Monday, January 16, 2012

Avoiding Cliches: Guest Author Luis Vila

Fighting Fate. Challenging Destiny. Fulfilling the prophecy. The eternal struggle of the cliché.

Before we get started, let’s put all the cards on the table. As writers in this day and age (God bless the Internet), it is quite difficult to come up with a completely original and uninspired idea. No worries my great and good friends. Television and Hollywood are guilty of this too. We’re treated to an annual dose of rehashes and remakes to fill us up well beyond our appetite. Even some of the most original programming you can think of has been “inspired” through other means. For example, the original idea for the Emmy award-winning television series Breaking Bad was “a regular man becomes Scarface”. That is the nature of the beast and it’s sad but true (for you Metallica fans).

As writers, we should not shy away from utilizing borrowed concepts but embrace them. It’s hard enough to avoid being inspired by some great idea. That is, unless you are a complete and utter hermit (in which case that point would be moot because you wouldn’t be reading this anyways). Just ask yourself, why are you here now? Weren’t we all at some point given the great gift of inspiration by somebody else? I know I owe my entire writing career to Stan “The Man” Lee and Hideo Kojima. There style of writing and storytelling abilities spoke to me as a child and continue to do so to this day. I’d be hard pressed to say that they didn’t have any influence in any of my original works. And if that’s a cliché thing to say then hot damn, I’m cliché.

Now let’s get down and dirty. The difference between “inspired” and “cliché” is all in the details. Something we, as writers, have total control over. Let’s say someone wanted to do a story about vampire falling in love. In this market, that might be a little cliché. I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure the fan-fiction crowd has that particular genre nailed to the wall. Well, let’s take it back a bit. Same story, but this time let’s say that once every generation a woman of the village/town/city is forced to love and marry the vampire unless they wish to incur his wrath. You see? Completely changes the game right before our eyes. It’s not the concept that makes something cliché, it’s the details. Now if were to go back down that same road again and say that the next woman in line to marry the vampire was in love with another person who turned out to be a different type of creature, well, that is treading down some cliché waters.

If there’s anything to take away from this it would be the simple (and borrowed) idea of it’s not what you write, it’s how you write it. Never think that something you’ve come up with won’t be worthy to grace consumer bookshelves because everyone else has done it before. Some of the greatest stories of our time utilized borrowed concepts from classic tales everyone has heard before. You don’t have to kill yourself just to appease your originality crutch. If you take something familiar and make it your own, you will be more respected then those who just shoot for sitting next to the flavor of the month.

In the end, there’s nothing wrong with using something another idea to inspire a whole new one. I know this because I’ve traveled down this canal myself. The original concept for my first novel Agent M: Project Mabus came from a 600 year old prophecy crafted by a very respectable man in his field, Nostradamus. There are hundreds of stories that deal with the end of the world (believe me, I checked), but none of which that traversed the path I followed. And really, that’s all it takes. From one idea to a completely new one. Readers will feel comfortable with something they’ve experienced before and greatly appreciate being taken on an entirely new ride once they’re on board.

Embrace the ideas you’ve come up with and put all your effort into making them the best stories they can be. Put little thought into the claims of “unoriginal” and “boring” concepts. If it’s well written, then they will come.

Now where did I hear that before?
L.M. Vila



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