23,000 words on my current WIP. I wish I was farther, but I’m happy with the way it’s going. I’m guessing the whole thing will be between 40 and 50k, so about half way there!

A couple weeks ago I was lucky to have dinner with Christopher Robbins, CEO of Gibbs-Smith Publishing. Okay, so he’s my uncle. And the dinner included his wife and nine children and my husband and three children, plus their giant dog and six snakes, but whatever. Take advantage I say. He looked over the first few chapters of my WIP and gave me some great feedback. He publishes mostly non-fiction, but it was valuable to get the feedback from someone who evaluates books all day long and really knows the publishing business.

Since I write fantasy, one of the conversations we had was about certain elements in my work. You know, magic and all that. He told me that it’s important to know and understand the way these elements work in other books. For instance, in my current WIP names are significant. Well, he wanted to know if I had researched the rules of that. How has the power of names played a role in other books and works of literature?

“Well I don’t want to be cliche,” I said. Because that’s something I really work hard to avoid.
“Yeah, but there’s a difference between cliches and…and…”
“Yes, exactly. Very good.”
(Glowing with literary pride.)

And so we discussed the difference between cliches and tropes, particularly those pertaining to fantasy. There are certain things that appear in nearly all fantasy. Often, there is an imbalance in the world and only one person who can set it right. The hero. That’s not cliche, that’s a trope. We see it again and again, and we know who will win. That’s not the point. We just want to know how.

We see good vs. evil, a dark lord, a quest, magical swords and rings, magicians, witches, wizards, elves, centaurs, gnomes, dwarfs, ancient worlds and made up languages. These elements come up again and again in fantasy. They don’t have to be there, (truly most of these things are not in my book and I think it’s working out pretty well,) but neither do you have to disregard the ideas simply because they have been used over and over. What makes a book cliche is not repeating elements, but rather the way they are used. Now that’s the tricky part. Try taking something that’s been used a gazillion times and make it new and exciting all over again.

Do you see what I have to work against? So I thank Mr. Robbins for the clarification, but I am still fighting against cliches.


  1. Great post, Liesl. That’s something I’ve never really thought about, the difference between cliches and tropes. It’s a tricky line to walk.

    • ali

    • October 23, 2010

    • 7:15 pm

    Totally! It’s that whole “give me the same thing, but different” thing. Yeah. That’s an uphill battle! But when we get it right? Ahhh … sweet, sweet victory! (I’ve got the Spongebob song going through my head courtesy of my children–it was bound to find its way into a comment eventually! You’re the lucky winner!)

  2. I love your point here- As a writer of both romance and fantasy, this is something I struggle to explain to people who don’t read these genres. You summed it up so perfectly. Hope your family is feeling better!

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