Cliches. Stereotypes. They’re the traps writers fall into, no matter how hard we look, no matter how hard we try to find them. They’re always waiting, and they’re so inviting that most of the time, we don’t realize we’ve fallen into them until someone points them out, or we become unhappy with our writing. So how can they be avoided? How do we come up with something original when it seems like a thousand other people have tried the same thing?
Turn it upside down and shake it.
What happens? What if you took the male character and made him a female? What if you decided that minor character who had always been the good guy was really a villain? One of the most valuable questions you can ask yourself is what if.
This may sound like the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve, but the adage ‘you have to know the rules before you can break them’ is a true one, and it helps. For example, say you have a world full of magic, where anyone can access it. Well, that sounds great, but if there are no rules, it’s going to be difficult to work with. So make rules. What if the price of using magic was a limb? What if you knew that using magic would cost someone something dear, and someone random paid the price? You see how much more creative you can get when you set rules for yourself?
Don’t do the first thing that comes into your head.
Take the scenario you’re writing, and study it from all angles. Look at the possibilities. For example, say you have a female protagonist who has discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her. Sure, she could have her heart broken; she could cry and then fall in love with her boyfriend’s brother. But consider the other possibilities. She could smile, pick up a gun, and shoot her boyfriend. Or she could climb into her car and drive off a bridge. Don’t write the first thing that comes into your head, because it will be the predictable option. Look at the second idea, or the third, or the fourth until you’ve fond the thing that will catch readers off-guard.
These three things have helped me tremendously over the years, and kept my writing fresher than it would have otherwise been. After all, you want to keep your readers on their toes – and you, too, want to be surprised by what you can do and the stories you can write. Aim to surprise others, and you will end up surprising yourself. Now go and twist that plot!
Mirriam Neal is a twenty-year-old homeschool graduate and servant of God, with a passion for bringing quality back into literature. When she’s not writing (which is rare) she’s either reading, blogging, playing cribbage, or experiencing emotional trauma at the hands of her favorite characters.
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