by Sana Hameed, Blogger jaBlog!
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
As writers, we do our best to blacklist clichés.
We train ourselves to create mental checklists that eliminate characters who lack unique qualities or depth. We toss out stereotypical nerds, goofballs, and Mary Sues, weeding out the characters that just aren’t memorable or realistic.
But sometimes we forget that clichés can creep into other elements of our stories. They can exist in settings as well. Just as we must work to develop characters, we must concentrate on settings, but we tend to be less critical in that aspect typically.
As a native Texan, I’ve been able to spot several clichés portrayed in supposed realistic fiction books written by non-natives, which lavishly detail the landscape using clichéd descriptions reminiscent of the Old Western films. We, as Texans, don’t ride horses everywhere and we don’t suffer through year-round desert heat, wrangling cattle and jumping barbed wire fences in our free time.
The problem with these inaccurate and clichéd descriptors is that instead of captivating the reader, the piece is transformed from a realistic fiction into a period piece or fantasy. The inaccuracies alter the purpose of realistic fiction: to be realistic. In 2015, Texans maintain era-appropriate transportation and fashion sense so depicting the modern state as the eternal home of ten-gallon hats, tumbleweeds, and high noon shoot-outs can be distracting to readers who know otherwise.
Texas is only one example of the plethora of locations wronged by these outdated portrayals. Lack of research distracts readers and makes them question the author’s credibility and prowess. If you’ve never been somewhere but wish to write about it, be sure to get your facts straight before putting pen to paper. Interview a native or look up information to support what you describe in the story, if you cannot travel and see for yourself.
When writing realistic fiction, it is necessary that we explore the real world, rather than sticking to familiar concepts. We’ve all heard the line, “Write what you know,” but once you’ve mastered what you know, the logical next step is to delve into the unknown. It is important that we investigate new subject matter to challenge ourselves to go beyond clichés, so that we are able to write more effective and relatable stories.