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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Cliches, cheaper by the dozen

   
Author Topic: Cliches, cheaper by the dozen
Grumpy old guy
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Below is the very basic outline I have settled on for my new story, Jack Rayne - Spaceranger. Now, anyone who takes a look at it will notice that there are many opportunities for including clichés of all shapes and sizes. The key point, however, is for the writer to take note of the opportunities and kill them off as soon as possible.


1. Earth is blockaded and under attack by aliens.
2. Girl, who is in fact an Artificial Intelligence that has recently become self aware (far beyond Turing levels), becomes interested in boy about to graduate as a pilot.
3. Girl and boy finally ‘meet’ via the pilot’s communication link as the boy embarks on his first ‘solo’ mission—death nearly strikes.
4. The relationship between the girl and boy grows as each mission is undertaken.
5. Girl decides to meet boy.
6. Meeting goes horribly wrong and boy rejects girl thinking he has been set-up.
7. Girl retreats into herself, which affects all the pilots who rely on her.
8. Boy sets out to find girl and find out what’s going on.
9. Boy finally learns the truth; the ‘girl’ is an Artificial Intelligence.
10. The Commanding Officer of ‘Space Command’ also learns the truth and wants to know what this means. Should he have the computer system purged, effectively killing the ‘girl’?
11. The decision to purge the system is made and the ‘girl’ frantically turns to the boy to save her.
12. What follows is a classic ‘snatch and grab’ that includes the obligatory chase scene until the boy is finally cornered with the ‘girl’ and escape seems impossible.
13. Somehow (I know how, but I’m not telling) they manage to escape and live happily ever after—until the next instalment.

As you can see from the above, if you think about it, there are a lot of areas that are fertile ground in which to grow a whole crop of healthy clichés. And, if you include the starting premise that Earth is under attack by aliens that adds quite a few more. The answer is to think about each key element in your story outline and identify exactly where clichés may be prone to occur. Let’s have a quick look at some of the most obvious in mine:

Earth under alien attack: DO NOT have low orbit space battles and upper atmosphere dog fights with cities under force field domes bravely fighting off the attacking hordes. In a planetary environment gravity means he who has the high ground is King! Also called the gravity well effect, imagine you’re at the bottom of a well, someone above can easily drop rocks down on you with little effort but you can’t throw them up at them with anywhere near the same force or velocity. In orbital warfare, gravity is your millstone.

AI becomes interested in boy: DO NOT have an artificial consciousness fall in love with a human male. It simply can’t happen. Which is a shame as that’s exactly what I’d envisioned before I started wondering how an AI could actually fall in love. While love is undoubtedly an emotional state, it is in part, and perhaps a major part, also influenced by purely physiological responses to stimuli, predominantly hormonal and biochemical in nature (oxytocin, the feel good drug). A disembodied AI without hormonal responses can never feel love. On the other hand, a flesh and blood human could fall in love with an AI.

AI ‘girl’ meets boy: My first thought was to have ‘her’ download her consciousness into a robotic simulacrum; but that’s far, far too cliché. I need to find another way for ‘her’ to meet the boy and for him to misconstrue what’s happening and so reject her.

Item 12 above: “ . . . classic ‘snatch and grab’ that includes the obligatory chase scene until the boy is finally cornered with the ‘girl’ and escape seems impossible.” Take note of the words classic and obligatory: fertile ground for multiple clichés. This will need major inspirational and original thinking. This bit, and the finale (Item 13), will make or break the story.

Actually, even a single cliché element in any of the abovementioned major trap points will reduce what should be an emotional rollercoaster that will make you cry into a sad and pathetic farce. But that leaves the question: How do you identify one of your cherished ideas as being cliché? And, not even a major cliché, even minor ones can kill a story. For some readers, what makes stories interesting is seeing how inventive the author can be when treating situations where the tyro will inevitably fall into one of the cliché traps that abound in any story idea.

If your story fits neatly into an established genre then it’s a good bet that the idea is cliché. But don’t worry, that’s okay, some box-office hits are so cliché riddled that you wonder how the writers could pitch the ideas with a straight face. Take a look at Avatar, doesn’t it remind you of the story ideas behind Dances with Wolves and Last Samurai to name just two contemporary films. There are hundreds of more stories where the protagonist finds they have more in common with the values of a different culture than with their own. What you, the writer, have to do is develop characters and plots that stand out as being non-cliché, and believe me it isn’t easy.

