Preparatory Workshop - Frank Dahlman - 2014-10-04


Genres - Tropes and Cliches - will focus on genre and the creative process. Frank Dahlman will lead this workshop and talk about key characteristics and common tropes found in the most commonly read genres, discussing what works, and identifying common clichés to avoid. After this brief discussion, participants will brainstorm a possible plot line in the genre of their choosing. This workshop is designed to fill the well of creativity in preparation for NaNoWriMo.

Slides: Types of Genre.ppt

Number of participants


Genre: Tropes and Cliches - What works and what to avoid

  • Interactive/creative - troubleshooting/plotting things together.
  • Get to know the tropes/patterns that happen in the genres we write in.
  • Tips for avoid cliches.
  • When the train has lost its steam or has been derailed or gotten lost, it's good to get together with creative people and try to solve the problems.

NaNo Basics

  • Create your login and profile at
  • Write from 1-30 November
  • Track your word count
  • Validate before December 1st
  • Prizes for winners: free
  • Helpful forums


Writing Journey

  • a la carte style writing group
  • Paths - some related to writing; some social

Telling the story

  • We want to raise the tension till we reach the climax in the story.

Two similar concepts:

  • Trope: literary trope - the use of figurative language for artistic effect; has come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices.
  • Cliche - a phrase or opinion that is overused that betrays a lack of original thought.

Realistic fiction

  • Not true but based on the real world, real people, natural physical laws
  • normal human characteristics
  • real places but NOT based on history

Historical fiction

  • Not entirely true but based on a historical event
  • authentic settings, characters
  • some characters are based on actual people
  • artistic mix of fiction and historical fact


  • focuses on the love relationship between two characters (emotional, internal conflicts)
  • theme of the book also centers on relationship
  • strong characters are vital to a successful story (reader has to care about them)
  • plot has to strengthen the characters
  • can have strong romance in a historical fiction
  • a good story will have many elements
  • The Fault In Our Stars - plot is very important for the relationship of its stars.

Science fiction

  • Not true
  • Some scientific element
  • outer space, medicine, technology, alternate society
  • Within the realm of possibility (could happen)
  • Characters have some believable traits/qualities (plausible)


  • not true
  • One or more of the following:
  • supernatural
  • magical powers
  • real people in fantastic places
  • fantastic creatures
  • magic
  • quests
  • Good vs. evil
  • often written in a series of books
  • coming-of-age themes


  • Based on fear (physical or gruesome outcomes
  • creation of emotional sensation of fear (E.g., Lovecraft)
  • tangible antagonist or one outside our physical world
  • Genre is moving more away from the fantastic and more towards the real world (with paranormal)


  • not true
  • story revolves around a puzzle/problem
  • characters deal with the solution to a puzzle/problem (e.g., unraveling a secret)
  • contains clues/hints
  • need to do an outline and make an umbrella of your clues (otherwise you'll forget)
  • difficult to pace (don't want to give 8 clues in 2 chapters; then go 7 chapters without)
  • may need to go back and restructure after the first draft
  • know what really happened
  • avoid making it too obvious or too opaque for the reader
  • may be helpful to start at the end and then work backwards
  • one technique: have 2-3 people as possible murderers and don't know who is the actual until you write the final scene

Cliches by genre

  • Don't necessarily avoid a cliche--it's how you use it that makes it cliche.
  • you can use them to convey a lot of information in very few words
  • transcend genre
  • fine line between patterns, homage, ...


  • The Mary Sue - perfect and loved by all
  • Love triangles
  • quirky best friend
  • the tortured hero (dark past)
  • unknown real identity
    • e.g., Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon
  • missing parents
  • love at first sight


  • half human/half something else
  • using dreams to reveal plot/character true feelings
  • monoculture aliens or humans
  • all benevolent/malevolent alien
  • vermin/evil creatures described as bad or horrible but it turns out the humans are the evil ones


  • hard-nosed protagonist drowns troubles in alcohol
  • female characters simply as sex symbol, love interest or character to die
  • brillient, quirky protagonist that figures out everything
  • evil mastermind with inexhaustible wealth

The war against cliche

  • Make a cliche yours--uniquely use it
  • turn it on its head (i.e., struggling artist that supplements their income with working extra jobs and isn't bitter about it)
  • fighting the melodramatic with the authentic (relate better to characters)
  • don't make the cliche to the centerpiece of your story
  • don't make your characters stereotypes
  • avoid over-sappy, happy, sad, helpless plot lines
  • know your genre--read

Genre small groups

  • Create a plotline together that is engaging
  • Bonus points: use cliches in a way that is unique and helpful

Fantasy SF Chicklit Mystery Contemporary Romance Urban fantasy Suspense Historical fiction YA


