Friday, May 21, 2010

Cliches Exist for a Reason

It's the final day of our Theme Week! All this week I've been posting on matters of romance in young adult fiction. So sit back, invite your favorite fictional love interest, and enjoy! (What? Why yes, yes I did bring Lend! And no, no you don't know who that is yet. But you will...oh yes, you will! [Cue evil laughter] [cue abruptly cutting off evil laughter and holding my head because it makes it ache even more])

I met Hot Stuff my first week at college. One hello from him, one look at his humongous, clear blue eyes, and that was it for me. I was determined to date him.

Two weeks later and he still hadn't asked me out. (I know, what was wrong with him??) Some friends asked me to go to a late movie and, figuring why not, I went and asked Hot Stuff if he wanted to join us--my treat.

Nine months later we got married.

(Umm, for the record, I was a teen bride but not a teen mother. We had Nayna right before our two year anniversary and two weeks after I got my degree. I was just an overachiever is all.)

There were many, many things that made me confident Hot Stuff was someone I could be happy with for the rest of my life. I remember one night, homework finished, we sat next to each other on the couch

Yup. We read. Different books. But I thought to myself, if sitting next to him on the couch reading makes me this happy, this is right. And after a while of dating I knew I could look for the rest of my life and never find someone who made me happier than just being with Hot Stuff made me.

We never fought. Still haven't had an argument to this day. There was never any uncertainty, never any games, never a question of whether I liked him more than he liked me and how I could get him to like me more. I never, ever felt insecure in our relationship or bad about myself. From that first date we liked each other, and then we loved each other, and then we got married, and turns out we love each other even more now. (And we still sit next to each other on the couch and read, because we're wild and crazy like that.)

For a real life story, I think that's about as beautiful as they come.

However. Can you imagine how that love story would play out in a novel? She liked him! Then he liked her! Then they loved each other! And they read! On the couch! And ordered pizza Saturday night so they could have it for Sunday dinner together! And they walked home from classes together! And sometimes Kiersten thought it was funny to throw berries at Hot Stuff on their walks home from classes, and even though he kind of thought it was obnoxious, she was so cute he put up with it!

Drama-free, which is exactly how real life relationships should be. Fictional relationships, however, need a dash of drama. I could live in my love story forever (and I am!), but you would probably fall asleep. Or claw your eyes out or something.

So all of these things we've talked about--love triangles, bad boys, relationships that use borderline abuse in an effort to be dramatic and sexy--well, they exist for a reason. We want that vicarious thrill, that will-they-or-won't-they-fall-in-love. That who-will-she-choose. That wow-how-hot-is-it-that-he-nobly-refuses-to-rip-her-throat-out-no-matter-how-much-he-secretly-wants-to. (Okay, maybe I could do with a little less of that.)

The trick isn't in avoiding stereotypes entirely. They are common because they work. The trick is focusing not on the cliche or the trope, but on the characters and the relationship. Is it terrible if you have a bad boy? Absolutely not. It's how you make that bad boy into a person, how you make that relationship into one that is gripping and compelling and different. Make that bad boy your own. Make that triangle honest and believable. Make that good guy the most freaking interesting character ever written. Make that borderline abusive relationship...well, on second thought, please for the love don't write one of those. Or if you do, don't tell us it's sexy.

Don't worry about doing anything the right or wrong way. It doesn't need to be like every other story out there, and it doesn't need to be completely different, either. If your romance is genuine, and we connect with and care about your characters, you're doing it exactly right.

And if you want to write fanfiction of Hot Stuff and me reading together on the couch, well then by all means, have at it. (But don't forget his bee powers. And I'd like to be 5'7". After all, this is fiction we're writing, isn't it?)

Thanks for playing this week, everyone. I've loved reading the comments. And Lend would like me to tell you that PARANORMALCY comes out in exactly four months, at which point you can see just what, exactly, I do when writing relationships. For now, tell me: do you worry about cliches and tropes when you write, or do you just write the story that comes to you?


Katrina L. Lantz said...

I have been telling critics this for years! Cliche is cliche for a reason: it resonates, it works.

And I LOVE your love story. Mine had a little more drama, a little more arguing, but then we can't all be Jane and Bingley, can we?

