11 September 2006

Avoid Clichés and Other Cliché Advice

Earlier this summer, Scottish author William Meikle placed an article titled "Writing Fantasy Fiction: Six Cliches to Avoid" with the Institute for Children's Literature website. Among them are "Receiving tutoring from the old wise man" (who actually seems like one of the better sources for tutoring). Meikle also says nae-nae to "Discovering hidden family truths," which he calls "The 'Ugly Duckling' gambit." I'm not sure I understand Meikle's specifics, but I share his wish to avoid clichés.

More recently, Janni Lee Simner's Desert Dispatches offered "Eleven things I will strive never to put in a fantasy novel unless I am trying to undermine them, and in fact could do without entirely from now on, thanks," plus "Three things I'm not quite willing to promise to leave out, even though I possibly should." Again, the same impulse to explore new ground, or at least keep off the territory that's already been ground into formless mud.

So here's one cliché that I'd like to avoid. The young hero (male) meets a [gulp] girl (female); she comes across as:

  • knowledgable and at home in the magical world, in contrast to his feeling like a naive fish out of water.
  • endowed with powers or knowledge that seem magical to him, particularly skills involving extrasensory communication, anticipating what others will do, or making them do things.
  • possessed of incomprehensible emotions, suddenly angry or exasperated with him for reasons he can't understand.
  • nonetheless needing rescue.
Examples I've seen lately are Rhea in T. H. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin, Joy-in-the-Dance in Lloyd Alexander's The Arkadians, Annabeth in Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, and the 22nd-century girls added to the Time Warp Trio TV show.

It doesn't seem like a coincidence that all the authors of those books are male. I can't recall this archetype popping up in fantasy books by women. But that pattern shouldn't be a surprise because this female character is nearly every twelve-year-old boy's image of girls.

Any other clichés we should head off at the pass?

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