1. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    Using previously well established ideas

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by archerfenris, Jun 8, 2013.

    I've been thinking about a novel for about a month now. Characters are still flying in my head, the world is still being built, and the rough idea of a plot is mapping in my mind.

    To the question: How do you all handle using ideas previously established by other authors that are now generally accepted in certain genres? Examples of this: races like dwarves, elves, trolls, etc. are commonly featured in multiple different stories in fantasy. I'm not sure who first used these races (I assume JRR Tolkien since they're from norse mythology) but they're a mainstay. Another example include toys coming to life: Indian in the cupboard, Toy Soldiers, and Chucky, which extends into the genre of horror rather than fantasy.

    My book opens with the tale of a young girl who has a disability which has slowed her development. The first chapter ends with her death and the second details her opening her eyes in someone else's body, in a fantasy world entirely different from Earth. This type of transformation has been done before: Narnia, Warriors of Virtue, The Outlander series (although none of the characters ever die, and it usually includes some sort of magical item). My question is how carefully must I tread in order to take this idea and make it my own.

    I appreciate the feedback!
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    First of all, realise that practically everything has been done before, but don't take this as a bad thing: it challenges you instead, forcing you to write at the best of your ability and think about ideas and settings in new ways.

    Second of all, using races that have been used before is totally fine - just think of the Artemis Fowl or Harry Potter series; both use races and legends that have been used countless times before, such as unicorns and fairies. So hopefully you understand what this means: it's how you write the characters that matters.

    Sometimes turning them on their head works. For example, what if dwarves, in your world, were really poor, or hoarded all their gold and jewels because there was a big charity event coming up west of ________? What if dragons weren't angry, and just had exceedingly bad breath that was so stinky that it caught fire when coming into contact with the air? Completely flipping clichés on their heads can really help. But realise too that doing this can make your readers think "ach, typical! Just do the complete opposite of what they once were!" So just twist the races a little if you feel need to; elves may only live to a thousand years and then die, or whatever.

    Just remember, though, that it's not necessarily how you change an established character or race that matters, but it's how well you write them into the story. Make them 3D, give them hopes and dreams, fears and hobbies. Maybe one of your elves hates archery. Maybe he wants to be a musician instead. Just try and look at the humans around you - even your characters need to have human qualities so your readers can relate to them.

    Read up on uncommon myths and legends, such as Indian or even Russian (I presume almost every country would have ghost stories or something similar). Trust your imagination, but remember that it's the writing that truly makes a world and its races its own. :)
     
  3. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    I've to agree with what Thomas say. I've myself a fantasy story which play on cliches about fairy tales of: "The wonderful hero who defeat the Evil lord to bring peace to two warring states". The trick I've found is to mix, some cliche (although I prefer the term 'tropes') get twisted while others are played straight. After adding, modifying, removing, etc... the plots and tropes in the story I ended up with something which bent rules so much yet followed some unfailingly that it couldn't be summed back into a 'cliche'.

    And thus I've got a three hundred long wars between two kingdoms with a MC whom has listened too much to the fairy tales of his mother and thus find perfectly normal to disarms and dislegs or whatever people in gruesome fashion, since after all heroes always win but never precise how exactly they kill, get money in a heroic fashion by looting the victims (whether those are innocents or not) death bodies, or even eat the fallen soldiers on the battlefield because in winter that often become the only source of food. For the MC that isn't sick or anything, he isn't ironic or bitter about it: it's normal
    And then I put another blond paladin who has never been on the frontline but unmatched in swordmanship by any other character, and with whom the culture clash between him and the MC get hilarious. (thus playing the cliche of the blond good hero straight in both personalities and abilities.)
    And the poor Daemonlord whom death the MC think of using to end the war don't even have anything to do with the war.

    So yes, by all means use 'tropes' (I no longer call them cliches). Simply chose which ones you play straight and which one you alter, but avoid trying to always avoid cliche for any tropes has an opposite... which could say that any opposite of a cliche is a cliche too. Chose, and then simply write them and let the mixing brush away the 'déja-vu' impressions.
     
  4. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why? They are in no way one and the same. A trope is derived from a commonplace usage of language/character types/narrative situations/etc. A trope should represent a possibility / a possible direction in which the story can develop / and means and techniques to move it in desired direction. You learn literary tropes by reading as much as you can, and analyzing what you read.

    On the other hand, a cliché is a subjective term, and depends on one's cultural background, education and general exposure to culture :) Of course, a trope can become a cliché - if it's overused to the point of loosing credibility and substance. But while a cliché is a culturally-determined phenomenon, a trope is an essential technique in story building. Or, in other words, while you come to understand and use tropes even if you don't name them as such (they are recognized as tropes in modern theory, but were integral to story telling from ancient times), you start calling something a cliché when you sense there is no creativity in its use. You want to avoid clichés (you sense something is wrong with their usage) but you choose to use one trope or another, depending on story you are telling.
     
  5. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    [MENTION=34950]Burlbird[/MENTION]:
    In answer to your question that's because the word "cliché" has become heavily pejorative among many of my compatriotes that aren't versed in writing literacy. That's why even if I think something is a cliche I avoid calling them as such, especially when speaking to the writer of something because that's seen a highly pejorative.
    Tropes on the other hand is a far well less know term for the french people I know around, and the fact its definition has a possibility has far less pejorative connotation. I suppose our language make us... quite sensible to nuances, especially negative ones.

    My point being that indeed using trope (possibilities) when discussing a story make for much more peaceful, and often productive, discussions than with cliche being slipped in the conversation. I suppose its the same as avoiding discussing politic while at a dinner.
     
  6. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, that's cool... :) although one might argue that politics over dinner is like burping after soda :p ...still, mixing tropes and cliches makes a confusing discussion...

    Back to topic : I second Thomas about reading away from Norse/Tolkinesque mythology if you want something fresh in your own mythology. Persian or Russian? Japanese, Australian?
     
  7. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    Oh I feel like I have made it my own. The Dwarves in the story are religious zealots which live in the ground to be closer to their god. Women are second class in their society and it's considered vulgar for unmarried dwarves of opposite sex to have a conversation. I'm not worried about making the world my own rather than how similar it is to previous stories. But like you said. Everything has been done before.

    I'm running into "The Simpsons Did It" Paradox.
     
  8. Razr
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    Razr New Member

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    I agree with Thomas,everything has been done before.I once read an article that said there are only five genres to fiction writing;romance,sci-fi,horror,action & comedy.I'm pretty sure you're watched 100s of movies or read in all of these genres.eg. there are plenty books and movies about vampires & the like but they all have their own identity due to difference in the scenes & characters.you can vampire & witches,vampires & humans,vampires & werewolves or all three.your vampires can have magical abilities or not,they can be daywalkers or not, they can be living freely with humans or not.one thing i like about fiction is that it's just that-fiction so you can pretty much write what you want and nobody can say thats not true coz after all it isnt't!;)
     
  9. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    If we all had to be 100% original, nothing would get written.

    Especially in fantasy, certain things just kinda have to be that way. Dwarfs, for example, are never going to be tall, willowy things that live on clouds. At least I hope not.
     

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