Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's Been Done Before...

Grim Confession Time:

Last month, I saw a tweet from fabulous agent Colleen Lindsey w/regards to a trend she's seeing with growing frequency in the YA/Fantasy/Urban/Paranormal genres. That would be all of the authors killing the parents of the main character off.

I've noticed the SAME thing as Colleen, and furthermore (and this is the part that disturbs me the most), I keep seeing books which begin with a morose character who is afraid of cars because she survived a car wreck which killed her parents.


Guess how BS Wesley (one of my current WIPS) started off....

Yes. *sighs grimly*

Mom was crumpled like a piece of paper and Dad was beheaded. Wesley wasn't in the crash, but her youngest sister was, unfortunately. The kiddo is permanently damaged because her dad's head bounced into the backseat and landed at her feet.

I didn't quite figure out how one parent was beheaded and the other merely crumpled while both sat in the front seat of their Chevy Cavalier, but I was going to work out those details later. <- That was before I starting coming across all these books (including Evermore and Oh My Goth) where one or more parents was offed in this fashion.

I went through the five stages of denial at first (including - "I noticed, but it's not like anyone else will!" and "They HAVE to die! Or else the story won't work!" ).

Then I tried to fix the problem... subtly:

I toned down the car accident. I moved it back five years to allow for some healing. I took the kid out of the car. I put the parents in a crashing train instead. I took them out of the car and had them killed in a hit and run accident in a parking lot.

And with each revision attempt, I kept coming back to the same thought, "It's still too similar." The parents died in a traumatic accident and are deeply mourned at the beginning of the novel.

So I brainstormed.

Both parents had to be gone, because it's important for the three girls to fend for themselves at the old family house, etc. And it had to be traumatic for the youngest to be the way she was, and also for the oldest to drastically change mentally and emotionally. And it had to be horrific enough for the entire community to know all about it after following all of the news reports.

It was too similar to other books out there because both parents were killed and there was a vehicle involved. <- I noted this, but initially didn't know how to fix. I had to mentally get to that point where I was OPEN to changing the plot completely, even writing in new plot threads. Prior to that point, I just wanted a quick fix right there at the beginning. I wasn't willing to write in anything that required a full revision of the book.

The answer came to me while watching CNN Headline News. I didn't have to kill both parents and it didn't have to be an accident. No, Dad didn't murder Mom and he isn't in jail, but [spoilers carefully deleted and preserved].

This meant a brand new plot thread to reveal throughout the book, and not surprising, the main plot and characters changed completely with this addition of this new thread. <- And yes, this is a good thing. Both the plot and characters became deeper and feel more solid than before.

Last night, I finished up revisions for Ch1 and Ch2 and could have cried over when I recognized a quality that had not been there before. No, that doesn't mean I'm going to say, "YAH, publish me now. I quality writer!" <- Heh. Edits are neverending.

Back when I was still struggling with keeping my 'car crash' thread, I didn't have a lot of confidence about those two chapters. I knew that anybody reading them would likely lose interest as the 'cliche-device alert' warning lights came on. Maybe CH3 and CH4 were stronger and more unique, but I couldn't assume that a reader would choose to read that far, if they've already been turned off by the 'same old'.

The fact that I did something completely different, that I know for a fact isn't in any of the books I've read lately... that's what I mean by a recognizable quality. Maybe I still need to revise a touch more (and finish the book), but there is a chance that this one will make it.

Final Word and Bossy Advice for the Day:

If you read over your working copy and have this feeling that you read this story before (and not just because you wrote it), you shouldn't cross your fingers and hope your readers are idiots. If you noticed it, you can betcha other people will. <- And you can't always rely on critters, because most people are going to be too nice to point out something that essentially means the entire novel in its current form is trash.

Keep reshaping the plot and characters until you are satisfied. <- And I mean REALLY satisfied, not just you telling yourself you are.


  1. I'm glad you were able to change the issue and have a better story for it. It's so disheartening when you find out you've done something that's become a trend or a cliche. It's hard to avoid since pretty much everything has been done, but when it's definitely going to remind a reader of something else, it's a problem.

  2. Thanks<:

    I don't mind some cliches so much. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who will read a Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella story over and over and over again. Everyone loves an underdog coming out of nowhere and winning the day (Cinderella). Same thing with a story where true love lets somebody see past external plain or ugly looks and recognize the beauty and warmth beneath (Beauty and the Beast). Those stories or themes have been around since ancient times, and they never get old. :)

    Killing your character's parents in a mysterious car crash - that gets old. :[


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