Writing Secrets: Stories never tire, but our telling of them can

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

Stories are universal, and some are told over and over again, in different ways, with diverse characters and in vastly differing times and places.

Never be afraid of approaching a story of love, lost or found, or a coming of age, a search for justice … or, in fact, anything. Yes, you’ll always find another book which covers largely the same issues, but it’s in the way you approach it, your voice, and how vividly you show us the world of the characters, that your story will succeed or fail.

No story is so old that it can’t be retold. However, the devices we use to tell it can (and have) become clichéd.

It was all a dream? Oh please. It’s a cop-out and it leaves your readers feeling duped. (Remember Bobby Ewing? He should just have stayed dead.)

I came across a few other “common literary tropes” in Electricliterature.com and I’ll repeat a couple of them here for your amusement, with additions and comments of my own. I’m sure they’ll make you laugh – in an awkward way. (Which of us has not committed at least one of these at one stage or another?)

The novel starts with a character waking up, or looking out of the window, describing the scenery. Or, to skirt the limitations of perspective and give us an idea of what your character looks like, you force him to describe himself in the mirror, a window, a pond, or even a polished spoon.

Your protagonist is a writer with writer’s block. And there’s always a shoebox of letters or keepsakes under the bed (in which there just happens to be some crucial piece of information, waiting to be found). At some stage of the book, your protagonist will always contemplatively stare at the floor, out of the window or into the middle distance.

She will become emotionally upset – and vomit, or stand under the shower for hours. (This one always bothers me – aren’t they aware how precious water is?) Or she cuts herself or takes to her bed.

There’s often a particularly wise child, in the house or perhaps next door, who states awkward or uncomfortable truths to the protagonist, while the cruel villain continues his machinations, but is kind to his pet.

All right, enough of that. Let’s not become too judgmental. I’ve read some excellent books about blocked writers. And which of us hasn’t described the smell of blood as metallic? Not to mention the fact that I’m uncomfortably sure at least one of my characters must have vomited…

The moral of this story is: tell any story you please, but in the process of telling, remember the tropes you’ve become used to seeing in print, and try to avoid them.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: The multiverse of your imagination

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