When I first began writing, it was hard to avoid cliches. I thought they were these terribly unoriginal things that would destroy any credibility I hoped to inject into my stories. What I didn’t understand is that cliches exist for a reason. They are what they are because a lot of people can relate to them. They’re simple ideas the are accessible by a wide audience and have become a staple of our reality.
Still, cliches can quickly bore your readers and turn your story into a mess of relatable ideas we’ve all heard before. The trick to cliches are the layers that lie beneath.
We do this all the time in our own lives. Imagine you’re describing a friend to somebody else. You might say something like, “Fred is studying programming at UW Madison. He’s a nerd, but he’s not your typical comp-sci major…”
Computer science. Nerds. Cliche accomplished. But there’s something that differentiates Fred from the traditional programmer stereotype. That’s going to set you up to reveal something interesting about Fred. So in a way, cliches allow you to transition into content that is much more original and sets your story up for something that your readers never saw coming.
Don’t be afraid of saying something that’s been said before. Just be willing to explain why it’s unique or relevant to your specific story, and you’ll write something that nobody else has.
Write On, 432.
Character development is crucial to an interesting and realistic story. But it’s something that’s often misunderstood and often overcomplicated. When you’re writing a story, the first thing you need is a plot. Then you need people or ideas to act out that plot. Pretty simple, right?
So when you’re writing your stories, the most important thing you can do for your characters are demonstrate their purpose within the plot. What are they trying to accomplish? What is their role in the story? What do they need in the moment?
You’re going to be tempted to flood the pages with details about your characters in hopes of making them more interesting or accessible. Where were they born? What did their parents do? Why are they unhappy? But there is nothing more interesting than stating the impact they’re going to have on the story you’re trying to tell. That’s really what the reader wants. Those details will come naturally, and they should come later. But the most important detail of all that should take precedent over all others is the idea of why a character is part of your story.
Do that, and you’ll find that character development isn’t nearly as intimidating. Don’t force it. Explain it.
And as always, Write On.
From what I understand, if you read comics, you’ve probably read Neil Gaiman. I haven’t, although he married Amanda Palmer, so I already value his opinion. Earlier today I saw a blog post over at Moreknown.com about Gaiman’s 8 rules of writing:
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
- Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
- Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
- Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
- Laugh at your own jokes.
- The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
This is all good stuff and it applies to whatever you’re writing. But the bolded point stood out to me. In writing, especially creative writing, you need to put some trust in others before you can have confidence in yourself. You have to share your stories and let the words on your pages fly around in someone else’s head for a while. Let them off the chain of your creative conscious. But when it comes to the point where that person gives you advice, things get a bit complicated.
Gaiman is right on with this point. When you’re getting feedback on something as personal as writing, it’s easy to be offended. Don’t. You’re not a perfect writer, you don’t know exactly what people are looking for, and you never will. But if someone doesn’t like something about your work, ask yourself: why? Your feedback should be coming from a reader, someone who enjoys the topic you’ve written about. And their feedback is important. Until they tell you how they would have written it by critiquing in detail. At that moment, you need to realize that you’re not them, and they’re not you. Your style is independent. It’s unique. So if there’s a problem with your writing, a plot hole or a shallow character, fix it. But fix it your way. Never adopt the style of some asshole who is convinced they’re a better writer than you are.
Write on, people.
Everybody writes differently, and we all work at our own pace. But perhaps the one universal that exists in the world of writing is the fact that practice will make you better. Everybody should understand that, but it’s not always easy to find the time or motivation to practice on a regular basis. Nobody is holding your feet to the fire. Nobody is shooting you guilty looks when you put down the pen and pick up the remote. You’re on your own.
That’s where 750Words.com comes in. It’s a beautifully simple site with one purpose: to get its users to pound out 750 words each day. Only 3 pages. That’s it. What’s your excuse? You don’t need to write a novel, a story, or even anything coherent. You just need to write 750 words each day and you will become a better writer.
Check out 750Words.com, and write on.