Friday, April 6, 2012

It's Okay to Be Cliche, or, How Meg Cabot Restored My Faith in Writing

Note: This is an old post, recycled. Inkpop isn't even Inkpop anymore. But the sentiment remains the same.
I've had my first five chapters of My Super Hero Book posted on Inkpop for about two months now, and most of the feedback has been really positive and encouraging. But when I've gotten harsh critique, there's one thing that I've heard repeatedly: there are people who think my story is too cliche. I love my story, and I very purposefully included some so-called cliche elements in it because they are plot devices that I love, but I still take this to heart somewhat. One commentor said my story reminded them of "every 90's teen movie." My initial reaction was "Hooray! that's totally what I was going for," and then I realized that they meant that as a bad thing. Oh.

So as I started my story for Nanowrimo, I had some real trouble finding my footing in my attempts to avoid cliche at all cost. I considered everything from a story about a female breakdancer who starts dreaming that she's Harriet Tubman to a murder mystery about a child-star serial killer to a dystopian set in a future society where everyone has cameras for eyes. I didn't get fully attached to these ideas, but kept rolling them over in my head because I was so determined to write something 'unique' and 'different' and 'something that's never been seen before.'

To give myself a break from stressing about my many Nanowrimo false starts, I read a few books. The first was a very unique story about a modern day female gladiator. Very unique premise and story line, well written, and had a lot of action...but although I mostly enjoyed it, I didn't love it. (I sound like an agent now right? LOL) Then I picked up another book, 'How to Be Popular' by Meg Cabot, which featured a girl who yearns for popularity, a mean girl who is determined to stop the MC from gaining popularity, a major crush on the ultra hot and popular captain of the football team, a makeover, and an ultimate realization that the right guy was by her side all along - all things which some people would call incredibly cliche. And you know what? I LOVED IT. I absolutely adored this book. Yes, there were elements of it that I recognized and plot twists that I'd seen used in other stories, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them show up again like old friends. Besides, although there some familiar elements, Meg Cabot put her own twist on them and used those tropes in her own way. I liked this book much more than the 'unique' story about the female gladiator.

So I'm learning to take other people's comments with a grain of salt and keep it moving. I'll bet these people who are so annoyed by cliches don't own the complete DVD collection of 'Saved By the Bell' (I do) and I bet they don't know every word to Zack's hackysack speech in 'She's All That' (again, guilty as charged). Maybe it takes a certain kind of personality to appreciate a great use of cliche. Because I've started clicking on the profiles of people who've said my story was cliche, and reading some of their work, and a lot of the time, I  don't like it. That's not to say that they aren't good writers, just that it's clear we aren't into the same things. If your favorite movies are 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'The Hills Have Eyes,' then no, we are probably not going to have similar opinions about what makes a great story. And that's ok. Because chances are that I have zero interest in reading or writing the kind of story that you'd enjoy. And there are plenty of people who will love the things that I have fun coming up with.

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