Lorraine has been discussing conflict and cliche on her blog after an interesting editorial post on the Mills and Boon UK site. It’s all about how conflicts can become cliches if they are used to create a character. Thought I might put in my two cents worth as it’s something that the editors have pointed out to me about my own writing, so I’ve had a bit of experience with it (hope you don’t mind if I nick your topic, Lorraine!).
The way I understand it, a conflict becomes a cliche if that’s all there is to the charcter. An example would be my Feel the Heat entry. Kate was a cliched hippy set against Alex, the cliched developer. And that’s all. There was nothing behind their conflict, nothing that made them anything more than cardboard cut-outs. Another example (yes, I have a few!) is the current ms that I revised. My heroine in the initial draft was a cliched geek. Again, that’s all. That was her conflict. She was two dimensional. Her conflict made her a cliche. I have another heroine in another WIP who also started out like that – the prim accountant who doesn’t like losing control. Another cliche. There wasn’t anything more, anything that made them real people rather than ciphers. Does that make sense?
To get past these cliches, I think the answer is, as the editor put in her post (paraphrasing here), imagine your character as a real person and ask yourself: what life has this person lived that makes them who they are today? What experiences have they had that have added to their character? Okay, so your hero’s mother died when he was 5 and it scarred him, but that isn’t the only thing that has ever happened in his life.
For example, in my current WIP, the main conflict for my heroine is that her mother never got over her father leaving them. So she has spent years trying to make her mother’s loneliness better but never succeeding (because it’s her father her mother wanted, not her). She’s very caring so this need to make things better has leaked into other areas of her life, namely her relationships with men. She’s attracted to tortured souls so she can ‘heal’ them. Now, if that was all there was to her, it would make her very one-dimensional (in fact, make her a nurse and I have a cliche just waiting to go). But I have learned my lesson so her need to help people isn’t all there is to her. She’s developed a fear of flying after a bad flight experience, her much loved grandfather introduced her to photography which she loves, she used to go out with musicians and likes going to a good gig, she’s trying to be a bit more selfish about her own needs… All facets of her, some of which are related to her conflict, some are not. But they are all part of the life she’s lived up until now and make her the person she is. Her conflict does not make her a cliche – I hope!
Again, this is just my take on it. I could be wrong. Anyone else have any ideas?