Minor Characters

Recently, in the circles that I’m in, more and more people are asking what to do about minor characters. They want to flush them out, give them their own backstory, their own story, understand their background, and everything that makes them tick, but should they do that? How much attention should we give our minor characters? To address this, let’s look at real life.

There are people you encounter every day that you know nothing about. You go to the gas station, fuel up, go inside to get a snack, and the only words exchanged between you and the cashier are:

“Hello, how are you today?”

“I’m great, thanks.”

“Your total will be $5.98.” A pause as the cashier accepts the cash from you, and then she smiles at you and hands you your purchased item. “Thank you, and have a great day.”

“Thanks. You too.” And you leave.

Now, you know nothing about that girl. You don’t know how old she is, if she’s in high school or college, if she’s married or single or has any kids. You don’t know what her talents are, her skills are, or her dreams. You know absolutely nothing, but you’re okay with that. Why? Because you have someplace to be, and getting stuck in a conversation may distract you from what you have to do.

So having characters you know nothing about is fine in a story. Now, another instance of minor characters would be those people you run into on occasion. You’ve seen them enough times you might know their names and greet them. For instance, my mother and I used to go to the park and walk every morning, and at the same time there was this older couple also walking the trail. Their names were Vic and Sid. We knew nothing more of each other except for our names, and we’d greet each other warmly each time we saw one another:

“Hey! How are you? Been a while since we’ve seen you.”

“Yeah, been busy—family stuff, but it’s nice to be back.”

“It’s great to see you again.”

“You too.” And we’d just keep walking, minding our own business.

Another way we may encounter minor characters in real life may be those people we see on a regular basis and may or may not recall the person’s name, but we have a fair idea of what their personality is like and maybe even their dreams. However, they like to talk with you at the most inopportune times, and you never really want to get too drawn into a conversation. An example of this is a cashier at Wal-Mart who has checked out your items on a regular basis. You can’t recall her name, so you have to keep looking at her tag, which reads ‘Jenny’. She remembers you though even if she doesn’t recall your name. You’re the person who’s published a book. In her eyes, you’re famous, and she likes talking with you in a loud voice. She tries to be nonchalant about your accomplishments, and every time she sees you, she tells you about her plans of making a movie. You encourage her, but really, standing in line at the cashier in Wal-Mart is not the best place for this conversation since there are other people in line waiting for their items to be checked through. However, you never see her outside of Wal-Mart, and every time you talk with her, she keeps saying the same thing, and it’s like she never takes any steps toward fulfilling her dreams. You don’t really have time to invest in this person, but you try to be nice.

Now all these are minor characters you may meet in real life. In stories, your characters will encounter similar characters, and you don’t have to flush them out thoroughly. Giving them a personality is always good, and sometimes minor characters will surprise you by actually contributing majorly to the story in ways you never expected, and that’s all right.

The main thing to keep in mind is, “Is this minor character important to the story? Does this character contribute to the story? Do they contribute in a small way or in a big way?” If it’s a small way, you don’t have to develop them too much. Yes, you as the author might know their entire life story and all their hopes and dreams, but that might not be important to the story you’re writing. It’d be very confusing if you have a story about someone who’s on the run from the law, and he checks into this motel where there’s this guy behind the counter who’s dream is to become a cowboy, and suddenly the story shifts to trying to let him accomplish his dream. Sure, there are ways of making the work, but what about the guy who’s on the run?

You’re not obligated it give every character major screen time. In someone else’s life, you are a minor character, someone who they merely passed by on the sidewalk. Yes, you have a lot of depth, huge dreams, and your own bag of troubles, but to that individual whose life you don’t impact, you’re just another face, and that’s okay.

So, when you’re writing a story, if you don’t know how much you should develop a minor character, look at the story, ask how important the character is to the story and how much they contribute to it. Go ahead and give them some personality or quirk to make them memorable to the reader, but then move on. You could have a memorable minor character, and this could be someone that you decide to come back to later and write his own story, but for the time being, don’t overwhelm your book with too many characters.

