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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Amnesia: cliche or interesting?

   
Author Topic: Amnesia: cliche or interesting?
MrsBrown
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My MC wakes up and looks around, wondering who he isÖ

Just kidding, heís already awake. But he is looking around, wondering where he is, why he hurts so badly, and what is his name, anyway?

I want to develop a story about a blank slate, a man who is suffering from amnesia and knows nothing about himself. I want him to fumble along with no connections, no money, and no idea of what his skills are. He will forge an identity for himself as he discovers what he is and is not capable of. When he discovers his real identity, it feels distant to him, and he doesnít like who he used to be. He has made choices that diverge significantly from his former life, but he finds that he must venture into this unfamiliar territory. He must form relationships with people he once knew, but he is a different person now.

Iíll stop now. Is this sounding too clichť? Iíve read a couple of series with this theme, but I like it so much that Iíd read another oneóso why not write it, or at least dream it up?

It turns out that my MC is a prince, and that he must discover which of his fatherís subjects attacked him and left him for dead. He realizes that his father is a bad king and that he wants something better for his country. --Are you yawning yet?

If you know of any fantasy books out there with a similar feel/theme, please let me know. Maybe Iíll just read it and get it out of my system, or maybe itíll inspire me to find my own approach.

Itís a bit challenging to develop this character when he starts out essentially undeveloped! And I have to invent his former self, too. Iím having fun thinking about him.

It's the form of amnesia where he forgets his past but retains his skills. I don't know whether any memories will surface; that will depend on the plot.


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Wolfe_boy
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Yep, it's a cliched storyline.

Specific examples? Can't come up with any off the top of my head. Sounds vaguely like Daenerys Targaryen's story, except with amnesia rather than a mysterious hidden past. More than a few video games follow this storyline somewhat as well - Jade Empire comes to mind.

I would suggest not starting specifically with "Dude awakens, where am I, wait, who am I?!?!" Ease us in a bit, do a little scene-setting and world-building before we get introduces to the crux of the situation. Or maybe have Mr. Forgetful be a non-POV character while still being a main character.

Whatever. Go ahead and do it. And more importantly, rock it.


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MAP
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I think this idea is still interesting. I like the themes of what makes us who we are and how are experiences have shaped us.

I was totally with you until you had him turn out to be the prince. I think that is a bit obvious. What about make us think he is the prince, but have him end up being one of the advisors that was involved in "getting rid" of the prince.

Sorry, sorry, I know it is your story. Write it how you want to. If the characters are compelling enough, it will work.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited February 18, 2010).]


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sholar
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Amber. Also, Bourne Identity.
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billawaboy
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Since it's considered "cliche-opening" you'll have to get readers/editors with style, amazing plot-turns, and a killer ending. All three.

I'll add Memento, Total Recall.


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Dropbear
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Sounds very similar to Lord Valentines Castle by Robert Silverberg.

[This message has been edited by Dropbear (edited February 18, 2010).]


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skadder
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All the Bourne movies...
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Rhaythe
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The first Resident Evil movie.

But yeah, cliched or not, crank it out and enjoy the hell out of it. Just because an idea is cliche doesn't mean you shouldn't try. At the very least, you'll learn something.


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Kitti
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OSC said cliches are just "overfamiliar and unearned" and argued you fix cliches by being more specific, more detailed, and putting in a twist (if you can). So no idea, however cliche, is doomed - you just need to find the interesting spin that makes it work.
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Robert Nowall
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Amnesia: television's favorite neurological disorder. Captain Kirk had it, the Skipper had it, Jeannie had it...it might be easier to think of who hasn't had it than who has...
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Nathaniel Merrin
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MrsBrown: [Other readers may wish to skip this comment.]

How long does it take hi/r to "come to" and realize who s/he is?

If it lasts, oh, approximately 12 hours or thereabouts -- with the realizing-who-s/he-is taking maybe about ten minutes AFTER waking up the next morning -- .I. could be your man for doing research. (Long story.)

The only way I come up with to describe the experience is one word. MUDDLED. Well, also: INTENSE CONCENTRATION. WORRY AND AGITATION ABOUT HAVING TO TRY SO HARD ----- JUST TO...REMEMBER. Facets of place, time, and my identity coming back to me as in a "flowing-in-of-a-tide" of conception. Events from the time while UNDER never return, of course. I must rely on others' descriptions of me during that period as though they were speaking about someone I did not even know.

And how others described me is as someone who is [or, WAS, but it was not really MY past they were speaking of, to my conception] making articulate arguments and expressing amazement at everything. For example, I had a black Fiat spyder convertible and was confused when told that I owned it, and was said to have expressed my surprise over and over, as others kept insisting it was mine. Someone elses drove it, and me, home.

