The List(s) That Almost Broke Me And Why I’m Not Giving Up

Some of you read my last blog about writing my novel and would have seen the part about an article I read that listed a “Grand List of Fantasy Cliches”. This is the list that almost broke me. That list brought me right to the edge of the water and dared me to throw my novel in. (You would have also seen that at point I did delete my novel.) I am not a very confident person and I happen to have a great deal of anxiety. Even the thought of sitting down to blog about anything REAL and TRUE gives me butterflies in my stomach.

It’s easy for me to blog about things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Or things that don’t involve delving down into hard hitting subject or into the deepest caverns of my heart. I had a blog completely dedicated to the nerdier things in life. I wrote little tidbits about articles I saw about my favorite Sci-Fi shows. I posted funny links to videos. One of my blogs about the Series Finale of Eureka was actually featured on their homepage. I wrote a couple blogs about things I actually “cared about”. One piece was on cheerleading and how it truly is a sport. Another was about how I find the show Teen Mom to be absolutely horrible. My point is, none of these blogs really meant anything. It didn’t take any talent to write them. It didn’t matter to me that anyone was reading them or liking them. It was just a way to kill time.

I started this blog as a way to get my voice out there again. With so many things happening in our world that I had an opinion on, I wanted an outlet to voice my feelings. For far too long I had silenced my own voice. I had even quit working on my novel. The closest I got to writing was status updates or stupid (and horribly addictive) hashtag games on Twitter. (Yeah yeah yeah, go ahead and judge me. They are hilarious.) So I started writing again and got a pretty positive response from those closest to me. It seems people actually enjoy what I write. They enjoy hearing my words. Those who agreed with me found comfort and those who disagreed with me still saw my bravery for just laying it all out there. This coming from the people who have known me the longest, know that I’ve been a mousy doormat for a large portion of my life.

I had considered writing my novel under a pen name. That’s the easiest way to hide from criticism. Or maybe just to hide from the people who actually know me in life. But would I actually be able to hide? No, not really. As soon as it was released on Amazon or whatever, I’d be reading through any reviews that might be left, just waiting for someone to say something horrible. Or would it be worse if no one left any feedback at all? If my novel that I have invested so much of myself just fell into the darkness… But at least, writing under a pen name would mean no one that mattered would even know that I had my novel flop. But then I remembered my dream, to have my name on the by line of a full length novel. I wanted to be able to hold MY book in my hands, run my finger over MY name on the by line, and flip through the pages of MY world.

I ultimately gave up my pen name and decided IF “the book” was ever going to see the light of day it would be under my name. Which of course meant, the pressure was on. It was shortly after deciding that I was going to publish under my name that I started doing even more research on the Fantasy genre. It’s what led me down the rabbit hole that began with “The Grand List”, and ended with the moment that almost broke me. It’s so easy for me to let my anxiety get the best of me. But it’s also become easier over the years to tell my anxiety to STFU. I can tell myself that I’m being irrational. I can tell my brain to quit trying to scare me, to quit trying to make me quit something that truly means so very much to me. But now…now I had a defined list of all the ways my book could fail. I was already having a hard time describing my story to others without it sounding like every other good guy/bad guy/magical mumbo jumbo out there.

Reading through the list I immediately found a handful of cliches that I had been loosely toying with in my own story.

  • A loyal servant who knows the true heir’s identity lives with him/her as a guardian/protector/teacher/etc
  • Fantasy societies based off of the Celts or Norsemen.
  • Elves, orcs, dwarves, trolls, dragons, unicorns and any other race that has appeared in Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Amazons/stoic women warriors.
  • Human/animal psychic bonds, especially with dogs/wolves/cats/horses/dragons/etc.

Those are just a few from the “Grand List”, which started me tumbling down a google marathon. An article titled “Ten Fantasy Cliches That Should Be Put To Rest” was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back. The first 3 (or 2 1/2) literally spelled out the first couple chapters of my book and a large part of the first book’s plot.

  • A prophecy or destiny
  • The orphan/chosen one
  • The wise old wizard

F***, I thought to myself (pardon the language but hey, it happens) Is my story just like everything else out there? I admit that I probably haven’t read enough in the genre to really get a feel for what has been overdone or how it has been done. I thought that somehow that gave me a leg up because then I would know that everything I was writing came from me.

