Writing Challenge: Cliché Away!

by Evan Yeong

Just yesterday we dug into our archives and reposted a fantastic piece about romance plot clichés that we’ve seen far too many of. While Harlequin certainly publishes a lot of trope-based romance, it’s entirely possible to tell, for example, the story of a busy professional falling for a single parent and their child without resorting to worn out story beats. The businessperson doesn’t have to be a workaholic, and maybe the kid in question isn’t necessarily precocious!

For this week’s challenge I’m looking to put things more in all of your hands. In the past I’ve been fairly explicit about what I’m looking for, but I wanted to try offering you a bit of unfettered creative freedom.

To start with, I want you to provide me with a romance cliché that you’re tired of. You don’t need to go into any detail, but that’s what your submission should feature right at the top. Below that I’d like to see a romantic scene of 400 words or less in which you freshen it up a little!

If this were a cooking challenge à la Chopped or some other Food Network staple, this would be the equivalent of taking your least favourite ingredient and creating a dish you actually enjoy. The bones of the cliché should still be recognizable, however. Please don’t state that you strongly dislike rescues and then make no references to them at all-

The submission deadline is 11:59 PM EST on Sunday (June 28th). Of the eligible submissions, a handful will be chosen for our Editors’ Choice Top 3, with this post being updated on Monday! I can’t wait to see what you all manage to come up with, and hope you have a lot of fun with this one!

UPDATE: First off, let me say what a delight it was to read through these 28 eligible submissions! What I should mention, however, is that the reason a handful were disqualified was an instruction quite a few of you struggled with.

I mentioned last Friday that the clichés being riffed on should have been at the top of the post. There were some submissions that just barely got by, having their cliché at the end instead. As one final comment on this, I suppose I could have been more clear, but the cliché was not intended to be included in the word count (for those of you who were worried it was supposed to).

With that out of the way, allow me to announce that this is one of those very special weeks where we struggled to come up with an Editors’ Choice Top 3! Not since our April challenge on Inspirational romance have you forced us to expand our ranking to encompass the Editors’ Choice Top 5. Here they are, in the order they were submitted:

Ann Allen scene included her cliché in the very first line, and in some ways initially feels like it intends to stay the course. It’s also the rare submission that actually improves on a second reading, as you’re better able to appreciate clever details such as the heroine turning a “blind corner” and the initial innocuous detail of the hero’s dark glasses.

Taffy Marie hides similar giveaway details in her scene, like the hotdog that “tasted different” being one in particular. While the heroine’s yuletide-inspired name-to-be might lead to an eyeroll or two, the setup feels worthy of a full-length romance. While things don’t quite begin to spark between the hero and heroine, there’s a glimmer of something there in their banter.

Faith knows all too well how prevalent age-gap romances can be in Historicals, and fully flips the cliché on its head by having the heroine be 30-year-old widow. Harriet’s discomfort for “[robbing] the cradle” further shakes up the usual format, and we loved her move to grasp Désiré’s hand, instead of vice versa.

Helen injects a bit of realism into the golden morning after, acknowledging the unfortunate existences of morning breath and bedhead. She also swings for the fences by overturning the idea that so many chiseled heroes might opt for more spartan accommodations, and effortlessly pulls it off.

Jeanna‘s first description may be a tad off-putting, up until he realization that the setting is a classroom and the hero and heroine aren’t adults quite yet. Despite the short scene, Mika stands out as a bold, capable young woman with a good sense of humour, and her physical disability is respectfully described and actually drives the narrative forward.

Huge congratulations to these five writers, those who just barely didn’t make the cut, and all who participated. As I wrote in this original post, this was an opportunity for all of you to stretch those creative muscles, and wow did you deliver.

Do yourselves a favour and read everyone else’s submissions if you haven’t! And I’ll see you all back here for the next challenge-