surprised.

    I'm having trouble un-cliche-ing a fantasy novel I'm working on. I've found that generally, if I let the world and the characters write themselves instead of trying to force of bunch of "interesting" concepts on them, it comes out sounding realistic and believable. This doesn't take care of every cliche, but a well-written and believable cliche doesn't quite stick in the throat like a tired and two-dimensional one does.
     
  19. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    First, I want to try a Song of Fire and Ice. I hate high fantasy, however I think it may be time to give the genre another chance.

    But anyway, well, okay, a cool concept by itself obviously doesn't work. You need good execution too. Also, when integrating a concept into a plot, you don't just toss it in, you have to change the world around it to allow it to exist there, otherwise it will come off as jarring at best, and at worse will ruin the plot. Many times what makes the difference between something that is just a cool concept, and what becomes a great story, is proper integration of the concept into the universe.
     
  20. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    You should start with something other than a Song of Fire and Ice then. The series is high fantasy with minimal magic, but it's incredibly complex due to the characters and the amount of politics Martin uses in the book.

    You should give something simpler a try first. Maybe a novel by R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, or even Glen Cook.
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Greenwood is horrible, in my opinion. His name is what sells, but if unknowns submitted his manuscripts they'd never get out of the slush pile.

    Glen Cook is a good choice. Steven Erikson is good, as is Joe Abercrombie. Rothfuss' Name of the Wind is also a nice starting point. For a stand-alone rather than a series, maybe Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson, or Abercrombie's Best Served Cold if you want something grim and brutal.
     
  22. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Actually, that makes me want to read it more. I love stories involving tons of politics and complex characters. I've read my fair share with that, like the Mars series which is sci-fi but also involves literally a hundred main characters, or almost at least.
    Very curious about Best Served Cold too though now.
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Best Served Cold is great. Takes place in the same universe as his First Law trilogy but you can read it separately. It is a self-contained story.

    I agree about the Mars series. Good stuff.
     

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