I had suffered a concussion, or so it was said. However, there is that whole class of drugs that produces various states of stuporful waking-forgetfulness as well.

[This message has been edited by Nathaniel Merrin (edited February 18, 2010).]


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tchernabyelo
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As noted, it's probably more a cliche in visual media than books, but it'll still be hard to find a reader (let alone an editor) who hasn't come across the concept before. So you'll have to work extra hard in other areas to overcome the "we've seen this before" approach (Zelazny, for instance, did it in Amber through the brilliance of his prose and then the concepts that started trickling through, showing that the MC was somebody a long way from "normal").
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billawaboy
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quote:
Amnesia: television's favorite neurological disorder. Captain Kirk had it, the Skipper had it, Jeannie had it...it might be easier to think of who hasn't had it than who has...

Haha, Kirk! That reminds me of the Star Trek:TNG episode where the entire cast had amnesia and they eventually had to figure out the mystery. Come to think of it, they used the amnesia bit on TNG quite a few times...

oh, and let me add Jackie Chan's Who am I? (hehe)...

atleast once in every Disney/superhero/Sunday animated tv or comic i can think off...

You know, for a cliche, it's being used fairly regularly (that makes sense, i guess)

You know, some one should make a writing challenge out of this... (Ahem, Snapper. Ahem!)


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MAP
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Oh and this happened on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and there is that comedy Samatha Who.

ETA: There was a movie made in 1991 called Shattered. It was a really good movie; if you haven't seen it, you should.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited February 18, 2010).]


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micmcd
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It might help if you are very realistic in how amnesia actually works. For instance, blows to the head rarely cause it.

A layman's type "here's the schlock we're often fed about mental issues" can be found in humorous form on Cracked; the last item on the list is amnesia. More like Memento, less like Bourne, and you're along the right track.


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billawaboy
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Oh, just remembered Futurama had an episode of All My Curcuits which featured all the robot characters suffering round after round of "Explosive Amnesia",lol!

dang it, I'm gonna have pull out the DVD now and watch the episode...


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tnwilz
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Saying "I want to become a successful writer" is cliche anymore. I reckon it depends who you are writing for. Do you want respect from the critical or do you want to sell your work - because sometimes you can't achieve both. Obviously if you watch TV for more than five minutes you will see that nobody is letting the fact that things are cliche stop them. I think it's more about whether the story is compelling and well written. I try to avoid being too cliche but sometimes that's the best way forward and nothing else would work as well for the situation. If a story is good and is presented well, the editor will let you know about problem areas.
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tchernabyelo
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Writing for TV and writing fiction are significantly different and I would advise anyone to be very cautious about taking lessons from one into the other.
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Pyre Dynasty
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Paycheck, Philip K. Dick. (It was also a movie, I think Ben Laughtrack played the lead.)
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tnwilz
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That's a valid point and I didn't mean to suggest they are the same type of writing or the same markets, just that being cliche obviously isn't a deal breaker as far as the general public is concerned.
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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Writing for TV and writing fiction are significantly different and I would advise anyone to be very cautious about taking lessons from one into the other.


Of course they are very different, but this statement did catch my eye because I've often seen talk of how literary media especially short stories are in competition for peoples time with television and movies and even some suggestion that we should try to write in more of that vein or style for that very reason.

Of course I tend to view stories as stories regardless of medium. That being said however, I personally wouldn't want to try to do screenwriting...both the very format and the restrictions would, I believe, drive me insane(r)

I agree with tnwilz though I think generally "cliche" is much more of a percieved problem amongst us writers than something the regular public thinks much about.


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MAP
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quote:
I agree with tnwilz though I think generally "cliche" is much more of a percieved problem amongst us writers than something the regular public thinks much about.

I totally agree with this. There are certain "cliche" stories that I love to read or watch despite the fact that I know where it is going. Don't get me wrong, I love being surprised as well, but there is something...comforting, maybe, about reading familiar story lines that always seem to resonate with me.

I often wonder if most readers feel the same way.


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Merlion-Emrys
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I'm pretty sure they do. I mean as I've said so many times before, theres only so many plotlines anyway. And there are certain fundemental ones that interest people because they are so fundemental, basic and in many cases important.

Related to this maybe, a little, is the interesting tendency in Asian storytelling to often tell the same story from many different perspectives or in many ways and many versions. For instances, the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion and RahXephon are very similar in a lot of ways and at once very different. And now they are doing an Evangelion rebuild as well, that is different and yet still more or less the same story.


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tchernabyelo
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People are perfectly at liberty to write all the cliches they want.

