A writer’s job is to write stories—not to steal or borrow them and, with a coat of fresh paint, pawn them off as original. That should be obvious, but it’s not always completely clear. Our own private thoughts, dreams, intuitions, and fantasies are inevitably colored by what Jung called the collective unconscious— the vast, reservoir-like body of shared human experiences, of myths, symbols, and legends.
Take this story set in Spanish Harlem, where Emilio Bermudez, a rookie fresh from the police academy, stakes out a bodega with his partner Joe. While on duty Emilio falls hard for Dulce, the lovely sister of the drug-dealing bodega owner.
Need I fill in the rest? In the climactic drug bust, Joe sees Dulce reach for a “weapon” and fires. The bullet goes straight through her heart. Dulce had been reaching innocently for the love note Emilio had sent her, and she dies in Emilio’s arms.
If these characters and their situation seem familiar, they are. We’ve all seen similar stories a hundred times. Most sensational subjects have been treated to death. Result: a minefield of clichés. And, as Martin Amis tells us, “All good writing is a war against cliché.”
The story’s problems might be partially redeemed by crisp dialogue, vivid descriptions, and an impeccable edgy style—but the plain fact is, they shouldn’t be solved. This clichéd rose is wilted down to its thorns. Steer clear of tired plots and you, your characters, and your readers will avoid all kinds of heartache.
This writing tip is from 179 Ways To Save a Novel by Peter Selgin. Buy this book and learn:
- The difference between a memoir and fiction
- How to structure your story and create a plot
- Writing style tips