Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Misused Advice: Avoiding Tropes and Clichés

Can they really be avoided?

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Every piece of advice that we talk about in this series has good intentions at its origin but has evolved into something either misused or inviolable. Today’s advice to avoid tropes and clichés is slightly different in that we agree…but only to a certain extent. 

What is a cliché?

First, I think we should discuss what a cliché is. According to Merriam-Webster, cliché (noun) has three definitions but only two pertain to this post:

1: a trite phrase or expression (also: the idea expressed by it)

2: a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation

So, for example, a phrased cliché would be “avoid it like the plague” or “blood is thicker than water.”  And examples of the latter definition would be the Mary Sue or Marty Stu (which you should absolutely avoid at all costs) or the brooding rebel.

What is a trope?

You might be wondering why we’re including tropes in this post because some tropes are good and provide structure…at least by trope’s morphing definition, which is commonly attributed to recurring literary devices and rhetorical devices. Isn’t language fun?

But…by its definition from Merriam-Webster, a trope is a cliché:

1a: a word or expression used in a figurative sense: FIGURE OF SPEECH

b: a common or overused theme or device: CLICHÉ

2: a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages

So when I say a trope is a cliché, I mean a badly written trope. Examples of good and bad tropes would be friends to lovers or the unlikely hero and the dreaded love triangle or instant love (love at first sight).

How did this advice start?

I can’t find exactly who this advice started with as we’ve been able to with some of our other misused advice posts, but I can take an educated guess: the need for originality. 

Originality is key for making a good book; readers don’t want to read the same thing over and over again, right? However, this advice is completely ignoring the fact that we authors are creative and find new ways to do things. 

Should we really be avoiding them?

Now here’s the big question, should we be avoiding cliches and tropes or should we keep using them over and over? Well…the answer is a little bit complicated, so let’s break it down into two sections: should and shouldn’t.

Why you should avoid them

So here’s where this post is going to differ from our other posts where we disagree with the vehemence of the advice, because in this instance we only half agree with the vehemence. Employing overused tropes can make the book feel predictable and the author seem lazy, which is death to any book.  

It’s unfortunate to put it so harshly, but it’s true. The experience of reading a good book will be  ruined by a book being too predictable. Reading should be an adventure. 

As for clichés specifically, using them could confuse international or non-neurotypical readers because they won’t make sense in other nations or cultures, may be too rooted in social understanding for a non-neurotypical person to decode, and oftentimes they’ve been repeated incorrectly so many times that they no longer make sense. For example, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” You can. You absolutely can have your cake and then eat it. This cliché should be: “You can’t eat your cake and have it too,” because you can’t both consume and possess something at the same time. 

Why you shouldn’t avoid them

Authors are creative, and we can find ways to refresh and invigorate ideas with new twists. If we couldn’t, literature would have died out centuries ago because we’d have run out of stories to tell. Of course we want to read about the hero vanquishing the evil and the band of friends that help them do it. And of course we want to read about the friends that fall in love by the end of the book.

With clichés, just the same as they can alienate some of your readers, they can bring them together as well. And they can give quick insight into what’s happening with the characters, such as when a character becomes pregnant quickly saying, “You’re eating for two,” makes it absolutely apparent the character’s condition. They can also make some of your readers feel like they’re at home.


This post may seem a little contradictory, and it is, because the subject in itself is contradictory. For this one, there is no right answer. 


Join us next week as we resume our series on plot archetypes when we talk about tragedy.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Plot Archetypes: Comedy

Wait, what?

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Welcome to our fourth post in our plot archetype series. Today, we’re going to talk about the plot archetype of comedy. So what goes into that?

What is it?

Well, comedy is the simplest to explain and the hardest to get right. The comedy archetype is, in essence, a series of unfortunate events in which there’s miscommunication, secret-keeping, and confusion for your protagonist, which prevents the protagonist from reaching their goal with ease. These plot types are laced with humor, which is why it’s so difficult to get right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that these stories can’t have some sort of drama or depth to them. Often the best comedies do, as frivolity for the sake of frivolity can become boring and keep your reader from continuing on. 

How to write a comedy plot

We’ve seen in all of our previous posts that there are five stages to make the plot successful, but for comedy, you only need three.  So what does it take to write this plot?

The confusion commences: This is where we’re introduced to our protagonist and their world. Once we’ve established what’s what in the world, then things can go wrong. The misunderstanding happens, and people start to pull away from the protagonist or turn against each other as a result. 

Further confusion: (Or in my family, “But wait, there’s more!” And I genuinely hope you read that in Billy Mays’s voice.) In this stage, things get even worse for your protagonist. Things progressively get worse and more confusing, and it seems like nothing will be settled. 