Just found your blog and your upcoming book, Paranormalcy! Wow. I'm twittering this!

Tere Kirkland said...

I worry about cliches, yeah, but usually not until I've gotten to a second draft. When I'm drafting, if the first idea I have seems a little cliche to me, I don't use it. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a cliche and a trope, and whether that will matter.

It all comes down to betas for me on that front, and I listen carefully when someone uses the word cliche in a crit.

Cute post. ;)

Dawn Embers said...

Nice work. This has been a great week and a good topic.

I don't worry too much about cliches at this point in my writing. Though, I do have to be cautious of some, including ones not mentioned this week. Since I write gay characters I work to have balance, not all coming out all the time, and creativity in the characters beyond stereotypes. But sometimes I'll use the "cliche" because well, they not only work but some do exist in the real world.

Great series of posts. This has been fun.

Kiersten White said...

Thanks, Katrina! And HA. But Jane and Bingley could never get up the gumption to actually date each other without outside interference. I just went ahead and asked my man out : ) We are both pretty mellow though. (Believe it or not, in spite of the way I write, I'm a fairly easy-going person.)

Tere--I think cliches are only cliches when they don't work. If they work, it ceases to be a cliche!

Dawn--It's always tricky. But any time your characters move beyond stereotypes and a checklist of personality traits, I think you're going to be successful!

Valerie said...

I don't tend to worry too much about cliche when I'm writing, I just write as it comes. But I do work hard at removing or justifying them once I start revising.

One of my favorite things to do is to subvert tropes so I tend to take what you think is a stereotypical character and turn him on his side. Hopefully, I keep you guessing, while also making you see why he's that way rather than having him play the usual role you see from that trope.

This was a great series of posts, and an awesome love story about you and Hot Stuff. I hope one day I find someone to read on the couch with! I don't know if it gets any better than that!

Valerie said...

I really liked reading your theme blog posts! ^^
I always worry about cliches. (My antihero character is a sort of bad boy, though... But it's a fun character to write.)

Gracie Bea Winterton said...

I've yet to write a romance into any manuscript, so I have no idea what I'm talking about, but I just had to shout out in agreement--no borderline abusive romances! NOT a good sign when you only finish reading a book for the sake of a tiny sliver of hope that the heroine WON'T end up with the hero.

Beth said...

I just write what comes to me...I can leave the worrying to the editing phase ;p Loved reading about your sweet relationship!

Stephanie Perkins said...

Aww, what a perfect conclusion! I have loved these posts. Thank you!!

Kelly Bryson said...

So sweet! This has been a fun week of posts! That should be the ultimate test- can you do relatively boring stuff (to the person watching you read, it might APPEAR boring) together and enjoy it just because you're together?

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Perfect way to wrap up the week. Great post!

And PS: You sound like me and my husband. Our 6 year anniversary is in July and we have yet to have a real fight. Sadly he insists on playing video games while I read...but I'll turn him into a reader one of these days. He loves my book, so I guess that's what matters. :)

Lynsey Newton said...

I do worry about cliches and sometimes think about going in the opposite direction of said cliches. I just hope I can be ME and write my truth :)

Dara said...

Sometimes I do worry about cliche, but I'm too focused on the story that I don't let it bother me too much.

However I can spend too much time looking up tropes on Every possible trope and cliche is there. And then some.

Your real-life love story is very similar to mine. :) I met my hubby at an event in the spring before our freshman year for incoming students. I still remember what caught my attention that first day: his awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirt. :) Plus, he was (and still is!) uber attractive. We waited until after college to get married and we'll be celebrating three yars this October.

Oh and he still has that shirt too :) I won't let him throw it out!

Marsha Sigman said...

This has been an awesome week of posts!!

When I am writing, I try to think 'what would I expect right here if I were reading this?' and then do the opposite.

MissV said...

Sometimes I feel like a freak because hubs and I don't fight. Glad to know you're in the same boat (let's make the men row it, shall we?)

Liz Czukas said...

I love your real life love story. But you're right, not exactly movie-of-the-week stuff. Romance is the fantasy element of even the most reality-based contemporary story because we, as readers, want the fantasy. We want something out of the ordinary, something that makes our hearts pitterpat. That's the definition of entertainment, right?

