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Old 11-22-2012, 10:44 AM   #1
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Concerns about cliches

How detrimental are cliches to a story? I've been planning a book for quite a while (I'm great at outlining but perhaps to an obsessive degree) and realised that my story heavily relies on prophecy, an old trope that many people often say turns them off a book. I've been too focused on making sure the story is cohesive and that the characters are interesting, but should I be at least thinking about changing the prophecy of the chosen one and making him more of an unfortunate who stumbled upon his quest?
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Old 11-22-2012, 11:24 AM   #2
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You may have answered your own question about what the biggest problem is (obsessive pre-planning).

There are any number of reasons someone can begin the "hero's journey" and most of them have been used.

Just throwing out one (which isn't original either); what if the main character just receives a secret message to begin his quest (say, a note from his long-dead father is finally delivered to him now that he's old enough).

Or, thinking outside the box a little, what if the story begins with the MC already well on his way. The reader doesn't know why the MC is doing what he's doing, only that it's important to the MC. In other words, try to get rid of what is generally the first couple of chapters of a book of this type.
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Old 11-22-2012, 11:38 AM   #3
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A prophecy alone would not be incentive enough to set out. Some vague words would not send a person out on a dangerous mission. Give the hero some other reason - a friend in trouble, collecting something, village in danger etc. to make him/her set out. Slowly prophecy becomes more important on the journey as, perhaps, a part of the prophecy is fulfilled.
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Old 11-22-2012, 11:43 AM   #4
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Or turn the prophecy on its ear (similar to Oedipus or the "appointment with death" tale). The MC does the opposite of what his prophecy predicts and it's not until the end that he discovers that doing so actually fulfilled the prophecy (but perhaps in some odd way that remains unclear).
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Old 11-22-2012, 11:49 AM   #5
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What sprogspasser said.

My characters in my WIP are built on a prophecy, but it's not forced onto the reader, it's just there, and by no means is it the reason for them to do what they're doing.

And really, Civic, don't get bogged down. There's no use in excessively worrying about this until you actually write the damn book. So, write the damn book.
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Old 11-22-2012, 12:26 PM   #6
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If executed well, then the worst of clichees won't be damaging to your book. Should it bother you when the book is almost finished you could still decide to revise it.
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Old 11-22-2012, 01:21 PM   #7
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If you think planning is a headache, wait till you are writing the entire book. Working fulltime and writing the book is probably the most painful thing I have ever done in my life. Excruciating mental torture. But at the end of those long 4 years, when the book is finally completed, the sense of accomplishment is beyond words.

Prophecy or not, just write what you think is best for the story. Prophecy isn't cliche. In fact, some readers are drawn to the idea of a higher power, oracle style. Write what seems right for the story you want to tell.

All the best!
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Old 11-22-2012, 04:07 PM   #8
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I agree with a couple of other posters, it's all about the execution. If you're really worried you could try making it more ambiguous, perhaps introduce another character who could also be the subject of the prophecy?
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Old 11-22-2012, 08:14 PM   #9
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Civic.

Take that old trope and give it your own special twist. Use your outline as loose roadmap only and sit down and write your story.
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Old 11-23-2012, 07:34 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Civic View Post
...should I be at least thinking about changing the prophecy of the chosen one and making him more of an unfortunate who stumbled upon his quest?
Both are cliches, but if it were my story, I'd opt for the second. The 'chosen one' trope was old when Moses was a pup.

Also, many or most people stumble on their life's work by accident, so it's more credible.
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Old 11-23-2012, 08:05 AM   #11
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Personally, I like a prophecy when it is done well. In a four-book series I'm currently rewriting, the four main characters are the central figures in a prophecy. However, in the early going, they have their own reasons for wanting to kill the villain. The prophecy just makes them think they might actually be able to do it.

Moreover, the prophecy is vague. It doesn't state that the heroes will defeat the villain. It merely says they can attain the power to defeat the villain. There's also a lot of debate about the prophecy, and some people wonder if a person not included in the prophecy can kill the villain.

I hope I've done enough to make my twist on the prophecy unique. That's the key. What makes your prophecy different from the prophecies already out there?
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Old 11-23-2012, 11:38 AM   #12
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If you think planning is a headache, wait till you are writing the entire book.
No. Don't wait. Stop planning, start writing, do it now, and procrastinate later. Planning is not writing. It's often an excuse for not writing.