The confusion is resolved: Finally, the light dawns on our protagonist, either by them figuring out what went wrong on their own or by another member of your book’s cast explaining it to them. Things start to right, and the protagonist can go back to being in their happy bubble or move on to their happily ever after—hopefully with more insight than they started with. 

Examples

So, where can you find plots that involve comedy? Well, there are several different examples that we can give, so we’ll break them down into their own sections. For comedy, there are even more examples of movies and television shows that are just plain funny that don’t quite follow the plot archetype, so we’ve done our best to find examples that do.

Books

Well…play, as it were in this case. The Importance of Being Earnest is a great example and one of my favorite Oscar Wilde plays out there. It fits the comedy ploy archetype to a T. This involved Jack being Ernest, Ernest being Algernon, and a whole host of other deceptions in order to live the lives the two men want to have and get the girls they want. A spectacular series of errors happen as they try not to be outed, but that doesn’t stop it from happening. In the end, everyone gets their happy ending, though.

Television 

Schitt’s Creek is probably the best comedy I’ve watched in that it’s written with such nuance that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the characters become better people. This show starts with the Rose family losing everything that they can’t carry with them because Johnny Rose’s business manager stole all their money and now they have only one option: live in the town they bought as a joke for their son, David, and rebuild. They continually jump to conclusions and get themselves into some interesting situations as they try to right their lives, but eventually, they find out that the route that life has taken them has made them much closer and happier than they could have been had they not lost their money. 

Movies

Ah, the nostalgic movie of my childhood: Mrs. Doubtfire. It starts when Daniel Hillard keeps making more and more mistakes, including being fired from his job. This leads his wife to ask for a divorce, which she’s granted, along with custody of their three children, while Daniel is only given supervised visitation. He devises a plan to become the nanny for his kids with the help of his makeup-artist brother making him an old lady mask. Things are great, and he’s getting closer to the children when he’s discovered. The children are immediately taken away from him, and he’s alone doing his own work as Mrs. Doubtfire on a Mr. Rogers-eqsue TV show. When finally the children and their mother watch an episode of the show, Miranda, the ex-wife, realizes that it was wrong to take away the kids, and Daniel is able to have his family back. 


Join us next week for our next installment of our Misused Advice series, where we’ll talk about avoiding cliches, and in two weeks, we’ll resume this series, where we’ll talk about the tragedy plot archetype. 

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Author Interview: Diane Anthony

Diane, thanks for chatting with us today! Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Book one ended on a major cliffhanger (as does book two!). Has this upset any of your readers? 
Definitely! I’m sorry yet, I’m not. I believe it has left people wondering what’s going on and they will likely want to read my second book. As you mentioned, the second book lands on a cliffhanger as well. I guess cliffhangers are just what I do.
They’re certainly very effective. Every time I think about the next book, I usually start making “gimmie” hands. So now that we’re into book two, was your process for writing the second book different than the first?
I felt more pressure to finish this one in a timely manner. Especially when your readers are asking when the second book comes out because they’re unhappy with where you left off on the first one.  
I also had a hard time remembering all the little details of the first book and had to go back and review to make things consistent. I joke with my husband that I have ‘entertainment amnesia.’ I have a hard time remembering a tv show or movie that I’ve only seen once or twice. Meanwhile, he has total recall. I had to look at the first book way more than I should have, since I’m the one that wrote it, but I think I got it!
That’s understandable—once your work is out there in the world with the promise of another work, you’ve got an intense urge to get it out there for the readers. What are you most looking forward to the readers getting to in The Remnant? (Without spoilers, of course.) 
Some more in-depth understanding of mental health issues. I added a few more into the second book than the first one had. I feel like it’s important to show the different struggles that people have that are internal. It’s easy to look at someone who has a broken arm, or a stitched up cut and feel sympathy for them, but when someone says they’re going through depression, not everyone can relate to it or understand it. I’m hoping my books can showcase the struggles people with mental health issues deal with and by doing so, help people be more understanding and empathetic. 
I think it’s a very important thing to have in books. Mental health affects more people than you’d expect, and it’s nice to have it talked about in a manner that isn’t in degrading. Has your favorite character changed from book one to book two now that we have a larger cast?
Nope. I still love writing Cindy. I’m not sure if anyone picked up in the first book that Cindy is an adult personality inside of a twelve year old (Joselyn). yet she acts more childish than Joselyn does. I just love how dynamic her character is. 
She’s certainly an interesting character. Let’s switch gears a little: the stakes are much higher in book two. Do you think David and Olivia knew what they were getting themselves into—or regret that they did?
No, on both accounts. I don’t think they had a plan other than to get out of the city, and from then on it’s been a wild ride. They are much happier to have their Rare abilities and near perfect health. Sure, I think they have their moments of longing for the comforts of home, but they know what going back would mean for their health, wellbeing, and freedom. 
That’s pretty admirable for ones so young. One last question: what can we expect next from you?
The last installment of The Rare trilogy will be coming out in 2022. I have the first draft written, and I’m so excited to get to work shaping it into an amazing ending. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to your characters, especially ones you’ve poured so much of yourself into writing, but all good things must come to an end. 
Thanks again for chatting with us. Readers, don’t forget to join us this Saturday, October 17th for the launch party to support Diane and a chance to win a free paperback copy of her second book!
And don’t miss getting book one, The Rare, while it’s on sale for $0.99!