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Creating Distinct Characters

When you write, sometimes you worry about have your characters sounding too similar. Our characters are our babies. We want them to be perfect. We want them to be equally awesome, but if we make one character different, then that could cause an imbalance.

This is our subconsciousness speaking, and part of this is because we may have unknowingly based the characters off of us, and you can read about that in my blog discussing Author-Based Characters. However, right now, I want to how to make characters different from one another.

We need to let the characters become real. How do we do that? Well, you’re going to have to have a sit down chat with them to figure out most of this, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • A moral standard (or a complete lack of moral standards).
  • Give them something they’d disapprove of or absolutely won’t do. One character may be fine with killing, but another character may have a real conscience against this, and there they are unique.
  • Relationships/history with other characters
    • One character may be perfectly quiet all the time, but they come across this one specific character, and that quiet character suddenly explodes and becomes irrational and completely different than usual. All the other characters may be complete strangers to this new character except for that one, and that makes things different.
  • Is the character a loud person or quiet?
    • Loud and confident?
    • Quiet and confident?
    • Quiet and insecure?
  • Positive person or negative person?
  • Secrets? Regrets?

Of course, there are more things you can answer as to determine why they’ll act the way they do—full questionnaires based on this—but what you really want is their distinct voice in your head. You want to know how exactly they act.

Do they walk quietly into a room, observe everything and slip into the shadows? Or do they saunter in as if they’re in absolute control and love being the center of attention? When they’re angered, do they raise their voice and begin to shout, or do they become deadly silent? Are they sarcastic? Or do they take things literally?

Now, let’s say you have two characters you worry sound like each other. Here are a few things to consider: are they related? Are they best friends? Did they grow up together? If yes, then it’s okay for them to sound similar although they will encounter similar situations and respond completely different because they’re different people. At times they may say the exact same thing at the exact same time, and this will cause people to pause and look at them then shake their heads and carry on. Other times, one character may say something that sounds like another character, and whomever he’s talking to can point out the similarities, “And here I thought I left Nagging Martha behind!” “Well, I’m her sister, what did you expect?”

If you’re writing separate stories, but you’re worried your main characters are sounding familiar, try giving the new character unique qualities that the other one lacks. Or change gender from male to female. But if you really want to see the differences for yourself between those two characters, write out a random scene where those two characters meet. See how they interact with one another, what they think of each other. You may discover differences you hadn’t realized before.

However, if none of this is working for you, and you’re still struggling with making your characters distinct from each other, go to your favorite TV shows and favorite films. Watch your favorite characters from there. Don’t steal characters outright, but rather borrow certain qualities from different characters to create your own unique character. For instance, take Jack Sparrow’s drunkard, flamboyant behavior, and add the lie-detector abilities of Cal Lightman from the TV Show ‘Lie To Me’. That would be one very interesting character. “I’m sorry, I’m sober at the moment. I can’t tell if the person is lying or telling the truth. Ask me again after a few drinks. Where’s the rum??”

These are merely some suggestions as to how to think creatively when developing your characters. Remember, they’re flawed—not perfect, but that’s what makes them unique and more relatable.

Writing a Battle Scene: Important Details to Know

There are a few things you need to know before you begin writing a battle scene. They are the follow:

  1. The character you will follow into battle.
  2. The location of the battle.
  3. The purpose of the battle.
  4. Step-by-step how the battle should unfold.

First, you need to know which character the reader will follow into the battle. This is important because it will determine the feel of the scene. For instance, if your character is a mere foot soldier, he’s not going to have the overarching view as someone like a general or the king. If you’re writing from a king’s POV (point of view), the king may not enter the battle immediately but survey the situation. He’ll send in skirmishes but hold back the rest of the army to see what his enemy will do. One little tactical mistake may be all he needs to defeat his enemy without too much loss of life. You can stick with one character throughout the entire scene or have a select few whom you bounce around to show the bigger picture. It depends on your writing style.

