I’m about to give you a piece of advice I got from an agent at a SCBWI New Jersey workshop. The workshop and one-on-one critique with the agent cost me a nice bit of money and a trip to Princeton, but I’m about to give it to you for FREE!
How lucky does that make you?
During my critique, the subject of clichés came up, not because my manuscript had any clichés, but because I wanted tips on how to avoid them.
The agent told me, “If everyone else goes ones way, go the other way.”
Simple, right? If everyone turns right, you turn left. If everyone zigs, you zag. If everyone is doing something one way, then it’s a cliché. Don’t do it that way. Do it the opposite way. Leave the beaten path and forge your own. It’s that easy.
When we think of clichés, we usually think of over-used expressions, like “head over heels in love.” But clichés can be bigger things, too.
All kissing scenes zig one way? Zag, and write a kissing scene that’s almost the opposite of that. That’s what I did in Ride of Your Life. If you read it, you’ll see there’s a first kiss that couldn’t have been written in any other book. It’s just so different! Gilbert’s first kiss with Amber in Why My Love Life Sucks also zags . . . and so does a kiss in the upcoming sequel, Why It Still Mega Bites. I hate kissing clichés, so of course I write kisses differently.
Everyone is writing dystopian? Zag, and write whatever the opposite of dystopian is in your eyes. (For me, that would be a science-fiction comedy.) Or zag, and write a dystopian that breaks all the clichés and completely changes what people think a dystopian novel is supposed to be! After all, no one need another dystopian novel that’s exactly like the hundreds of others already out there.
So how do you zag?
In my blog post on humor, Writing Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge—H is for Humor (and how to create it), I mentioned the mirrors and lenses of the House of Funny. While any mirror or lens can help you zag, the best to use here is the “lens of character.” Because if you have a truly different character with a completely different way of seeing the world and interacting with it, anything viewed through the lens that is that character will be different.
Should you always zag where everyone else zigs?
I don’t think so. But you should always zag when zigging feels somehow wrong to you, it doesn’t fit your story, or it makes your story less of what you’re trying to make it.
You should also try to consider the possibility of zagging, even if you choose to zig in the end. It should always be a choice, not something you did because you were following the crowd—or trying hard not to follow the crowd. You shouldn’t zag for zagging’s sake. You should do it because you like that’s your preferred choice.
And now I’m down to another Z: Zero!
I’ve reached the end of this blog post, which means I have zero posts left to write in the #AtoZChallenge. I did it! Hope you liked it and that it helped or at least entertained you in some way.
Maybe I’ll do it again next year, this time in April!