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Old 11-23-2012, 11:47 AM   #13
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Is a prophecy more cliche than dragons? Or the evil overlord? An unfortunate who stumbles upon his quest is an old trope, too.

Nothing is new under the sun. Like everyone else says: it's your take on it that matters. If you are sure your story is cohesive and your characters interesting, write your story. Yes, some people will be turned off by the prophecy, others will be turned off by dragons (or anything else you may have put in your story). You can't please everyone. Write.
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Old 11-23-2012, 02:32 PM   #14
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Thanks guys. All of this thread is great advice. Especially the 'stop planning and write' part.
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Old 11-23-2012, 04:13 PM   #15
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Quote:
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A prophecy alone would not be incentive enough to set out. Some vague words would not send a person out on a dangerous mission. Give the hero some other reason - a friend in trouble, collecting something, village in danger etc. to make him/her set out. Slowly prophecy becomes more important on the journey as, perhaps, a part of the prophecy is fulfilled.

I'm not saying this isn't good advice, but there are circumstances or character types where it would make sense to start out just because of a prophecy. It really depends on the world and the characters; frex, a bored teenager thirsty for excitement and desperate to be Somebody may well decide a prophecy is enough.
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Old 11-23-2012, 05:03 PM   #16
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There's also the possibility of putting the prophecy more deeply into context. A number of real world societies have prophecies of events that are supposed to happen that signal a change in the world. Many of these involve prophesied people.

If the prophecy in your world has dug into the society enough that different groups of people are on the lookout for different aspects of the prophecy, if indeed there are as many arguments in interpretation as there are in the real world for such things then you no longer have a bare prophecy as a motivation, you have a society shaped by the expectation of prophecy, and a character who is wondering if he or she can possibly be the fulfillment of that prophecy.

This also makes the prophecy a deeper source of insight into and challenge for the character (or characters) who are thrust into the role (or thrust themselves into the role) of fulfillers of the prophecy.
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Old 11-23-2012, 05:23 PM   #17
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I don't think prophecy is cliche at all. You just have to do it well. The chosen one, however, has been used to death, which doesn't mean you can't use it again, if you give it a fresh twist.
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Old 11-23-2012, 06:53 PM   #18
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So, write the damn book.
I have nothing else to add.
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Old 11-23-2012, 08:02 PM   #19
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Is the prophecy true?
Is this a magical prophecy or something technological (i.e. a character is teleported back in time, but had witnessed events and wrote a "prophecy.")
Is the prophecy going to be literal? (e.g. Aragorn and the the Dead Men who dwelt beneath the Dwimorberg, in the White Mountains south of Rohan). Or, more metaphoric? Metaphoric to a point where it could be anyone? (A Song of Ice and Fire--Dany is Azor Ahai? Or is it really Stannis? Or Jon Snow? I can fit numerous people).

Just a few things to consider. I mean, the prophecy could be something a drunk sage made up that just happens to be a coincidence with what's happening now. It's all up to you.
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Old 11-23-2012, 08:49 PM   #20
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I think you might be confusing a cliche with a trope and using both interchangeably. They're not the same thing. People aren't consciously aware of tropes, whereas cliches are obvious.

Cliche: predictable person or thing
Trope: recurrent theme

Recurrent themes are in pretty much everything we read. Hero's journey, good conquers evil, redemption, etc. You can use any one of these tropes and create a story around it. While the "chosen one" seems like a cliche, it's not. You can always put your own twist on it. For example, in Star Wars, everyone thought that Luke Skywalker was the chosen one, the one who would bring balance to the force. In fact, it was actual Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader. You could use something like this to throw the reader off and then the prophecy trope won't be so obvious.

Either way, the story is what matters.

I agree with everyone else on the over-planning. If you know every detail of your story, then you're going to get bored with it when you actually start writing.
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Old 12-13-2012, 07:13 PM   #21
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My story is based on a prophecy, however my main character is the only one clueless about her own destiny. She sort of falls into it. The prophecy isn’t shoved down the readers throat every 20 pages. Personally, I’m a sucker for these types of stories, but they have to be done right. There are so many ways to approach it.

One last thought, planning and organizing is good, but don’t let it hinder you. Jump in, start writing. It’s amazing where your story will end up taking you. That’s the beauty, I think. I had set out to do A and B, but on the way I discovered D, E and F. This is why I write. I end up surprising myself. Good luck!
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Old 12-13-2012, 07:34 PM   #22
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I had great fun playing with a prophecy. Of course, some people run when they merely see the word...

...you'd think it said prologue.
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