Another cruical fact you must know is the location of the battle. Once I read a story, and it opened with a battle, but it never showed the landscape. I had no idea where we were! Fighting on a plain is different than fighting in a forest or on a beach or just outside a city. If all those elements are there, and the fight is going to pass through those areas, it is important to have a character survey the battlefield before the actual battle. Do it before the fighting begins because when the fighting breaks out, everything will be too chaotic to pause for a moment and take in the surroundings.

So you know the characters and the location. Now, as always, you must know the purpose of this battle. It isn’t simply ‘who’s going to win and who’s going to lose,’ but rather who will die? Who will be injured (and how)? Will someone save a rival and thus cause them to come to an understanding? Will someone see something that will completely change their life? So you see, it’s not merely the fighting that is important, but little things throughout the battle that can have a major impact.

Now you have all the basics, and the task of this battle scene looks daunting, but take your time. Plot out step-by-step how it will unfold. It may be chaotic, but keep the rhythm going. When armies collide, keep this in mind: an army is not simply a mass of people. It is organized, and each part serves a function. Most people are tempted to write both armies charging at each other and hope for the best, but that is an novice way of handling the situation. Take your time. Some of the characters might not be in their intended position at the start of the fight, and you need to find a way to put them into proper position for whatever momentous encounter they will face on the battlefield.

Once everything is in position, no need to rush headlong into battle. That is the temptation yes, but you need to keep a clear head because the characters are about to be thrown into a whirlwind of chaos. You need to know what you’re doing—always keeping in mind the snapshots you’ve envisioned for this scene and the major points of the battle. Also, bear in mind that in the midst of this battle, some characters may die or live against your wishes, and you need accept that. You need to go with the flow.

Armies collide—full force. All the order—for the characters—is now nonexistent. Everyone is fighting for their lives. Throughout the battle, focus on those specific individuals you chose to follow into the fight to give the reader a wider view of what is happening. Make sure everything progresses. If all your character jump is doing is fighting left and right, that’s not very important; this is a battle. That kind of fighting is expected. If your character is fighting and gets injured, okay, that’s pivotal because it hinders his ability to defend himself. If your character is fighting and injures or kills an vital opponent, that’s something of significance for the story. If your character does something (by accident or on purpose) that unleashes a chain reaction that ultimately ends the battle, you will want to record that.

This is where it is important to know the points of the battle. What is the reason for it? As the author, you have the ability to be in the heat of the battle in one moment, but then in the next moment you’re above it from an omniscient point of view. This allows you to keep track of what is happening where on the battlefield, and if you see something is getting out of hand, you can send a character to intercept it.

There are many ways to write a battle. Imagine you’re playing a video game—how does the battle unfold? However, one paramount aspect to remember is that each soldier in battle is a person. They have their fears, issues, hopes, and dreams. In the chaos of battle, adrenaline kicks in, and it’s just about survival. But then something unexpected might happen to a character and stops him in his tracks. Suddenly, he’s not just part of the senseless chaos. In the midst of everything going on—canons blowing up on his left, arrows whizzing by his head, his best friend cut down right in front of him, his commanding officer shouting at him—despite all of this, he is completely and utterly alone with a decision in front of him. Depending on the person he is or the development of character he undertakes, he will respond one way or another, and that is an crucial moment to record in the battle.

Can you just write a battle of two armies colliding and be done with it? Sure—if that’s what you want. However, if you want the battle to mean something, and if you want your reader to walk away satisfied with how the battle unfolded, then don’t rush it. Plot out the battle, be patient, and take it one step at a time. You’ll be rewarded with moments when you can speed things up for brief spectacular moments, but then you need to slow down for those more quiet but epic moments.

This takes patience and a lot of practice. One crucial thing to keep in mind when you are writing anything (or really doing anything in life): never say you can’t do it. You might not know how to do it, but reading up on things like this and simply trying will get you further than you might expect. Your imagination is more powerful than you realize. Don’t rush it. You will make mistakes. Your work won’t be perfect the first numerous times you try, but practice makes perfect, and practice takes patience.

