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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cliches When Writing Books for Kids: How to Fix Them

by Guudmorning!
When I pitched my YA novel to an agent at a conference, she told me that some of my plot points were cliche. The biggest problem was the parents of the main character dying in a car crash in the beginning. Actually, they die before the novel even starts, but that's not my point today--to discuss my YA plot. I was devastated and thought there was no hope for my book. I didn't know there was a "dead parents" cliche. 

Fast forward a couple months to a student in my middle-grade novel class this summer. She is a great writer with an interesting book idea for a middle-grade fantasy book. But the parents have to die for the plot to work, and I immediately thought back to my conversation with the agent. I didn't want my student to feel like I did, but I also feel it's my job as her teacher to tell her about this "cliche" and help her fix it. So that's what I did. 

How did we fix it? Did she have to come up with a whole new plot? No! What we decided was instead of focusing on the actual death in the first chapter, we would pick up after the parents died and focus on the main plot point that their death causes, which launches readers into a fantasy world. 

What do you do when someone tells you something in your book is cliche? Whether it's a word, sentence, character, scene, or plot point, this can be hard to hear. Should you scrap the whole thing? Definitely not! 

Have you heard the saying that there are no new stories? It's all in the way we tell them! I completely agree with that. Look at the recent WOW! blog tour for The Divorce Girl. Divorce is a subject that has been written about countless times, and yet because of the voice and character, The Divorce Girl was one of the best books I read all year.

It may take a little effort to put a spin on a story that's been told again and again. I mean, look at the romance genre or romantic comedies: boy meets girl, they like each other, something happens to keep them apart, and they overcome the obstacle and fall in love in the end. Right? Is it cliche? Some may say that, but I'm thinking that authors and screenwriters are going to be selling these stories again and again because of their creativity in putting a new spin on the story or using a unique voice or point of view.

So what would you do if someone told you your work was cliche? How do you avoid this in your own writing?

If you are interested in Margo's advanced middle-grade novel online course, starting on 8/23, please see the WOW! classroom page and sign up today! It's not too late to join in on creating the best middle-grade novel possible. (We also take writers working on chapter books for ages 7 to 10 or tween books for ages 12 and 13.) 

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