Thursday, August 2, 2007

Battling Cliches

There was a question that popped up from readers of Fangs, Fur & Fey that I’ve been quietly gnawing on recently: How do you avoid clichés? This is a particularly important question for the urban fantasy genre than has been inundated with novels involving vampires.

I love vampires. I love all the mythology, both Eastern and Western, that surrounds the concept of the vampire. But they are everywhere. How do you get past that sexy dark, brooding figure with the tortured soul waiting for the one perfect person to come save him/her? Okay, so there are more varieties than that, but those adjective can be applied to most of the vampires that are out there. Even my vampires find themselves dipping a few toes into those niches from time to time (it can’t be helped, I like to torture my characters).

So, how do you avoid the clichés? Well, it’s not very easy. I think the first thing is to be aware of what has become a cliché in the genre. Look at your bookshelves and in a single-sentence summarize that main plot of the books or describe the main character(s). You’ll see a common thread. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That common thread is there because that style of book work, it sells – hey, you bought it! But you have to find a way to tweak or move a few steps beyond that common thread or theme.

One way that I’ve done it (I think) is my obsession with details and world-building. When I am between books or working on plotting/outlining the next book, I will write a series of essays. Sometimes, they are detailed character sketches, going into years of history for the major characters. All of this information happens well before the book, but understanding those details helps me to better understand the motivations and sometimes strange decisions my characters are likely to make.

Other essays have been about the world itself, explaining how and why things are they way they are. And sometimes, I just need to get something out of my head. One of my favorites is a 1,000-word essay about a bar in the hometown of my main character. It’s not only a description of the appearance, but it goes into all the rules. Lots of rules. But it needs rules because it’s a vampire and lycanthrope-only bar in a world where humans are still in the dark. You think if you throw some Vamps and Weres together in a social setting that they’re going to behave on their own? Not likely. Well, at least, not mine.

Recently, I’ve started working on a new essay describing a “different” race. “Different” is a loose description because it’s hard to be really, really different in this genre. However, I have taken an existing race and, I think, given it a few interesting twists. I wish I could use the name, but things are still up in the air with my revisions. I don’t want to tell you the book has naked mole rats only to have you send me angry emails later because the book didn’t have naked mole rates due to some edits that resulted in a complete change of the race.

However, one benefit of the essay that has gone into detail of who, how, what, and all the other necessary information has allowed me to make some long-term notes regarding the story arc for one of my main characters. It has given me a new direction to head in, and hopefully help me stay a little bit ahead of the crowd in the long term.

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