Writing a Battle Scene: The Basics

Battles and war have existed throughout all the age—from Biblical times, to Greek and Roman times, to medieval times, through the Renaissance, to the Revolutionary War and Civil War in America, both World Wars, and so on and so forth to the present day. Wars have been fought with stones and strikes, swords and bows, and guns, jets, and tanks. Most of my stories and the battles I write are set in medieval times, so that will be the example I will use.

Before we get too far into this topic, let me set one thing straight that I’ve noticed time and time again in books and movies. The protagonist announces, “We’re going to war!” and then all the characters get geared up and head out. You have one battle, and then the war is over. That’s unrealistic. That wasn’t a ‘war’—it was a ‘battle’. The difference between war and battles is that a war contains multiple battles, and a battle is merely a huge fight.

I know it’s more awesome for the antagonist to announce, “This means war!” than to say “This means battle!”, and there is little you can do to get around it. I’m not saying your character shouldn’t make that declaration. Just recognize the difference between a war and a battle. Someone can declare war and utterly fail in the first battle, but that wasn’t a war—it was just a battle; they simply overestimated their strength.

A war can span an entire book series. In my books ‘The Last King of Legends’, the events take place during one huge war, and the war doesn’t even end with the end of the series because it spans generations.

However, say you don’t want to write too many battle scenes because each one requires so much thought, time, and energy, so what do you do? Summarize. Yes, I’m giving you permission to ‘tell’, but do your very best to show the passage of time and the progression of the war as each battle nears the final decisive one, and then you can put all your energy into that scene.

Now, let’s get to the basics facts of medieval warfare. For the most part there is no military ranking as we know it with generals, privates, lieutenants, etc. Each lord and baron has a number of knights. When the call to war comes, he will gather his knights and meet the rest of the army. This baron is captain of his own knights but must carry out the king’s commands.

Above all the captains but below the king is the constable. During non-war times, this man sees to the training of the men of the kingdom, checks the borders of the kingdom, and he is the representative of the army in the king’s court. If the king is killed, the army will automatically look to the constable for command until the next king has been chosen.

An army is made up of several sorts of warriors. It may differ according to the landscape of the battle and the decree of the king, but this is one example. In the front line are the foot soldiers carrying tall shields. They carry short swords with them. Immediately behind them are soldiers with huge lances. When the shieldbearers halt and take up position, these soldiers then stand between each shield and stab their lances into the ground pointing over the shield, so if the enemy’s cavalry came charging through, the lances with stab the horses or the riders. But this is the first line of defense which may or may not be used depending on the command of the king and his strategy for the battle.

Behind these lance carriers would be the cavalry. These mounted warriors are trained in various weapons—sword, ax, hammer, or any choice of weapon. They are a powerful force and can easily take the front line, but usually a king will wait to see how the front line holds and the strength of their enemy before using his specialized soldiers.

Now behind the cavalry is a mass of soldiers. They may be knights organized under their captain, but most of the time they are commoners with farming tools as their weapons (don’t underestimate the ability of a sickle swung by a warrior in the midst of a battle). These commoners would have gathered under a baron (perhaps a poorer baron who has few or no knights at all) to answer the king’s call to war. Some may be there for the glory of war while others are just trying to defend their homes.

Behind all of them, often at a strategically placed position, will be the archers. Usually they’re someplace with good vantage point and can attack from afar. They don’t have engage in actual battle unless the fight turns against them. If that happens, and the fighting gets too close for them to have time to shoot, they won’t bother shooting, but instead they will use their arrows as small spears and stab the opponents. You can also have archers on horseback, and those are expert horsemen and marksmen.

So this is the basic structure of a medieval army. It is not always set up like this, but recognize an army is actually made up of smaller part. When you realize this, it easier to manipulate outcome of the battle.