I kept searching through the lists and came to the last one, “Everyone’s Most Hated Fantasy Fiction Cliches” This one went further in depth with the descriptions of each cliche and how it has been overdone or what “people hate about it”. It was just too much. What was the point of even trying when I was being set up for failure in a genre so massively overdone?

I never expected to be Tolkien. I know I will never be George R.R. Martin. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to be great. I want my novel to be good. I want it to be awesome. I want to take my readers on an adventure through the magical and fantastic world I have created. I want to make them feel. I want even just one person to not want to put my book down and when they finally finish it…I want them to mourn the ending of it, the way I know so many of us have felt after finishing our favorite books.

This was the drive that keeps me coming back to my book. This is the drive that made me stumble across the Mythic Scribes forums in hope of a little support. And I found the support I needed. In my last blog I talked about a certain author that gave me probably the best advice I could have gotten when I explained that I was intimidated to continue with my Fantasy novel. He said to me that pretty much every idea has been done. I really wanted to put the whole response here but it is much too long. Instead I will post this “little” bit of it..

You say you’re worried about repeating all the cliches, and that you feel all the good ideas are taken. This is true, to a degree. Practically everything has been done before. But that’s okay. Cliches are cliches partly because people consistently like them; they wouldn’t be cliches if no one read and loved the books they were in. In fact, stories with cliches in them aren’t consistently failures like you would expect, but often are well read and well loved. Almost every reader will forgive any cliche if they tell a good story.

Those that would hate you for writing something cliche are definitely a minority (if a vocal one) and definitely not worth listening to.

Ideas are nothing. They’re everywhere. They’re a dime a dozen. They grow on trees and rain from the sky. The difference between someone with a published book and an average person isn’t that the writer had good ideas and the average person didn’t. The average person might have had 20 times more ideas than the writer. The difference is that the person with the book plunked their butt in a chair, wrote, and didn’t stop.

Those authors with their names on the spines of books that seem so different, so much higher…they’re no different than you. They’re not more talented than you. The reason they’re published and most people aren’t is that they plunked their butts in a chair and wrote and didn’t stop, and most people didn’t.

You haven’t given up yet. You’re still trying. And you’re reaching out for help. That’s something. It may not feel like it, but i promise it is. 

When I finished reading it, I cried. His words hit home. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And it’s something I continually need to hear. So much so that I actually printed his response out and kept it near me so when I’m letting my anxiety get the best of me I can read through it and remember why I started my novel, what I want from it, and how I will stop at nothing to achieve my dreams.

I now look at those lists of cliches and think to myself, “sure that’s been done but has it been done by me?” My ideas are unique. The story I am telling is MY story. And I promise you I will give it my all. I will pour every last ounce of my being into it. And I hope some of you will be with me on the adventure.

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5 thoughts on “The List(s) That Almost Broke Me And Why I’m Not Giving Up

  1. Hey, Jessi! I came across your post through a pingback to one of the articles on Fantasy-Faction (I’m the new assistant editor there). I just wanted to say that I’m really glad to hear you haven’t given up!

    Articles like Eric’s are mostly subjective (and often written by readers rather than writers!), and often neglect to distinguish ‘cliches’ from ‘archetypes’. Splitting hairs, perhaps, but long story short: there’s a very good reason why fantasy authors such as Jordan, Tolkien, Rowling, Feist and the like STILL sit high up on bestseller lists. And that’s because readers LIKE the things they write about. Like your friend said, they wouldn’t have become ‘cliches’ if lots of people didn’t enjoy them!

    And it’s not the ‘cliches’ that are stale; it’s the way writers are employing them. Carbon copies or thinly-disguised ripoffs can show a lack of imagination, which will be reflected in flat characters, dull storytelling and average prose. But there’s a LOT of great fantasy out there that relies on traditional archetypes to create a relationship with its readers (a great example is Phil Tucker’s ‘Chronicles of the Black Gate’ series). Rather than writing off the entire genre and picking out negative examples, perhaps we need more lists that focus on examples of classic fantasy ‘cliches’ done right. (Hmm… that’s not a bad idea, actually…)

    Best of luck with the writing! 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and for the encouraging words! I also thing it would be great to see a list focusing on cliches done right. So many authors have taken cliches and added their own unique touches to it and it would be great and encouraging to see those detailed in an article. That would be fun to write!

      Liked by 1 person

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