Within a book loving community such as our own, an often heard criticism is how cliche-ridden or trope-filled certain books are. However, I realise that plenty of the books I ADORE also follow an expected pattern. Is it truly possible to reinvent the wheels of story telling? Is it necessary?
The obvious issue with cliche is because it comes across as lazy, it also makes the book predictable. You’re all well read people here, so I won’t insult you by explaining why that’s bad. I can also see how tropes are easy traps to fall in while writing. Although I am not a writer myself, some scenarios just writes themselves – they’re so irresistible because they have been ingrained into our psychology. A poor protagonist who lives virtuously and realises their dreams. A rebel fighting against a larger than life cause. A bickering pair who slowly falls for one another. They’re stories we have seen again and again – to the point where we have to roll our eyes a little when we see it play out once more in our latest read. Why should I bother reading a 400 pages book when I already know the ending? Good will triumph. The despotic ruler will fall. They will get together.
However, I would argue that it’s the journey, rather than the outcome that matters. For every single trope filled book I rated 2 stars, there’s another cliche ridden novel I am still raving about. See my love for Golden Son, which features a lowly Red slave rising up to meet his oppressors – yet I still root for his cause. See my love for Six of Crows, which features more bickering relationship than you could shake a stick at – yet each one totally owns my heart and fangirling soul. I find I don’t mind the predictability of the plot as long as the characters come alive and develop from it. I don’t quite care about the ending, sometimes it’s a forgone conclusion. I want to see how the characters get there, and how they conquer their obstacles along the way – that’s one of the reasons why I read.
As a regular reader, I find it hard to find books that can truly surprise me – I’m sure it is a sentiment we can all agree with. Even the act trope subversion is becoming something quite expected – with the antihero increasingly rising in popularity in recent years (and don’t we all love him?) As such, even the smallest acts of changes in plot details is enough to keep me entertained and on my toes. See Catherynne Valente’s novel, which are fully cognizant of the cliche in their plot lines – but also offers wonderful insight and startling subversions of expectations, especially in the treatment of female figures. See any book with the epistolary format such as The Dead House or Illuminae, which tells the same old tale through another lens – keeping things fun and fresh.
There is a reason why some stories are told time and again. It’s because in the process of reading and writing, we get to gleam at answers about humanity or social interaction that we would not otherwise ponder. What is the purpose of a dystopia, if not to commentate on the current political and social situation? What is the purpose of The Chosen One, if not to assure that there may be a larger purpose or destiny waiting for us? There is a fine line between using a cliche storyline to help answer one of life’s tough questions, and just plain falling trap to common plot devices. I think that with the former, I find myself engage in the story, regardless of whether I know the conclusion.
Do you think there can be a truly unique story that does not use any elements from older stories or myths? What’s the most creative book you have ever read? What separates a predictable book from one you can truly embrace and enjoy?
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