Genre fiction is popular. Bookshelves are lined with rom coms, crime, thrillers and other well-known genres. Writing in a genre can help gain the interest of readers who already enjoy similar works. You’ll also have familiar styles, structures, themes and content to guide the writing process. There’s just one problem. Genres are fraught with clichés.
Clichés (overused phrases and stereotypes) rob readers of fresh stories and unique perspectives. They can degrade a writer’s ability and encourage lazy writing.
What do you do if you want to write genre fiction but be original?
This is the quandary I faced when I was considering writing my recently published disaster thriller Supertide. I was so put off by the idea of having to conform to clichés that I almost didn’t write it at all. But, I already had my cover and a vision for what it could be so decided to address my concerns rather than abandon my idea.
I discovered that while many genres have clichés that can be avoided, they also have tropes (common plot elements, themes and visual cues) which, if missing, would cause readers to be disappointed.
My challenge was then to separate the two and see if there was the potential for an original story. I compiled a list of the common clichés and tropes in the disaster genre and sent this to beta readers, editors and two author groups online.
This provided the type of feedback I’d hoped. They confirmed many of my initial categorisations and provided more insights.
I realised that writing an original story in a genre was possible.
Compiling and refining this list in advance of the writing process enabled me to come up with a stronger outline. It then allowed me to craft a story that fitted the disaster genre tropes while minimising — eliminating where possible — the clichés. I even sought to subvert them.
During the writing process, I returned to the list time and time again to ensure that, as my story developed, it was aligned with my categorisations.
Unchecked, it’s easy to wander into cliché territory!
Whether you’re a plotter or like to dive right into writing, having a list of elements to include and avoid can prove an invaluable resource, helping you steer clear of the cliché minefield of your chosen genre.
And let’s face it…if you don’t identify what clichés to avoid and tropes to include prior to writing your first draft, editors, or worse readers, will eventually point them out.
Save yourself time and frustration by creating your cliché and trope list up front. You’ll then be on track from the beginning to write original stories that readers will enjoy.