You can almost bet that the first idea for any character, scene or plot point that pops into your head will be cliché; trust me, I know, ‘cos I do it all the time. But, don’t worry too much about it as you start roughing out you initial plot/storyline idea. You just need to be aware these clichés are things you are going to have to revisit. For example: my original idea of having my AI character falling in love with my protagonist Jack Rayne is a perfect case in point; she’s simply incapable of experiencing that particular emotion. So how can I handle this central story point without resorting to a cliché?

This is what sets a good storywriter apart from simple hackwork writing, finding exciting, inventive and original alternatives to the clichés you identify so that your solutions fascinate, titillate, engage and invigorate your readers. Good luck, you’ll need it . . .and so will I. But the question does remain: Do you search out your cliches, or haven't you noticed that you have them in spades?

Phil.

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babooher
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Interesting read. I wonder how your hunt for clichés compares to Dave Wolverton's thoughts on resonance.

By the way, can Jack Rayne fall in love with the AI who can't return his affections?

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Robert Nowall
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Why not have the AI fall in love? It's the most human thing it could do...and if you want to have the reader emphasize with it, it'll have to have some kind of human reactions.
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extrinsic
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This outline suggests to me the narrative asks the perennial question what is love, a possible monumental cliché, maybe trite and outworn, if under-realized in application: physiologically, emotionally, and socially. An answer lays in need's antagonisms and tension's fear and pity forces.

The AI lead discovers a need for love's bonds from personal risks and dangers, maybe artificial love by contemporary conventions, yet possible powerfully insightful glimpses of love's evolutions from the dawn time. Beyond physical pleasures, primitive beings bonded for cooperation's benefits. One and one makes three; the sum of the mass is greater than the total of the whole: synergy.

Personifying the AI so that it is empathy-worthy need only be portraits of ocassional conscious, responsible noble self-sacrifices for a common good. This need not be ultimate sacrifices: small ones add up. Nor are they necessarily nobly one-sided or external physical actions. A suitor simply opening a door for an unwitting love interest is a noble act with possible ulterior motives, for example.

[ June 18, 2014, 04:07 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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I think you subvert the cliches in your writing by re-imagining the motivations. For example, your first plot point: the world is under attack by aliens. This has been done a lot (by the way, is this a cliche', or an overused dramatic conflict?), from "Independence Day" to "Ender's Game".

To subvert it, you ask why. If the only motivations are the ones that we've seen before: resources, slaves, etc., then you remain mired in the cliche.

quote:
DO NOT have low orbit space battles and upper atmosphere dog fights with cities under force field domes bravely fighting off the attacking hordes
Also, how does the attack take place? In the past, we had fictional aliens use ships or mech warriors ("War of the World"). But it would be significantly easier for aliens to hack our systems and just start having things go off: nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, critical infrastructure. Smart aliens engage in cyber war and turn humans against ourselves. I mean, I guess an alien race advanced enough for galactic space travel would be advanced enough to figure out Windows for a cyber war.

Kind of the reverse of what Jeff Goldblum's character did in "Independence Day", except it'd make more sense for aliens to hack our computers than for us to be able to hack theirs, considering I'm guessing they studied us before invasion.

And the internet is a perfect tool, and a perfect cover. Hack a Chinese oil platform in disputed waters to explode, and they'd blame Japan. Have trains crash in Moscow, and they'd blame Chechens. A chemical spill into an important water source in America, with all the cyber crumbs seeming to lead back to Iran, and before you know it, there's World War III.

The aliens can sit back, watch us slaughter each other, and then swoop in with minimum force to mop up whatever humans are left.

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JSchuler
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So the aliens are invading Earth... to liberate the humans from an oppressive regime. They are now obligated to use orbital bombardment instead of an approach that would generate less collateral damage to avoid becoming a "cliché."

The things you list are, in themselves, not clichés (and your objections aren't even accurate: love, biologically, isn't a collection of hormones; it's a series of signals in the brain that are only induced by hormones, plausibly replicated by whatever circuitry is required for an AI). They are simply common tropes. Whether they are cliché or not depends on execution.

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Grumpy old guy
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Denevius, I can imagine a whole lot of scenarios for why aliens would attack Earth and how--the simplest is just to throw rocks at us, there are heaps of them going free in the asteroid belt. Infrastructure, and society, would collapse within a month. The trick is to 'invent' a scenario that carries the narrative theme I want to explore, not to mention the plot I've roughly otlined. And to avoid being cliche in the process.

