Humor to “Sell” Writing Cliches

After a couple of heavy topics that were both social commentary and topical (not tropical) to authors, I think we need a little lighter topic here.  This came to mind after a recent reply in LittleFears blog.  We got joking about cliches in writing and the TV show Dallas came up.

For those too young to remember, Dallas was a massive hit TV show in the 80s about a Texas oil family.  An evening soap opera really.  People who write villains defined by the power they hold can really benefit from studying Larry Hagman’s character JR Ewing too.  That was a man who knew how to manipulate and outmaneuver at every turn.

Getting back on track though, one of the things Dallas is most infamous for though was a “RetCon” where they erased an entire season to bring a character back to life.  “It was all a dream!”.

Those who have followed my blog know I generally try to avoid reproducing cliches like that in my writing.  HOWEVER, used with humor, they can be used sparingly.  Here’s an example from almost two decades ago.  As a quick set-up, Nancy was a character of mine in City of Heroes.  She was a trick archer turned telepath / telekinetic.  Over the course of time, the character got dragged into weirder and weirder collaborative stories with my gaming guild.  At one point I got so fed up, I had the character get killed.   Convinced to give everything another chance, I brought her back to Earth as an angel on probation.  Kind of a silly option on it’s own but I was young.  When nothing changed, I decided I needed a clean break and to salvage my character concept.  I took an unusual route and actually copied Dallas’s playbook.  Oh yes, and it’s a little confusing but the other character in question was Max or Maxine who sometimes went by Sonya (her middle name IIRC).

 

NANCY’S TRIP TO DALLAS

Nancy heard a strange male voice stirring her from her sleep. She slowly pushed herself to regain consciousness and wearily opened her eyes partially. The first thing she noticed was that she ached all over.

“What the?”, she thought to herself. “I don’t remember getting hurt.” “Hell, I’m dead anyway… How do you hurt an angel, even one on probation?”

She managed to focus on the dresser and the wall across the room.

“OK, it is our room…”, she thought. “So I am at home in bed with Max.”

“No, Nancy, you’re not.”, came the same male voice that had stirred her from her sleep. “It’s time to wake up too.”

“Huh?!?”, Nancy muttered. Her mind raced as she tried to place the voice. She couldn’t though, despite it sounding vaguely familiar. Oddly enough, she couldn’t mentally detect another presence in the room either.

Her arms shot over, reaching behind her for Sonya. There was nobody there however. She rolled off her side and sat bolt upright in bed. Now wide awake, she stared across the room at a man in his late 20s impeccably dressed in an expensive dark blue suit and light grey felt Stetson cowboy hat.

“Who the hell are you, what are you doing in my room and where’s my wife!?!”, Nancy demanded in a fierce tone. Slight recognition dawned on her face & her expression turned from one of anger to one of complete confusion. “Huh… wait..”, she said sounding completely bewildered. “B… Bobby Ewing???”

The man just flashed an amused smile.

“This doesn’t make any sense…”, Nancy said, trying to collect herself. “You… You’re just a TV show character.”

Bobby Ewing laughed a bit. “You’re just a fictional character in some realities also.”, he replied amusedly. “And no, this isn’t some Arachnos trick.”

“Then how…”, Nancy asked in a puzzled tone.

“I’m just a manifestation of your subconscious.”, Bobby replied. “As for the form I took, blame your parents and all those Dallas DVDs your momma watches.” Bobby grinned and chuckled slightly. “It’s fitting though, given what you’re about to find out.”

“What are you talking about?”, Nancy asked, frustration now added to her confusion.

“You’re still asleep, girl.”, Bobby replied in a more serious tone. “It’s past time you woke up though.”

“What?”, Nancy blurted out, surprised. “No, I…”

“Do yah always sleep in your costume then?”, Bobby replied.

Nancy looked down at herself and saw she was indeed wearing not just her costume, but her older one, from when she was still a member of the All Star Teen Sentinels.

“You’ve been out for a while.”, Bobby continued in a serious tone. “It’s time to return to the real world though.” “You have people that miss you and are worried sick about you.”

“No”, Nancy objected. “This is real, I am awake.”, she insisted.

She wanted to continue, but the aches in her body grew worse and her head began to hurt terribly. She began to hear disembodied voices calling to her as well. She heard Elaine and her parents telling her to come back to her. There was an increasingly bright white light above her too. Suddenly, Nancy gasped deeply and opened her eyes…

She looked around with her eyes, not moving her head. She recognized she was in a medical center, explaining why she ached all over.

“She’s awake!”, Elaine screamed in an elated tone. She reached down and hugged Nancy fiercely, causing a groan of pain from the girl. “Ah’m sorry sugah.”, Elaine said with tears in her eyes as she released Nancy. “Ah’m just happy yah finally came back tah us.”

 

So net result; Nancy is returned to the world of the living (or awake at least) to find out she’d been in a coma for almost half a year after being led into a villain ambush and beaten near to death.  She was still a psi, never married and never an angel of any sort.  The rest of the story went into several of the nonsense plots that I was pulled into and is so embarrassing I don’t even want to reprint the rest of the story here.

The bigger point is that even an obvious cliche this big can be done if handled with a little humor and even acknowledging you’re using the cliche.  I doubt I’d be as blatant as I was in this example.  It was completely over the top, but it was meant to be AND it was a game based story that I never had any intention of publishing, so that minimized any potential copyright issues.  Remember this is another one of those tools that should be used rarely.  You kill it’s impact otherwise.