Of course, a battle is more involved than what I just described. You have characters you love and hate and a whirlwind of emotions to take into consideration. Also, the battle will have major effects on the rest of the story. An important character or three may die or become seriously injured. The enemy (or even the hero) is defeated—or at least pushed back. Some things may have happened that you hadn’t planned, but for the most part, everything should have gone according to plan.

Now two things to keep in mind when approaching a battle:

  1. Communication is almost always lacking or at least delayed. Use this to your advantage.
  2. The initial attacks may be skirmishes rather than full engagement of both armies. This is a way for the commanders of both armies may determine the strength of their opponent. Also, a small mistake in a skirmish can lead to the defeat of the enemy. This isn’t always the case, but things do happen.

In next week’s post, I will go into more detail explaining the two points above and much more. This post merely covers the basic elements of a battle you should keep in mind when writing such scenes. 

How to Approach a Fight Scene

I have trained many years in Martial Arts. My experience has taught me the basic elements of a fight, and more precisely how to be aware of my surroundings and therefore how avoid the confrontation, deflate the situation so there is no confrontation, or not be surprised when attacked or thrown into the middle of a fight.

Being aware of every single moment and movement in a tense situation is key to a fighter. Anything is possible, so they have to be ready for anything. Surprise is your enemy (unless you have the element of surprise on your side). Even if you are surprised, you don’t let the other person know that. You just start moving.

Movement is very important, and it is almost always constant. A lot of fights are two equals coming at each other punch for punch, kick for kick. With movement there is momentum. When someone punches, their body is moving one direction. Now you can either stand there and get punched, or you can twist your torso, watch his fist fly past you, then you grab his arm, twist it behind his back, slam your heel into the back of his knee thus forcing him to the ground. Keep his arm locked behind his back, putting pressure on the elbow, and you’ve got a pretty good handle on him because he won’t be able to move.

However, there are very strong people who can get out of such a grip—or they don’t care about pain and dislocating their shoulder—so with this kind of person you need to wear him down. He’s going to come flying at you with everything he has, but if you keep dodging, he’ll wear himself out, and this creates an opening for you. Since you haven’t used all your energy, now you can strike.

What I just described was a basic fight and the mindset of a mature fighter who has nothing to prove. People who are trained fighters and warriors on the field are least likely to pick a fight—mainly because it is unfair to everyone else. They know what they can do, they are confident in it, they don’t worry about it, but they will fight if they have to defend someone they love or are duty bound to protect, and when that happens, you better know how to defend yourself too or else you’re just going to get pounded.

Sure, TV and movies show guys fighting all the time—whether they are trained or not. It depends entirely on that character’s personality. If he feels he has something to prove or is insecure in any way, he will fight to make himself appear bigger and stronger than everyone else. The problem is when you have a lot of insecure people in the same group because, you’ll have a mess.

So when you sit down to write a fight scene, you must already know your character because that will determine how they fight. No one ever gets up one day and says, “Hey, I’m gonna fight today!” Well, I suppose someone could, but then he’ll have to decide whether or not he’ll get training before he fights, but more importantly he’ll have to decide why he wants to fight.

Once you know the ‘why’ for a fight and ‘how’ both characters fight, you need to determine ‘where’ the fight will take place. Will it be in a bedroom, in a hallway, the kitchen, the parking garage, in the middle of the shopping center, or in a forest?

Use the surroundings to your advantage. Jackie Chan is a master at this in his movies, and he uses anything as a weapon or a shield. Take your cue from him and imagine the setting and the little details. Stools are always great to break over someone’s head—so are wine and beer bottles. Throwing someone into a glass front disorients them, and big shards of glass automatically become a possible weapon. Pillars are great to slam someone against, hold someone against while choking them, or to be standing with your back toward and then ducking at the last possible second as the antagonist moves to punch you only to punch the steel pillar instead.

Another important detail to know is ‘when’ it’ll take place because if the place is a public place like the shopping center, it will help determine the elements of the setting. For instance, more people would be out and about at lunch time leading to a more crowded environment for the fight rather than how empty the place would be at night.