JSchuler, I suppose I should have been more explicit: physical love/lust is impossible for a non-organic machine. Love, for want of a better term, can be broken down into eros and agape. Eros is what get's us interested and is purely biochemical in nature, agape is the 'other side of the coin', intellectual love (if you will) and what keeps us together once eros has done its job; roughly eighteen months. Then there are all the 'other' types of love--filial, civic . . . the list is goes on.

As for the items being tropes, from the Greek: tropos for turn, they are more than turns of phrase. They are examples of actions and situations that are used over and over again in literary and film narratives--cliches.

extrinsic, love is actually a rather peripheral area of exploration, despite the fact it may appear central in the basic narrative outline. It's more an exploration of awareness and humanity: can a machine be human, do androids dream of electric sheep? Yes, I know. Then there are explorations of a darker side-issue, the needs of the state vs the need of a 'Just' man. Just as in a seeker after Justice.

Phil.

[ June 19, 2014, 04:01 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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JSchuler
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quote:
JSchuler, I suppose I should have been more explicit: physical love/lust is impossible for a non-organic machine. Love, for want of a better term, can be broken down into eros and agape. Eros is what get's us interested and is purely biochemical in nature...
Except, it's not. If I have a bunch of these chemicals in a vial, I am not in love. The chemicals aren't love. It's the way the brain reacts to them that creates love. There is no reason that reaction cannot be recreated by a synthetic device using different triggers (EM radiation, buffer overflow errors, a power surge, take your pick). None whatsoever.

And unfortunately I am not speaking Greek here. I'm speaking English. A trope is not just a turn of phrase. It's a convention, and every story you will ever write will contain a trope, likely multiple. Meanwhile, a cliché is not simply something used over and over again. A cliché is something that is used to the point of meaninglessness. Thus, it's impossible for something to be a cliché if you inject meaning into it.

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extrinsic
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Prescriptively, a trope is a figure of speech, usually an item, word or phrase, used in a situational context: a short figurative expression. A metaphor is a trope. Simile likewise a trope, and synecdoche, metonymy, metalepsis, oxymoron, litotes, etc., the general sense of which are analogy: comparisons and contrasts.

An extended trope is a rhetorical scheme built by repeated motifs, within a narrative or allusions drawn from other influences; for example, an allegory. An extended trope may span a paragraph, a subsection, a chapter, or, ideally, an entire composition. Nonetheless, the trope is an analogy of comparison and contrast. For example, an extraterrestrial alien invasion compares and contrasts terrestrial foreigner intrusions into a native populace's territory. The "trope" is one of xenophobia, warranted or otherwise.

A cliché is also either situational or extended, simply a trite, outworn phrase, expression; or, hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation; or, an overfamiliar or commonplace routine (Webster's 11th). In other words, the use is tired, lackluster, dull: routine. Clichés originate as tropes and become overused expression, shorthand intended to borrow meaning from an original and robust expression. However, clichés may become idioms, their triteness evaporated.

For example, the use of the term "selfie"--an informal, casual self-portrait taken with a handheld digital device, usually for posting at social networking media--originated in prison culture for a prisoner-made contraband onanism device--a closed idiomatic usage. Both uses relate to self-gratification.

"Selfie" has become trite from its frequent lackluster shorthand use by mainstream culture. Shorthand for self-portrait, meaningless otherwise, not yet quite, perhaps, cliché, though it may soon be and not long afterward may be a widespread cultural idiom meaning vein self-gratification, once "cool culture" icons begin using the term ironically for sarcastic derision.
----
Hormones like oxytocin, estrogen, and testosterone drive phsyiological maturation growth and reproductive functions. They influence mood too. Oxytocin has a calming effect. Estrogen infuences nuturing and compassion drives. Testosterone influences competiton drives. Adrenaline is a hormone too, the flight or fight hormone response to danger.

How hormones relate to "love" does orient on reproductive drives, though longer duration imperatives supersede; for example, securing subsistence inventory, securing safe shelter, and securing social networks for more than basic survival or momentary self-gratification--for building a meaningful, lasting, comfortable, cooperative community that benefits from synergy.