  • urban fantasy


  • portal to another world
  • Old mentor/apprentice
  • mind control
  • prophecy or destiny
    • prophecy was a joke
    • Facebook prophet (chain male)
    • prophecy creates a Dark Lord character
    • The Dark Lord of Facebook
  • Only George Takei is the old wizard character
    • has a FB tatoo
  • Winklevoss twins created the dark lord with a joke
    • if I get a million likes, the Dark Lord will come
    • didn't get a single like but it happened anyway
    • real prophecy rather than a chain post
  • Whoever has a physical logo Doomsday power
  • Whoever crafts the FB logo into a physical object can draw upon the Doomsday power
  • George finds a protege but the protege is killed off
  • Mark Z. is the dark lord and uses the FB logo to get people to read
  • Secret society of the Face Book - they have rings with the logo; they recite the oath in front of the Facebook page to charge their rings.
    • one member falls in love with Shakira; she is a strong female character
  • protege is the only one who belives the prophecy
  • Mark Z./George/protege
  • Shakira is the protege
  • Bechdel
  • The time people waste on FB helps keep Mark Z. eternally young
  • William Shatner found out the truth, went to George to tell him but was rubbed out


  • Mark Z. creates FB as a way of gathering the Force (people believe the little F mark)
    • He has an F tatoo on his chest
    • has the power to retcon people
  • Shakira decides to follow George when she sees a particular funny post (that happens to make light of the prophecy)
  • George sends a message to Shakira warning her of Mark's profilers and offering to meet with her
  • Unbeknownst to them, Mark Z. sees that Shakira liked the post; he is concerned with this, and sends Faith Brooks and her colleagues to brainwash Shakira.
  • Faith is part of a Profilers attack on Shakira and Faith finds herself attracted to Shakira.
    • The Profilers is like a dark Green Lanterns corps
  • Shakira goes to meet George and begins her training.
  • Faith tells her redhaired quirky best friend that she wants to help Shakira
  • Mark makes an example of Faith's quirky best friend and turns her into a dog; he bans her account.
  • Shakira inadvertently gets her followers to follow George (when she follows him).
  • Shakira goes to Mark to save George's account from being deleted and tries to defeat Mark before finishing her training but is turned into a lunch lady by Mark
  • Faith comes to George to ask for help.
  • George instigates a proxy fight with Mark Z. and becomes the new dark lord
  • George deletes Mark Z.'s account and Mark withers away to become a homeless bum outside the Winklevoss estate.
  • George announces there will be one more Original Star Trek movie, where he's the captain


  • Fbook
  • Matt Sneakerberg
  • Hipkira - oh my, these hips don't lie - hips of truth

Sci-Fi/Space Opera/Mystery/Crime Drama

  • Captain in the space police nearing retirement with one final case; no one else believes there is a case.
  • Everyone has an unhackable chip installed but she is convinced that there is an identity theft
  • Murdered body is found whose chip is almost completely corrupted
  • They are able to recover more pieces of identity off of the chip.
  • Many twists and turns
  • Garret works with bounty hunters (because she is paranoid and doesn't trust the government)
  • With their help, thinking that their technology is similar to the crime syndicate, she realizes that they were only claiming credit (they don't have the technology down).
  • The original identity on the body was one of a group of teenagers who went missing in space; they had figured out how to create new identities and use nanobots to change their appearance.
  • She (captain) gets this figured out and gets her hacker friend to change the virus and uploaded; the next time they implant a new identity, their ID chip will be corrupted and fixed--they'll be locked into the next identity they use. But she doesn't know who these new identities are.
  • She is arrested; her book is her memoir being written in jail.

Time spent on

  • On names
  • Motivation


  • 17 year old Girl named Anna - car accident kills her mother and causes a brain injury and scars her face.
  • Eidetic memory based on what she hears
  • She overhears a group of girls that are planning to jump a student
  • She tries to get help, but they don't believe her
  • The group of girls frame her.
  • A new guy comes to the school.
  • He doesn't know what is happening--they are both outcasts.
  • Her tutor is really smart and also an outcast.

Time spent on

  • Trying to use every cliche.


  • Guy gets out of prison
  • Finds out his cellmate is killed; goes to funeral (crashes it)
  • He thinks he is meshing with the family; they invite him to a retreat.
  • Turns out his cellmate came from a really rich family.
  • They go to their house on Fisher's Island
  • On the dock, he runs into Ted Whegan, one of his other buddies
  • Once he arrives, things get weird--they're really friendly. His buddy was the black sheep of the family. Turns out they are looking for something Bobby hid.
  • They start getting more insistent; he realizes he is trapped on an island.
  • Goes on the run.
  • Realizes he is being framed by them for stuff; has to figure out what they want.
  • Follows clues. He was imprisoned for corporate espionage; turns out the family stole some technology for cold fusion (they don't want this to get out--they are an energy family).
  • His motivation: find the object so he wouldn't go back to prison.


  • Didn't figure out how he would escape; spent time on plot holes

Life fiction

  • A man, late 40's, early 50's (Joe) with wife Nancy--looking to retire. Has built up a successful HVAC business. Sees Fleetwood Mac is in town; goes to concert by himself.
  • In that concert, he meets somebody from his past who helps him realize there is something missing in his life that he needs to find.
  • He spent his whole life developing his business. He has begun to separate from his wife--a lot of distance between them. At the concert he meets a woman who becomes an ideal. Not sure if they ever meet again. It is the spark/crisis within the marriage.
  • Wife is laid-back, not very assertive (took care of the family and home). She fears Joe is leaving her for someone else. She begins to fight. They are looking at their relationship differently.
  • Joe realizes that his wife is changing (becoming interesting again); he has to decide what he should do.


  • Most time spent developing the characters.


  • Fill in plot holes
  • Easier and better to troubleshoot and talk about issues in your plot with others; there are resources to do this.