Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yeah, well, you know what? Your face is cliche.

(Note, this entry was originally meant to be longer and slightly more convoluted, but due to time constraints I must cut it short. Feel free to engage me in the comments, though.)

I write fantasy novels. Working on two series right now. One is high fantasy and the other could probably be best explained as urban fantasy.

You know what that means.

I write cliches.

Fantasy gets a lot of bad rap when it comes to cliches, because, you know, we’re all ripping off Tolkien. (Never mind that Tolkien was heavily inspired by works that came before him as well.) And to credit, a lot of fantasy novels do make use of “tired” cliches: group quest, save the world, etc. etc. Hell I freely admit to using cliches in my works, because that’s just how a character’s life plays out Farmboy becomes swordsman: check. Beautiful, powerful sorceress: check. “Feisty” tomboy: check. Intellectual member of a royal family: check. (And to come, race of all female warriors.) Oh my, I do have my work cut out for me when it comes to making my story not so painful to read.

However, I think people put way too much hate into tiresome cliches. And yes, I am biased. I’ve been reading fantasy since I was five years old. I bathe in horrible 80′s fantasy movies. (Krull ftw kthnx). I, as aforementioned, write fantasy. And yes, there are definitely some instances in which cliches are just horrible and need to go find a proverbial fire to die in. It’s always fairly obvious when an author hasn’t taken their given list of cliches to work with and hasn’t done much of anything with them…aside from just using them. What’s great about fantasy is that it lets us take what’s been done before and inject our own personalities and world views into what we think such a fantasy world would be like. When we read fantasy novels, the goal is to walk away knowing how the author made the world their own. If we walk away saying “Huh. That author’s world told me nothing more than other author’s story did”, then, to quote the internet, they did it wrong.

Searching for “fantasy cliches” in Google gets one a lot of results. From humorous lists to serious forum discussions, everyone has an opinion on ye olde cliches. What’s hilarious, though, is how many lists go on for pages and pages (from one person, no less), and implying that any author that utilizes any of them needs to stop writing right now. These lists include all the classics, of course, but then you can’t help but start laughing because they tend to also include things like “slaves”, “character with long hair”, “character with short hair”, “character with two arms”…well, you get the point. Pretty much every type of character and every plot point conceivable these days is considered to be cliche, and heaven forbid if you do use a few cliches and try to imbrue them with your own thoughts.

On that note, you know what? Life is cliche. Seriously. I don’t know how many people around me do the same thing. (Go to school, go to college, get jobs, get married, procreate, die, yadda yadda). It’s tiring and predictable. But you know what else? Most of those people are doing those same things in their own way and style. Sure, some follow the “life script”, but it’s the same way that some authors follow the “fantasy script”. Annoying? Yes. But we move on to more interesting things.

For as many fantasy stories as there are now…it seems nearly impossible to come up with something “original”. But what is original? And what’s more annoying? Somebody writing with cliches or somebody trying to avoid cliches so hard that their story makes no damn sense?

Now excuse me, I’m going to go write about my farmboy and sorceress meeting for the first time. It’s probably cliche.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I hang out with John and Joanne at the library.

By some swing of the cosmos I made it to a public library today. (Okay, so I had to go get a haircut and this is where I wait for my ride to get off work.) Everytime I come to a library I feel very nostalgic, since when I was a child I practically read my life away and the library was a source of most of those books. And since then I have worked for a library and seen my mother work for a library, thereby stripping away most romantic images of them to nothing more than another place where workers squabble with each other and have to deal with the notorious public. Oh yeah, and there’s books there. People still read those in physical form now?

I once read an exercise for aspiring authors to do whenever they are in a bookstore/library. You go to the shelf in the section of where your works would supposedly end up, based on whatever name you’re publishing by. Obviously this would be in the “B”s for me, and I often do this exercise when I am bored. I head over to the fantasy section and, as the exercise describes, create a space where my first novel would go. The idea is to see what a shelf would look like with your book in it…I guess you’re supposed to imagine that a space is there because some enthralled reader has either bought or checked out your book. You know, I’m delusional, but not THAT delusional.

What is it about libraries – or bookstores – that make you want to just buckle down and write? Oh, right, books. But seriously, I always get a recharge walking into libraries and seeing people check out books, talk about books…use the internet (like me right now!), get pissy with each other, let their children run around screaming…

What was I talking about?

Oh, right. It’s at these moments, of imagining yourself amongst the ranks of the best that you feel an attainable goal is within your reach. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “But Hildred! These are famous people! How is it attainable to get my book next to one of them?!“ Fear not, gentle reader. Do the exercise with me. Since I am here I went over the fantasy section just around the corner from me and figured out where I would go. Currently my novel would go between the authors, “Joanne Bertman” and “John Birmingham”. I’ve never heard of either of them! And guess what, neither of them have heard of me! We’re even! (Seriously, who are these people?) Then again the only fantasy author I know off the top of my head whose name starts with a “B” is Peter S. Beagle. Hm. Unicorns.

Point is, odds are you haven’t heard of most of the authors on any given bookshelf. Sure, you may be somebody who would end up next to Stephen King or J.K.Rowling. But think of this as free publicity as opposed to being intidmiating. It’s not like their book is going to beat up your book on the shelf. Or maybe it is. It’s not like we know what books do while we’re away, other than randomly appearing on the tops of people’s heads for balance practice or underneath glasses as coasters. (See, I knew I’d find a use for Atlas Shrugged.)

I just have one problem with this. Why am I always on the bottom shelf? I am such a lazy person, I don’t want books on the bottom shelf. I’d rather just have somebody grab a book for little ol’ short me from the top shelf. Especially during allergy season when perusing the bottom shelf makes gravity turn allergies into a fact of physics. One of those times that I don’t even think a splendiferous cover would catch somebody’s attention down there. I blame Asimov for this. He’s got like fifty books taking up shelf space above me. Come on, we could just watch any of the movies, thereby eliminating about 25 books. I move up a whole two rows! I would look there!

Of course I jest. Kinda. I really am that lazy.

Now as I part from this really strange ramble I am going to show just how applicable my blog title is. I just spent like…two hours writing this. Constantly getting sidetracked. I mused for two hours. And didn’t get any actual writing done…aside from about two paragraphs.

I need to stop procrastinating.

…except John and Joanne just invited me to a party for the bottom shelf. We’re gonna go hang out with Mercedes Lackey and some Star Wars books. At least I’ve met them before.