So you need to know the following:

  1. Who is involved in the fight
  1. How your characters fight
  1. Why your characters are fighting
  1. Where the fight takes place
  1. When it takes place

Now you know your characters and those details. Next week’s post we’ll discuss how to write the actual fight scene.

The Author’s Obligation to the Reader

I texted a friend once asking her if she had ever read a book where there was a good scene but it could have been written so much better. Within a minute she texted back, “Chariot scene in Ben Hur.” I was surprised by her response on two levels: 1) she responded so quickly and didn’t need time to think, and 2) she had a scene in mind and didn’t require any clarification. No hesitation. No uncertainty. She had been looking forward to that scene since she began reading the book, and she had high hopes for its potential, but it disappointed her. 

I realized writers have an unwritten contract with the readers. As soon as the first word is put on the page you are promising two things: to complete the story and to use all the elements you bring into the story to make the tale memorable.

Having the story completed is always a given. If it’s published and in your hands, it has to be finished, but how many unfinished documents do you have in your computer? I know in my computer I have two main files—Finished and Unfinished, and the Unfinished is a lot larger than the Finished file. You may come up with a new story idea and write it until you get stick. As long as no one else sees it, that’s all right. You have no obligation to the reader. Your obligation to the characters and the story itself depends on your belief in them.

Now the second point was my surprise that my friend had a scene in mind and knew exactly what I was talking about. Imagine you’re baking in the kitchen. You have the following ingredients:

flour (a solid character)

eggs (the plot)

butter (great scenes)

sugar (witty, good-humored dialogue)

cocoa (dark twist)

baking soda (climax builder)

salt (truths come out)

water (everything’s resolved)

and as well as your mixing bowls and spoons. Separately they stand alone and have different purposes, but to make a chocolate cake, you have to measure each one specifically and stir the mixture. You can’t just say, “Let’s do a cup of salt!” and you also can’t just throw all the right measured ingredients into the bowl without stirring it and say it’s a cake.

When you write the first word on the page, you’re promising the reader, “I swear to deliver this story as clearly and accurately as humanly possible. Every element I include will be mastered. The climax will not disappoint. The results will be satisfactory, and the story will be memorable.”

Writing without studying and practicing different kinds of scenes and mastering different elements is like signing up for a marathon when you’ve never trained a single day in your life. You might survive, but it won’t be pretty, and you’ll probably never do that again.

So, when you sit down to write a story but especially a novel, be ready to deliver. “What if the scene I’m writing is boring or difficult? Can I skip it?” Some people do, but I don’t recommend it. There’s a reason why it’s boring or difficult. As the author of the story, it is your duty to look at the chapter and determine why it’s dull and unexciting. If you’re bored by it, your readers will be bored by it as well, and when they’re unamused, they put down the book and never finish it. You don’t want that to happen.

Why is the scene boring? How can you make it more interesting? It might be a scene where two characters are discussing a detrimental consequence of an action, and there’s nothing you can do to make the scene more exciting—except maybe add a flare of personality in the characters, or add a third character who doesn’t get along with one or both of those other two and has a wicked sense of humor or doesn’t understand the seriousness of the talk. Little things like that can make a boring scene pass quicker and be more entertaining.

Now, if a chapter is difficult to write, it could be because it is emotionally trying, or it could be because you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. You know what needs to happen, but you’re not sure how it’s supposed to happen, or you might lack confidence in writing that specific type of scene. If it’s emotionally trying, that is good. All that emotion you’re struggling with is rich, so channel it into your writing. Don’t be afraid of feeling, don’t be afraid of your struggle. People relate to emotions, and when they sense the emotions are authentic, it will touch them, and you want that. Take it one step at a time though. Don’t push yourself, but simply allow yourself to feel, and write it.