What I fear that some people here are forgetting is that (although this is changing with self-publishing) the writer very rarely sells work directly to the reader. The writer sells work to an editor/publisher, who sells to the reader.

And in my experience, plenty of editors talk about not wanting to see the same old cliches, to the extent that many guidelines explicitly list cliches or ideas that they do not want to see.

Now it is entirely possible that there are hordes of readers eagerly awaiting yet another book full of the same cliches that have gone before... and if so, editors/publishers are sadly mistaken in what they try and buy.


TV writing, in many ways, has actually changed to be more like books than vice versa. Back in the 60s and 70s, the rule was very much that at the end of a show, everything was back where it was at the beginning of the show. There was no continuity, no plot beyond the single episode story, no character development, nothing. You could watch the episodes of a series in pretty much any order and it made very little, if any, difference. Sometime around the 80s that started to change, and the pendulum has swung almost completely to the other extreme - with most shows now, if you miss an episode, you need to know what happened or the next episode won't entirely make sense. Thankfully, on-demand, DVRs, and Hulu and the like have made it possible to catch those missed episodes as and when convenient for the viewer.

But there's still a difference between TV and book writing. Writing a book is a lot more like writing a pilot than writing a "normal" episode - and we (should) all know that a lot of pilots never even reach the airwaves, let alone get picked up for a full season or more.


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MAP
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quote:
What I fear that some people here are forgetting is that (although this is changing with self-publishing) the writer very rarely sells work directly to the reader. The writer sells work to an editor/publisher, who sells to the reader.

And in my experience, plenty of editors talk about not wanting to see the same old cliches, to the extent that many guidelines explicitly list cliches or ideas that they do not want to see.



Yeah I hear writers, agents, and editors say this all of the time. But if this is really true, how am I able to find a life time supply of my favorite "cliche" stories, with new ones added every year? And I have never read a self-published book.

Oh I know, it's because they're tropes not cliches whatever that means.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited February 18, 2010).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
What I fear that some people here are forgetting is that (although this is changing with self-publishing) the writer very rarely sells work directly to the reader. The writer sells work to an editor/publisher, who sells to the reader.


Yeah, but, if thats the case it shouldn't really matter right? I mean the idea, in theory is still getting readers what they want, and the editor is just an intermediary.

Editors should, theoretically be buying what readers want, yes? At least thats the impression we are given, however...


quote:
And in my experience, plenty of editors talk about not wanting to see the same old cliches, to the extent that many guidelines explicitly list cliches or ideas that they do not want to see.


This is also true. And these situations are why I believe editors don't really buy for readers, they buy for themselves. Some of them are sick of certain "cliches" whether their readers are or not.

But as MAP says, why then do we still see very "cliche" stuff get published year after year? Probably partly because "cliche" is based largely on a given person's experience...more than once I've had a story called innovative by some and "cliche" by others.

The other reason, I think, is that people including editors still understand that certain things have become cliche because they WORK. And because again as MAP says, people want to read/see/hear them. Thats why we have Star Wars, The Belgariad, Eragon, the Sword of Truth and so many others all at different times with very similar plots.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited February 18, 2010).]


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sholar
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There are stories which I would consider overdone, but I still love. For example, in Butcher's Alera series, if anyone didn't know who Tavi was from the moment they found out he didn't know his father, they clearly don't read fantasy. But Butcher's series has interesting characters and tons of clever things in it. The more cliche, the more you need something else to balance it. Also, lots of people talk about Elantris being unique, but if you think about it and read Campbell, you go, oh, yeah, I see a lot of those standard elements within.



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Teraen
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"Writing for TV and writing fiction are significantly different and I would advise anyone to be very cautious about taking lessons from one into the other."

Ich ischt two-centen haven:
Writing, Yes. But STORYTELLING has a bunch in common with any format. Learning how a story is structured, for that you can take lessons from many places. However, learning how to put words on paper to tell said story is where the inter-genre problems arise.

[This message has been edited by Teraen (edited February 18, 2010).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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Achtung!
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D2
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I think the heart of the feeling that it might be cliche (and I think a lot of cliches are like this) is that to a new (or unskilled) writer, these plot devices are easy ways to get their foot in the door with plotwriting. They're cheap thrills, so to speak.

Like all cliches, this doesn't mean it can't be done well, but I think part of the reason an editor might shy away from it is because it's so very commonly done wrongly. It isn't (really) the cliche itself that works or doesn't work -- there isn't a plot formula in the world that will work no matter what the circumstance or writer involved -- rather, it's more the way it's handled.

editing to add an example: The Bourne series (which I believe was mentioned earlier in the thread?) is almost point-by-point identical to your plot, MrsBrown, only not in a fantasy setting. I honestly think that the plot of the movies (and the books they were based off of) wouldn't have worked AT ALL if it hadn't been supported by the interesting characters and actions surrounding it.

