At one point, I considered writing a Chick Lit novel about an plucky MIT neuroscience grad student looking for love in all the wrong places. That idea died pretty quickly, but not before I read Cathy Yardley's Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel.
In my next post, I'll share some tips from the book that I found helpful. For this post, however, I have a question which requires some background.
Chicklit observation #1: All aspects of writing are important to Chick Lit, but Yardley emphasizes two in particular: voice, and characters. Strong chick lit novels are almost always character driven and have a distinctive writing style.
Chicklit observation #2: Yardley also provides an amusing list of cliches to avoid, including: urban location, glam industries, the simply marvelous gay friend, the evil boss, the cheating lover, dates with Mr. Wrong, simultaneous confidence-stripping life disasters, name brand fashion, witty banter (often in a coffee shop), and pop culture.
Random observation #1: A large proportion of the cliches in observation #2 (oh look, they're bolded!) relate to the aspects of writing from observation #1 --- quirky characters, situations to prime a character for development, or a chance to show off a distinctive and witty voice.
So here's my question: Coincidence ... or not?
Let me explain. All genres emphasize their own sets of writing technique. Fantasy and Sci Fi can't exist without world building and strangeness. A successful thriller needs its tight plotting.
At the same time, all genres have their cliches, as illustrated quite beautifully by the winner of the fantasy portion of Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest.
A quest is not to be undertaken lightly--or at all!--pondered Hlothgar of the Western Boglands, son of Glothar, nephew of Garthol, known far and wide as Skull Dunker, as he wielded his chesty stallion through the ever-darkening Thlargwood, beyond which, if he survived its horrors and if the royal spittle reader spoke true, his destiny awaited--all this though his years numbered but fourteen.
So do is it the case that the aspects of writing that define a genre also give rise to the majority of its cliches? Is fantasy predominantly plagued by "been there, done that" worlds? Are second rate thrillers certain to make use of cheesy cliffhanger devices?
One could even make up a story about how it happens. As a genre develops, writers and readers absorb the characteristics that define a genre and emphasize it. But for that very reason, these defining characteristics get worked and reworked until they turn into cliches. If that's true, then it would get progressively harder and harder to write fresh fiction as a genre becomes established.
I keep going back and forth between "Duh, that's true by definition" and "Nah, fantasy books have character and voice cliches just as often as worldbuilding cliches." What do you think, dear readers? And perhaps more importantly, how does a genre writer maintain freshness and creativity in their fiction?