[ June 19, 2014, 05:29 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Originally posted by JSchuler:
quote:
There is no reason that reaction cannot be recreated by a synthetic device using different triggers (EM radiation, buffer overflow errors, a power surge, take your pick). None whatsoever.
That's not love, that's a simulation; an extension of your argument about chemicals in a jar. Humans don't fall in love in the way romantics would like to have us believe. However, that's a rather dry argument based on a huge range of biological, neurological, sociological and behavioural sciences. The bare fact is that we are driven by evolution to procreate and 'love' is simply a biochemical device put there to help ensure the survival of our offspring on account of it takes 'em so long to become self-sufficient.

Phil.

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JSchuler
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quote:
That's not love, that's a simulation;
Your definition of love is silly, namely because you confuse it with the mechanism for producing it. It's like making the definition of "hole" being "that which is produced by a shovel," and using that to argue why donuts don't have them.
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Grumpy old guy
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You've got to love logic: All dogs have four legs and a tail. My cat has four legs and a tail; therefore my cat is a dog. Wait! Isn't that a syllogism?

Phil.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
AI becomes interested in boy: DO NOT have an artificial consciousness fall in love with a human male.

But I can see how the AI could become dependent on said human male, perhaps at a level of subtle decision making; to a casual observer, the result might not be much different from infatuation, if not 'love'. Logic gate requires input from Human Male before it will function, something like that. When input is provided, gate closes, other functions can now come on line, AI "feels good".
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Grumpy old guy
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Reziac, that's approaching what I was thinking, I just wasn't going to explain it. Your example falls into the context of agape, she finds boy stimulating and helpful, rather than eros where she wants to get his pants off. Having said that, I'm wondering what might happen if I allow boy to fall for AI, a feedback loop?

Phil.

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Reziac
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Sounds reasonable to me -- he'd want to "take care of her" which means "supply her with input" (hey! stop thinking that! we agreed this wasn't eros! [Big Grin] tho on second thought I can see that too, as a feedback array) ... and the more input he provides, the more stimulus she receives, the more he's inspired... I think I just wrote robot porn.

But yeah, I can see how this could get grow, and potentially get entirely out of hand and become an addiction.

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extrinsic
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"Love," besides eros and agape, can be storge, familiarity, or phillia, friendship. Nor is love confined to between sentient beings. Love may be how a person feels toward property, animals, plants, minerals, even places and spaces, even regions, habitats, and worlds. Like Earth, protecting Earth from environmental harm is a compassion, a love, for all life and beauty.

A man loving or being loved by an artifical intelligence could be a consequence of shared protections from harm. The man in phillial love from saving the AI from hazard or vice versa as the inciting incident, for example. Concern, sympathy or empathy, for the other's well-being.

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Denevius
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I didn't see it, so perhaps there's a twist ending, but wasn't there just a movie about a guy played by Jaoquin Phoenix falling in love with an AI program? It's called "Her".

quote:
The film centers on a man who develops a relationship with an intelligent computer operating system (OS) with a female voice and personality.
- Wikipedia

Humans falling in love with the tech around them is quite common. I just read an article about the fertility, or lack thereof, in Japan. Part of the reason is that the Japanese lifestyle, particularly for women, makes child birth an unattractive proposition. But part of it is that many Japanese, particularly men, have fallen for female virtual creations in games like 'Afterlife'. There's one game in particular they named in the article that I can't think of now where you create your ideal partner. And people simply find this easier than a real relationship with an actual human. Those are messy and you can't always get your way. But an avatar built to your exact taste and programmed to follow your every whim?

Sad? Maybe, but very now. I have no problem with believing that as technology develops, people will prefer a mate they can create to one they have to deal with. Just look at how absorbed people are in their smartphones at the expense of actually making conversation with real life people around them.

Now, will the AI fall back in love? It's a matter of perspective. If you're a theist/spiritualist, you might postulate that only something with a soul can love and return love. But if you're more atheistic in your viewpoint (and I really don't mean this to be an insult, just an observation), then I don't see why you can't write a story where an AI falls in love.

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Grumpy old guy
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Reziac, extrinsic, Denevius, that's something like what I want to explore in this story. The AI has spontaneously achieved self-awareness (predicated on the assumption that the more complex the machine [computer] and the greater the number of memory connections the close they will get to consciousness)and I want to explore that idea of awareness of self (something closely related to the Id [I think], now a discredited theory)

Phil.

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