Overuse of the Familiar
It can be difficult to decide how familiar to make aspects in your writing. Too many familiar elements and it becomes comical if not outright cliché. Linguistics can be carefully played to alter a root word in some way to draw up imagery just in it’s pronunciation. Mordor in Lord of the Rings draws it’s root from Murder linguistically. The sounds are similar enough to draw out imagery without being obvious to the average reader. One can argue that this is put to poor effect by other writers, but they still sell a fair number of books. The novel Eragon comes to mind. Change the E to a D and you can see just how little linguistic manipulation was involved.
Beyond this, there are also a huge number of plot lines that have been done so often that the reader doesn’t have to finish your book to know how it is going to end. Publishers and agents see these ideas cross their desk weekly if not daily. Short of an absolutely riveting query letter, your writing isn’t going to make it out of the slush pile that way. That isn’t to say you can’t make a cliché idea unique and new, but rather that it is very hard to get someone to read over it in the first place when something is just too familiar.
Don’t write your fantasy novel about a race of short people who join forces with elves, dwarves and humans at the guidance of a wizard to destroy a magic ring. I don’t care how unique you make the details, the story itself is just too familiar to be taken as anything but a cheap rip-off. Don’t name all of your characters after existing fictional characters. Don’t make every race a cookie cutter from every other novel. If you are making aliens, unless it is pivotal to the plot, they shouldn’t be tiny gray men with big heads and giant eyes. If the eyes of your readers start to roll at names and descriptions, they will soon leave your pages entirely and likely never return.
Next Wednesday will be part three of this series on finding the balance in your fiction. I will be focusing on the other side of the coin; overly alien aspects that lose connection for the reader’s point of reference.