[This message has been edited by D2 (edited February 18, 2010).]


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Lyrajean
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Amnesia is a cliche becuase it is overused to stir up blase melodrama on TV and in soap operas mainly, but it can be used with caution if you can come up with an original spin on it and make the rest of the story interesting enough so that it does not rest on this crutch...

That said, the specific plot you wrote about is almost exactly the plot of the first three books of Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicles:

Prince wakes up in a hospital with no knowledge of of his background and some unusual and fantastic abilities here in the real world and is soon thrown into a fantasy world of superpowers and intrigue where he must figure out which of his siblings had it in for him, and oh BTW the king is missing...

If you are going forward with this plot please read these books at least to make yourself aware what ahs been done in this area. They're well worth it if you like 'high' fantasy.


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philocinemas
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Memento and The Hangover.
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Robert Nowall
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You could try some other mental disorder---say, disassociative function, where the guy knows who he is and all that, but nothing going on then and there sinks in.
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MrsBrown
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More responses than I expected! Thanks to all of you. My strong suspicion is that I'm too amateur at this writing gig to pull it off.

I've had a few more thoughts about tying in threads from my Ida story, with this story as its sequel, but I need to back-burner it and see if I'm still interested down the line. Time to get back to Ida and her crew.

But I give myself permission to noodle away at my amnesiatic prince if I want to, just for the fun of it

quote:
would suggest not starting specifically with "Dude awakens, where am I, wait, who am I?!?!"

Just for the fun of it, I did exactly that: http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum7/HTML/000152.html

[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited February 19, 2010).]


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aspirit
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quote:
OSC said cliches are just "overfamiliar and unearned" and argued you fix cliches by being more specific, more detailed, and putting in a twist (if you can). So no idea, however cliche, is doomed - you just need to find the interesting spin that makes it work.

I agree with this.

MrsBrown, your plot as you described it doesn't interest me, because it's missing unique details. What's different about this MC from amnesiacs in other stories? MAP's concept of the MC being an enemy of the prince is more unexpected and thereby more interesting. He could even start to think that he's the prince and discover his identity almost too late to save the real prince, who he's come to sympathize with. Or he takes the real prince's place. Or something.

If you really wanted to keep the MC as a prince, then I'd suggest making the story as much about the milieu as the MC to give readers like me unique elements to enjoy.

[This message has been edited by aspirit (edited February 19, 2010).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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One of the great things about writing, in my opinion, is that you can play with things that interest you. Not everything you write has to be intended for publication. Some things can just be exercises where you learn more about yourself as a writer and where you develop your writing skills.

Playing with cliches has got to be one of the best ways to do this, because you already know how "it's been done" and trying to do it yourself gives you a chance to see how you would do it and to see if you can do it differently enough to make it new.

Even if you can't make it new, you can learn from the experience (sort of the way painters learn by copying famous paintings, I imagine).

So, go for it and have fun.


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MrsBrown
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If I may pull the thread a little more:

He's a second son. He killed his older brother with his father's quiet support. He has mixed feelings of guilt and not-caring about the brother he can't remember hating. The former heir had been their mother's favorite. Now he finds himself drawn more to the mother, and she must put aside who he used to be and accept who he has become.

He used to have a mistress, but he forgot her, and he's since fallen in love with a commoner. He must deny both women in favor of a long-standing arranged marriage; his bride-to-be has dreaded her wedding, but when they get married she finds he's not so bad after all; she becomes an unexpected ally.

Also he changed religions, and is gung-ho about bringing his new faith to his country. And there's a real God backing him up on this one. (This diety's priests are dragons.)

Its interesting enough to satisfy me, even if no one else likes it.

[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited February 19, 2010).]


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Meredith
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Well, that sounds like enough interesting plot twists to me. Give it a try.
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D2
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quote:
Its interesting enough to satisfy me, even if no one else likes it.

That, in my humble opinion, is the most important thing.


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Rhaythe
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I started my Nano novel on a cliche. Now I'm trying to get the stupid thing published. Oy. I guess I enjoy agony.

Point being, you never know.


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MAP
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quote:
Well, that sounds like enough interesting plot twists to me. Give it a try.

Same here.


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sholar
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With the rest of the details, it sounds much more interesting and the amnesia has a reason. Good luck!
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aspirit
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I agree. Have fun!
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dee_boncci
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I'm in the camp that if you feel the urge to create the story then go for it. The cliche/not cliche aspect is in the execution, and if you have a strong story, nobody will care about whether amnesia is a part of it.
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