This has been a fabulous series. Thanks.

- Liz

Nick said...

What's funny, is that book relationships seem to be a combination of the failed relationships from real life, and the relationships that end up working in real life. The stuff that doesn't work out just seems more entertaining!

Liz said...

I do worry about cliches when I am writing. I also worry when my dialogue is so cheesy it makes me gag when I go back and read it. Then I think, oh well, teenage girls love this crap.

Kiersten White said...

Liz--I would caution you not to underestimate your readers! If it doesn't read genuine, they're not going to buy it. Was Twilight cheesy? Sure--but Bella completely believed everything she was thinking/saying. Teen readers can be very, very unforgiving! That's why I like writing for them. It's hard!

Katelyn (twaddleoranything) said...

This can be a tough call, I think. Virtually EVERYTHING anyone writes is in some way grounded in well-known, well-trod territory. Some writers are more adept at turning expected tropes delightfully topsy-turvy (first to come to mind is Neil Gaiman), but I'm not sure anyone can truly escape some element of the familiar. At the same time, of course, no one wants to be so beholden to stereotypes and cliches that their work no longer rings true. I think, as you say, what's most important is making sure that any tropes used are compelling, fleshed-out, and honest.

Thanks for the terrific series -- and for ending it on such an adorable note! I look forward to learning more about Lend, as well as about how you write relationships (wonderfully, I'm sure)!

Anthony said...

I avoid the cliche from becoming a nuisance in my manuscript by using research and real-life experience. Often times I smush (smush being a technical term) two real people together and mix it around.

It really all comes down, in the end, to voicing. If the voice of the character is weak, any cliche is going to sound like cheese, forced, and annoying.

Thank you for your romance series in YA. The world right now needs more romance.

Corra McFeydon said...

Yes, I agree with the last guy: it's definitely about the voice.

The 'Hot Stuff' story is sweet. :)

- Corra

from the desk of a historical writer

My 5 Monkeys(Julie) said...

what a great wrap up to the week and totally agree that real life is boring. Great romance story to Hot stuff.

Hey we are close to the same height and if I can find those long black boots ..I'll send you some :)

Jessie Oliveros said...

The throwing berries at him was my favorite part. That's not cliche because I, for instance, never threw berries at my husband. Just myself, which is cliche.

Sarah said...

I totally agree. My husband and I do not need drama in our relationship, we need stability and love. Fictional relationships are where I get all my drama!

Have you seriously not ever had an argument? I didn't think that was possible! Do you just disagree with extreme calmness?

Claire Dawn said...

You guys are so lucky! I can only dream that I'll find someone wo beautiful to share my life with! Let's hear it for the boy!

elissa said...

I've really enjoyed this series of posts! I like my life without drama, too, but I love making trouble in my fictional worlds. Thanks for the terrific topic--you also have such a group of insightful people in the comments.

Madeleine said...

Oh my gosh, you're my best friend. :D It's so refreshing to read posts and agree with everything! :D

(Yes, I like a :D in/after every sentence. ;D)

I actually wrote a YA novel with a guy and a girl and NO LOVE STORY. Haha, can you believe it? In this case, it would have messed up the integrity of the story. They just weren't meant to be together.

However, with my other ideas/WIPs, I do worry slightly about using too many cliche moves, but, as you said, the stereotypes and whatnot can be overlooked as long as there's a new twist on the old idea.

So excited for your book!


Alyssa Goodnight said...

Wouldn't that be weird to read fan fiction of your own love-life? I'd probably be thinking, 'Do I really do that?? All this time I thought that was cute...' :)

Kristan said...

Honestly I don't worry about writing relationship cliches or tropes because I trust my instincts to keep them interesting and/or believable. I mean, if I wouldn't want to read about it, I'm not going to write about it.

Which is not to say that I'm awesome at writing relationships! I just don't think I fall into too many cliches, because they don't appeal to me.

(And I've never been in a cliche relationship.)

"Drama-free, which is exactly how real life relationships should be."

