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Angel’s Bits: The Generic Story


How many times has this happened to you? You read a book, watch a movie, catch something on the Hallmark channel and think, “I’ve read this before. I know this story.” You go off to search and find that, no, you really haven’t. Still, the feeling of story deja vu persists.

You’ve just been sideswiped by a generic story.

When we talk about tropes, we’re really talking about the essential building blocks of a story, the components a writer uses as construction materials. But there has to be more to the story, of course. Characterization, author voice, unique or surprising plot turns. Something. Otherwise, the tropes fall flat and become cliches. Generic.

What if Captain Malcolm Reynolds had always done the absolute right and herioc thing? What if Luke Skywalker had learned about the force and suddenly became this Super Special Powerful character? Boring, right? Yeah.

A lot of avoiding the generic has to do with the character as person. You can tell an author who understands their characters, who knows how they would react in any given situation from life-threatening to grocery shopping. Knows if their mom put notes in their school lunches. Knows whether or not they’ll eat kale.

But author voice is vital as well – how the story is told and how language is used. Is this an author who has a way of painting a scene? A way with odd and striking metaphor? A gift for the atmospheric? A certain rhythm to sentence, paragraph and scene? All part of author voice.

It’s a tricky balancing act. Authors know that there are no original stories. It’s all been done before. But it’s the author’s job to tell the old stories in their own way, in a new way.

What do you all like to see that saves a story from the pit of generic-ness?

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