Tag Archives: Cliche

Cliche Dodging: The Heroes’ Council

Council of ElrdonI’ve reached a point in FRAGILE GODS that’s annoying me. And the reason it’s annoying me is that it’s been done to death.

The first dangers have been survived, the early challenges surmounted. Now the author needs to explain to the reader some of the wider politics of our fictional world, while the heroes need to understand their course of action for the next book (or in some cases, three).

Enter the ¬†Heroes’ Council, where high ranking members various factions congregate to explain to protagonist (or have him explain to them) just what to do next. Tempers may flare, sides will quarrel, heroic sacrifices might be offered.

Tolkien had the Council of Elrond. George Lucas used war rooms congregated around a holographic presentation, or in the prequels, the Jedi Council.

Brandon Sanderson’s version was to have a heist gangleader outline ideas on a chalkboard while his crew chimed in.

I’ve reached a point in the plot where just such a council has occurred, and I’m thoroughly nonplussed by the idea. Yet in terms of plot, it was necessary; Azai is heading north specifically to convince several tribe chiefs of his plan. And the big chieftain would be out of character not to involve trusted advisors and friends.

Are there alternatives to the cliche scene?

It was EXACTLY what I wanted to know.

Several days ago, I got the first full-text reviewed/edited copy of Woman’s Best Friend back from a Hatrack reviewer.

It was beautiful.

To fully understand my satisfaction with having my own work ripped to shreds, you must first consider the palpable frustration of a rejection letter.

The whole aggravation of a rejected work isn’t that it simply wasn’t purchased; we’ve all had dates declined, interviews we didn’t get hired, a request denied. But in most of these circumstances, it is possible to determine why. In social circumstances, you can even ask:

Why didn’t you want to go on a date with me?

The immature lady will simply not return this call. The mature gal will admit, “Because you’re creepy, clingy, needy, you have no job, and you smell funny.” This may be painful, but it gives the guy (if he is mature) the opportunity to become less creepy and needy, get a job, and bathe more before asking the next girl.

When I get a rejection letter, my brain screams at the editor:

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?

Based on the number of podcasts and books-on-writing I’ve devoured, I wonder:

Was my cover letter too short? Too long? Too dry? Too arrogant? Too humble? Did I misspell the editor’s name? Did the story remind them of a worse one they read in gradeschool? A better one? Did they just buy a story like this? Did they discover a misprint? Not like the title? Were they annoyed at the shade of white I printed on? Was there a smudge on the manuscript? Did they Google me and disagree with my politics? Religion? Choice of video games?

Did I give too little description? Too much? Did they not care about the characters? Did they find an element cliche? Did they finish the first page? The second? Was the ending trite? Was there a problem with the plot? The grammar? The style? Did I use too many echoes? Was my characterization thin? Or too heavy-handed? Were my hooks too trendy? Were my paragraphs too long? Too short? Was my dialog too vague? Too precise? Too true to life to be interesting? Not true enough?

…and on and on.

The frustration is not just that the work didn’t sell; even successful writers sometimes have that happen. The frustration is that to fix it, I don’t even know where to start.

Enter the anonymous critic, willing to read the whole story and pull no punches with his opinions.

I wish I could reproduce the full text including his comments for you here, but then I would have used my First North American publication rights to the story.

Suffice to say that the first total stranger to read Woman’s Best Friend found a whole host of echoes I never noticed in myriad readings. Nor did anyone else. He found whole paragraphs which could be cut, their whole meaning still evident in the sentence preceding them.

I am now working on a 5th draft of Woman’s Best Friend, which will be much tighter and more streamlined. Then if that one isn’t good enough, a 6th, and so forth.

That’s how you become perfect.

And now, Viceroy, we will discuss a new treaty!

justice_scaleThree votes rolled in later than the rest, with two surprising developments:

1. Perfect Justice now beats The Dragon Thief by a 2:1 margin. Ouch. So much for a new project; I should finish the one I’ve got. Fair enough. I still intend to work on both because only rewriting a story would drive me batty. (Yes, I realize I’m already batty.)

2. Echoes of Prophecy received a vote. What poor unfortunate soul wants more cliche fantasy? Nah, I’m kidding. I still have hopes to make Echoes considerably more entertaining than Shadows was. To be honest, if I were just competing with David Eddings and George R. R. Martin and even Robert Jordan, I really would think I could make significant contributions as a fantasy writer. It’s Brandon Sanderson who intimidates me, having simultaneously shattered the typical cliches of fantasy and yet kept the pacing and intrigue of some of the greatest action movies of our time.