I got the idea for this post from a book-talk video about The Lightning Thief. The booktuber was talking about a plot-twist she suspected after the prophecy from the Oracle. (I’m trying so hard not to spoil things for you.) It got me thinking about the world of cliche and predictable fiction.
As writers, especially YA writers, it’s extremely difficult to work on a story without making at least one plot element very similar to that of another book’s. Like, there’s no way to avoid similarities. We struggle to cut out over-used tropes and slam our heads against the desk when nothing ever works.
Question time: Why waste your time trying to make things unpredictable when you can make something frustratingly predictable so that your character grows?
I write this with complete understanding of the feeling of, “[Character], why the heck did you think that was a logical option? I’m telling your mother” that readers often get while immersed in a book. Sometimes I’m tempted or even actually put a book down because I’m so, so tired of the bland and boring “twists”.
Don’t worry about your readers right now. At this point, your story just needs to get put on paper. Or in a Microsoft Word document. Or into Pages. Or Scrivener. Or whatever else you like to use. Just focus on the story for now.
Okay, so what if what your character needs most is an opportunity to make a poor decision? Your character could have limited options and happens to choose one that isn’t exactly great. Why does s/he do this? What motive does s/he have? Is s/he that desperate? If you’re going with a classically cliche option, at least have a reason for it, besides “boo hoo, there’s nothing original left to choose from”.
Think about it! You made the decision to write a book. Hey, maybe that’s a good decision and maybe that’s a terrible one. Either way, it will help you grow. Starting to catch on or have I bored you beyond belief?
Every decision has a consequence.
You choose the chocolate ice cream over the vanilla. Decision.
You need a glass of water. Consequence.
You read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows instead of National Velvet. Decision.
You cry because feeeeeeeeeeeeels. Consequence.
(Pssst. I love National Velvet.)
Whether you take the continually used and predictable highway or the new and terrifying mountain path, you have to make the consequences have an effect on the characters. Stories are about decisions and consequences, pushes and pulls. Books are more than super awesome subplots about John Billy George’s Aunt Mikaela’s step-father’s cousin’s wife’s granddaughter’s brother’s goldfish, Goldie the VII. Stories are about what happens, where it happens, when it happens, who it happens to, how it happens, and most significantly, why it happens.
Keep the five W’s and the H in mind as you write. Make stuff happen. Explain it. Write.
(Finishes typing all about writing and crawls back into cocoon of blankets to not-write.)
Au revoir, mes amis!