The Remnant
by Diane Anthony
Now that Olivia and David have discovered that their life in the city was a lie, their pursuit of the truth gives them a newfound purpose. Is there more to their Rare abilities than what they’ve discovered so far? Is there something about them that the government is trying to keep hidden?
Taken captive and tortured by her oppressors, Olivia narrowly escapes with help from an unexpected source. She rejoins what’s left of her new friends, only to find their home destroyed and coalition forces closing in to finish them off.
Running for their lives, they set out on a desperate quest to find the Haven, a mysterious city that is rumored to be harboring and protecting Rares. This journey will take them deep into the wilderness and bring them to the edges of another coalition stronghold before they find their way.
But the danger in front of them is rivaled only by the danger closing in behind them, and Olivia’s new abilities will be put to the test. As they discover more secrets, the ones they bring with them may be the most important of all.



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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Misused Advice: Write What You Know

Great advice taken too far

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Every piece of advice that we’re going to talk about in this series has good intentions at its origin but has evolved into something either misused or something inviolable. “Write what you  know” is the latter, especially in the last decade. In itself, “write what you know” is great advice because an experienced voice brings more depth to the work, but it’s been taken a little too far.

Origins

This phrase-turned-rule started with the illustrious Mark Twain, at least as far as I can find, though he wasn’t one to follow it himself in all aspects. “Write what you know” has become so limiting that, to be frank, often writers are left with boring stories and thinly veiled self-insertion because not all of us are privileged enough to have lived wild lives.

The biggest misinterpretation

The main issue I’ve found when it comes to the advice of “write what you know,” is that it’s taken too literally. Of course, you should write what you know, because it enriches your story. We all want that; we all want to really feel like we’re in that situation. 

For example, if I wrote a dystopian story where one of the plot points was the threat of a nuclear missile coming toward your location, I could easily translate the terror of thinking you’re going to have your face melted off, because I’ve lived through a fallacious warning of an impending missile strike. That can really bring depth to the work that could be lacking from someone who didn’t go through the same situation. 

But—but, that shouldn’t stop you from writing the same situation and asking someone if they have any insight they can give you to make your work more realistic. There are thousands of brilliantly written books with situations that are currently implausible, like Watership Down with its talking rabbits or the Outlander series with time travel. 

Limited experiences shouldn’t be an excuse for limiting creativity. I think Chuck Palahniuk said it best: “People who say ‘write what you know’ are afraid to make shit up.” 

Research is key

We don’t know everything. 

We won’t ever know everything—it’s literally impossible to know the ins and outs of everything to bring a semblance of realism to our books. So when writing what you don’t know, research is going to be key to bring in that realism. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in whatever field you’re writing in unless the fancy strikes you, but at least Google enough to not have egg on your face. Or find someone who knows more about the subject than yourself (like for myself, knowing nothing about horses whatsoever, am utilizing both Google and hippophiles to help me make sure I don’t put something ridiculously inaccurate in my work).

Another key aspect is respecting the subject you're researching. If you want to write about a religion or culture that isn’t your own, like A4A co-founder Renee Frey in her upcoming novel One Thousand and One Days, finding sensitivity readers will be a must. They will not only help you bring accurate information to your work but can also impart some personal experience to help enrich the world you’re writing about.

So what’s it really about?

Really, I think “write what you know,” started as writing in what you know in terms of adding emotional depth to your story. In the situations that are implausible for our world, emotional depth is really what’s going to make your story stick with your readers for a long, long time. It’s something your readers can bond with and relate to, even if it isn’t something that they’ve experienced themselves. 

And that, my friends, is our job as writers. 


Join us next week for an author interview with A4A author Diane Anthony, and in two weeks when we resume our series on plot archetypes, where we talk about the comedy plot archetype.


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