However, if you’re struggling because you have no idea what you’re doing (with a fight scene, for instance), then you need to pause and reconsider what exactly you are doing and how it’s important to the story. With the first draft, you may wing it for the sake of writing it and moving on with the story, but don’t be satisfied with this when you come back to it during the revision process. Take time to study your problem. Come to understand where exactly the problem lies. If it’s a fight scene, it could be because you don’t know how fights really work. If it’s a battle scene, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the chaos that you don’t know how to cover it. Come to acknowledge the root of the problem. There is no shame in that. Next step, do research, ask fellow writers for help, read books with similar scenes and study how those authors handled the scenes.

Remember, you have an obligation to deliver the story to the fullness of your ability. Don’t think, “Oh, they won’t care,” or “They won’t notice,” because you will be wrong, and your story will be a disappointment. Writing is a craft. You must master it if you truly wish for your story to be memorable or an epic escape.

Be Original

What to write? Sometimes we are so full of ideas that we have absolutely no idea what to write. They’re all stray ideas which don’t fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and this is frustrating! So you finally take one idea and try to wring it for all its worth. Now, you can come up with a good story like this, but here is something to keep in mind when you’re trying to craft a story with stray pieces of an idea:

  1. Is the main idea or the way the story unfolds cliché?
  2. If yes, how can you make it different?

Surprisingly, a lot of stories (films, shows, and books) ignore how unoriginal their story is almost as if hoping no one will notice, or at the very least we’re not tired of the same old storyline. Should we, as writers, settle for this? No—not if we can think for a moment longer on the plot and create a unique twist on an old element.

For instance, there is a new TV show that’s going to start up sometime next month called ‘Galavant’. It looks absolutely cheesy, full of clichés, completely predictable, but hilarious at the same time. It starts off as your typical king-steals-man’s-woman-to-marry-her-and-man-goes-to-rescue-her plot, but in the trailer there is this little twist that made me laugh because it’s about time someone did it!

Galavant: (in front of the king’s court on the day of the king’s wedding)“You can offer her great fame. You can offer her great fortune, but only I can offer her great love, and that is what she chooses.”

Woman: “Actually…I’m going to go with the fame and fortune.”

Galvant’s face drops with disbelief.

Sure, it’s not much, but it’s taking a cliché and bashing it against the rocks. I don’t know how the show will play out, but this is a simple example of taking something old and making it new again. There are a lot of parody and satire skits that do just this, and it’s what makes them funny, but you can make something new again without always being humorous. It can still have the dark, dramatic atmosphere if that is what you want your story to have.

When you’re thinking of what to write, don’t rely on the charm and wit of your characters or the vast vividness of your settings or the complex systems and worlds and creatures you’ve created to enchant your readers. If the basic plot is ‘good guy fights bad guy and good guy wins and gets the girl’, or ‘hero discovers they’re the savior of the city/kingdom/world/galaxy/universe and must fight all evil but first must train and eventually defeats the villain’, this is predictable. You might write it well and completely draw in many readers, but aren’t you the least bit curious how much better it could have been if you had just taken a moment to make it different? Take the seed of your idea and contemplate it deeply. What will make it stand out in a crowd? What will make it so unique?

I once co-wrote a story, and the basic principle was this: peasant girl discovers she has inherited an entire kingdom after her father died, and now she must learn the cultures of royalty at the hand of a prince from a neighboring land. Initially, it appears to be the same old story where a commoner suddenly rises to power, and you may predict, “Well, she’s obviously going to fall in love with the prince, and they’ll live happily ever after.” But that is far from what happens. She falls in love with someone else only to be rejected by him, and at that time the kingdom has been attacked. She has no time to entertain love but rather focuses on the defense of her kingdom, and as such she morphs into a true queen, and things get much more complicated from there. The story doesn’t have a happy ending either, and it goes on to have a much darker sequel. This is just an example.

So, when you’re contemplating your next story, think it through, imagine how it will unfold, and if you run across the usual cliché, then do the opposite of what’s expected (or at least something different). Don’t settle for the routine but venture to be distinct. If you want to stand out in the crowd, don’t run with the crowd.