Monday, April 1, 2013

Exceptions To The Rules

First - it's April Fools! Check out the fun post on Enchanted Inkpot this morning. 

Now - Last week I spoke about the cliche things I see in a lot of opening pages and while most people agreed, there was also a consensus that these things don't have to be avoided. I agree! So today I want to talk about taking these cliches and turning them on their heads - or sometimes just making them so darn good that it doesn't matter.

  • Starting with waking up with or without a dream. 
    • Some great books start with this! As someone pointed out the Hunger Games is one of them. And that's one of my favorite books. But I can't tell you how many I've seen and I'm not even an agent or editor. So what can you do if you are sure this is the right place to begin?
      • Make sure it's the right place by asking what the inciting incident is and WHY you feel this is the right place. If you can find anywhere else do so!
      • Tell us something new. Katniss woke up feeling for someone next to her that was missing. Someone that shared a room with her entire family and that's different. We also heard about the "reaping" right away and were drawn in by wanting to know more. 

  • Parent has died and child is in new living situation.
    • Sometimes we need to get those parents out of the way so they won't interfere. Or we know they've died because it's important to our story. Unfortunately it's important in a LOT of stories. Some of my own manuscripts are no exception. So what's different?
      • Perhaps we can focus on the relationship with the remaining parent instead of the death. Think Beautiful Creatures which both starts with a dream AND has a dead parent. I still love that book!
      • Maybe the parent's death was just that. A death. And there's nothing mysterious about it. And if they don't have to be dead, why not give them something else to do? Preoccupy them with another sibling, a job, or *gasp* have them be involved in the characters life, just not the one running the show. 
  • Teen discovers powers she never knew she had.
    • I know, I caught a lot of flack for this one. That's the whole point of the story very often! But I challenge you to ask yourself if it HAS to be that way. And if so, what's so special about your book? I'm not saying that to be mean, just to challenge you before you get out there and start getting rejected over it. I too am working on one of these believe it or not. I try not to usually though. I use someone who knows they have magic/powers. OR the MC doesn't (and neither does the boyfriend LOL). But if we must then...
      • Don't make the MC a pathetic loser to begin with. Most of the time we see a meek girl who finds out there's more to her. Make her interesting before she finds her power.
      • Don't give us the info right off the bat. You can hint subtly, but draw us in and connect us first. 
  • Mysterious or drop dead gorgeous guy appears conveniently poised to become the love interest. 
    • Yeah we all love a hot guy. You all know I have a soft spot for bad boys. But look at Hush Hush (another one I love). We really don't know whether the hot guy is good or bad. In fact (spoiler alert to turn away if you haven't read) he was bad at first and did want to kill her
      • So give him a fault. Anything really, small or big. Don't make him perfect! Or better yet let her fall for the non-obvious one.  
  • "Best friend" boy likes MC but she doesn't realize it.
    • I've seen this a lot lately - I suspect trying to make up for the one above. It's true if they've known each other for a while a love relationship is more believable. But maybe he doesn't notice her and it's the other way around? If not:
      • Find her another guy to go for and let the poor kid's love go unrequited. 
      • Don't make it obvious! Make him mean or something to hide his feelings so we can forgive her for not noticing this. 
  • Perky best friend has it all and MC is shy and awkward.
    • Why do our heroic MCs always have a perfect, bubbly friend that you want to smack? 
      • Give the friend some faults and make your MC just as great. Where is it written that the MC has to be shy?
      • At least give that friend a true purpose other than the "sidekick" role. Let her have some fun too and give her a personality other than simply "perfect",
  • MC finds it necessary to describe herself by looking in the mirror or thinking about her blonde hair and blue eyes 
    • Most of you admitted this bugged you. But guess what? I bet we all did it initially and thought we were oh so clever! I know I did! I even use the mirror myself still, but I try to change it up a bit.
      • If you feel it absolutely necessary to physically describe your MC, work it in other ways. For example: If your MC is super tall, don't have her say, "I'm six feet and awkward." Show it by having her have to duck to fit somewhere, or slump so she isn't taller than her boyfriend. We'll get the idea. 
What do you think? Does this clear it up? Or did I make it all more confusing? Mwahahaha! The point is, rules are there to teach us not to take the easy way out, but to challenge ourselves to make it more unique and interesting. Can they be broken? Yes! But only when it's REALLY necessary and you better do it well. 


  1. You really thought through this! Great points.

    When we see something done well, we just seem to know, you know? :-)

  2. I think anything is possible, as long as the story is interesting. Like, with Hunger Games, it didn't bother me at all that she was waking up.I was so drawn in to the story!

  3. Great points. I'm trying to rethink the fantasy one too and wondering if my story will need more of a change to make it fresh. Glad you mentioned it even though it's hard to hear.

  4. Love your ways of twisting things up, and showing us how it worked in books we love. Nice!

  5. I've always believed that there are exceptions to every rule, too, so it was really great to see examples like this! Shows that pretty much every trope can become unique again after some creative thinking. :)

  6. I adore this post. I was laughing (and grimacing, yes, you nailed some of my characters) all the way through it. Loved the slumping next to her boyfriend because that's just what my tall stepdaughter does with her boyfriend!

    Hey, I couldn't help but splashing your gorgeous cover on my post today. So when exactly in April is it coming out??

  7. With so much connectivity and so many books coming out, I'm wondering if everything will soon fall into the cliche category? Synergy happens and it always will, only now it happens bigger and faster. Loved the post.

  8. It's all about the context, baby! Dare I say, so many of these situations appear in YA novels because they authentically happen in YA real life? I think the key is, as you say, turning them on their head to make them fresh and engaging.