In fairness, I think your relationship with Hot Stuff is one in a million. (And it makes me squee!) But I think there can be very healthy relationships that still have drama and games sometimes. The question is, Do the relationships evolve to LESSEN those drama and games? Or do the drama and games take over? The former is perfectly healthy and good and satisfying (I know from 5 yrs of personal experience to date); the latter, not so much. :)

(PS: Your word verification is a bad speller. I mean, "felign"? Seriously?)

Anonymous said...

So I just happened to stumble upon your lovely soon-to-be-out book Paranormalicy and I must sounds AWESOME! I cannot wait to read it! I've been exploring all the nooks and crannies of your website and reading your blog and updates and about you thing and all that and you're very funny so I have no doubt that your book will have some lovely laugh-out-loud moments as well. :)
4 foot 11" is cool, I'm 5 foot 6" but I actually grew up (to my daunting decade and a half) wanting to be short and petite. Why? I dunno, but sometimes that's the coolest reason to want something. :)lol
Oh right, I'm commenting on a posting! So considering I'm only 15 and all I'm not published by any means, but I REALLY REALLY want to be. I've been writing stories since I can remember, but novels since I was eleven. Your posting actually really inspired me and I had this touching moment where I stared across the beautiful...oh who am I kidding! My room's a wreck (I should probably get around to cleaning it instead of writing...) but yes the post was very inspiring. See where I'm at in the book I'm working on now is a hard spot, I was worried I would come across as cliche. I mean I'm still working on high school, it's not like I'm some English major, and unfortunately I kind of suck at grammar, but anyway! My story line's original, I've never heard of anything like it, but I want to really nail it as good with some majorly awesome characters, especially in the romance department! I think it's nice to read author's blogs when they're completely honest and say sometimes, "Hey I don't exactly know what to write right now." Cause then us other aspiring authors are like, "Hey they get Writer's Block too! Even with how awesome their book/writing is!" LOL
I wonder if this thing will let me post my comment, I bet it's getting long...
And I was just re-reading the thing at the top and really? You might comment back? I'm like a little kid with Santa Clause when it comes to books and authors (for the record I think sitting on the couch reading with Hot Stuff sounds very romantic and how I would like to have a date! ;))
Well I suppose I should be off before I bore you to death. :)
One more question though; I don't suppose Paranormalicy is going to be an ebook? I got a nook for my birthday (awesome present for me considering I read at least 3 books a week, no one can go to the book store THAT much after all, but I petitioned the idea regularly...) and I would love to be able to read your sure-to-be-awesome book on it! :) If it's not that's ok, I'll still be getting it right away, but I hope it will 'cause then I'll have it with me all the time! lol
Well I hope you have an awesome evening!
Yours Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia-ly,
p.s. do you know what "hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia" means? It's the fear of LONg words. I kid you not, you can even look it up! LOL Personally I find that ironic, and no I don't really have it. Other wise I probably wouldn't be able to tell you about it! lol My friend told me about it and I thought it was cool so I had to learn to spell it! Now I can do it practically without thinking! mwuhahaha! And that was really random so I really will go now!
p.p.s. Can NOT wait for Paranormalicy!!!!! Hope the months pass quick! :D

Kiersten White said...

Ha, Freya, you're cute. And I'm very pleased to tell you that Paranormalcy WILL be released as an e-book! Yay! I love teen readers + writers. Awesome.

Kristan--Excellent point. A little bit of drama is okay at the beginning, but if you aren't moving toward less (bad) drama, then something is wrong.

Madeleine--I think guy + girl = no romance stories can be great!

All--Thank you, as always, for your wonderful comments! No, Hot Stuff and I aren't saints, we both just have very mellow ways of dealing with frustration. Also we think very very similarly, which also lends itself nicely to avoiding arguments.

Anonymous said...

Greetings, Hello, Hi and Hola!
You know what I'm doing RIGHT NOW? (Besides typing I mean)
I'm jumping up and down (but not while I'm typing 'cause that would probably not be so intelligent) because you. A real author wrote back to ME! :D Yes, this has made my day! Oh who am I kidding, it's made my whole week! Possibly month, maybe even know what I think year since Paranormalicy is going to be an ebook too! *squeal* !!!!! I am so excited, thank you SOOO much for replying! It really means a lot to me. :)
Yours Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia-ly (again just wanted to say it ;))