Just plug yourself into this sinister dark lord: the power of cliches


Lately, this map of Clichéa has been making the rounds of the internet, and getting a lot of laughs. Nervous laughs, sometimes. When you’re making up a shitload of place names while trying not to repeat yourself from previous work and trying not to mimic names in the real world, stuff like “Riverbridge” starts to look pretty god. There’s a river, right? And a bridge? Fine, okay? Fine. On with the plot.

In some places on the web, it’s common to make fun of older authors who “reveal” that all of their previous works have in fact always been part of the same setting, but I suspect these elderly writers are just fucking sick of making up new names. They’ve got Gothmor. Gothmor works. Let’s just stick with Gothmor.

Of course, my first instinct was to flip the names of all those places: Gothless, The Bright Wood, Mt. Birth, Elvenshop (“The elves invite all to their most wondrous bazaar, but when the sun sets and the stalls are closed, no living soul can say what mysterious home they vanish to.”)

To me, that’s fun. Not fun enough to devote two years of diminishing life to it, but still.

However, over on reddit, commenters began describing the ultra cliche story that would go with that map, and the more I read the more I realized they were describing something that could be a blockbuster bestseller. In fact, as more people jumped in with their ideas, other commenters started to call out for someone to write the book, so they could have an old fashioned comfort read to mix in with all the modern grimdark and whatever.

And I could see their point. Honestly, it was sort of compelling to see all those story ideas strung together that way.

Not that I could write it; the urge to invert stuff is strong with me, and from what I can see, unless your very careful, the effect of flipping/subverting cliches is to strip them of what makes them appealing while leaving them in the story. I’ve read books by authors who bragged about subverting tropes, and it seemed that what they achieved was a flat spot in the story.

However, exaggerating a bunch of cliches almost to the point of parody can be very popular. Jo Walton’s Farthing received praise from mystery fans for the complexity of the crime, although Walton herself said she’d deliberately made the mystery complex to the point of absurdity. Many lists of greatest Star Trek movies have Galaxy Quest right near the top, and Deadpool is more popular than Deathstroke will ever be.

There’s a power to parody (even the kind that comes from love) that will never match a loving homage. Look at the creation of Blue Devil.

Anyway, it’s interesting to see just how compelling these old ideas can be, even for a guy like me, who loves and writes fantasy but mostly reads crime fiction.