Finding Originality When Even Plot Twists Are Cliched
I've been trying to finalize the outline of my novel, however I'm skeptical and critical of every plot outline I've come up with. I'm to the point where even some of the plot twists I come up with seem cliched. (I.e. a plot with a fresh twist in itself is cliched!)
How should one find a balance between cliched plots and fresh twists in one's work?
I was also wondering if every author goes through this stage, where the fear of being cliched inhibits them from writing without a care in the world.
This may surprise you, but I recommend you stop being afraid of cliches, at least when it comes to plot.
The originality which readers crave and writers aspire to mostly results from the manner in which you express the ideas, themes, and plot twists in your writing. It's in the unique voice of your main character or your narrator.
It's true that many of us start out dreaming of being a creative genius who single-handedly discovers a new law of physics every fortnight. But you can't become a creative genius by trying. You become one by playing (which is why five-year-olds are far more creative than adults).
Surprisingly, few readers ever complain about a plot being unoriginal. In every romance, a woman finds her true love. In every murder mystery, the detective identifies the killer. Villains keep being defeated. Siblings keep having rivalries. Vampires keep drinking blood.
In the course of thousands of years of writing and what I expect are millions of stories the human race has created, the structural possibilities of story have been extensively explored. We have learned a lot about the principles that make up a good plot, just as musicians have learned what makes a good melody and painters have learned what makes good composition.
Today, if a writer wants to create a totally original plot, the only avenue that seems open is to abandon what has been learned about good plotting. This usually leads to a weak plot or no plot at all.
If you're writing literary fiction,
that might be all right. You can focus mainly on characterization and voice and create a story in which nothing happens apart from an exploration and resolution of the main character's inner conflict. But I would argue that the great stories wed characterization, voice, and inner conflict to a solid plot structure - and most often on plot twists that are as old as the hills.
You are absolutely correct that the fear of writing cliches inhibits creativity. Thinking you must find a totally original plot will torpedo your output faster than anything.
Here's what happens. You approach your desk wanting to write a story that is emotionally compelling. But every emotionally compelling plot twist you can think of seems like it's been done before (which it has). You know this because you've read widely.
So you reject the idea that excited you at first. And you keep rejecting ideas until rejecting becomes a habit and writing becomes torture. The fun is gone, and you find yourself paralyzed, unable to write anything for fear that it's not good enough.
If you want to create an original story, the best approach is to forget about originality and just have fun playing with ideas - no matter how cliched they are.
Don't believe me? Try this as an exercise:
Sit down and try to write the most unoriginal story outline possible. Throw in the most cliched plot twists you can think of. Spend at least an hour on it. Really have fun with the process. Then put it aside and look at it again after a few days.
At worst, you will find you have the makings of a terrific parody.
On the other hand, if you then take that plot and tweak it so it has a solid dramatic structure, and if you write the story honestly, from the perspective of a unique character, the result will seem like pure genius. It will be oozing with originality. Most readers will not even notice the cliches. And those that do will be amazed at how you managed to rework them into something so compelling.