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I'm currently writing a story based around a human subject with superpowers who escapes out of a lab after like 12 years of excruciating pain. The forced mind control not working anymore, then tries to get their former life back.

Basically starting with their 15 year old son who barely even remembers what his parents actually were like, apart from an old picture.

As I'm outlining, it's so hard not to use obvious tropes and cliches that are basically everywhere, so any help is welcome.

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When is a stereotype not a stereotype?

When you do something fresh with it and make it unique or special. Search this site by "cliche" and you'll get a dozen similar questions that may help (someone may close the question as duplicate; don't take it personally if they do).

So you want to write about something that feels old and overdone to you. Why does the theme draw you in? Do you like the image of the tortured superhero? You love the idea of a story about a man reconciling with his child? Guess what - it's all been done before. But not just this; EVERYTHING has been done before. Twice, probably.

Figure out what it is that makes your story special in a way that is unique to you.

  • Perhaps the character now has lost their powers, and it's about him struggling to survive in a world expecting him to be superhuman, but where he's now an ordinary guy trying to be a dad.
  • Maybe your character is a rampant Nazi, and he became a super to support white nationalism, but his son tries to guide him in a new direction. He was mind controlled by a just government fearful of his racially motivated violence, and now that he's free, he keeps trying to establish a white state.
  • Maybe you have a special or unique cultural or social spin on the whole thing that reimagines the basic symbols and importance of the whole thing. Transvestite bisexual Muslim Uyghur Chinese nationalist with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Try explaining all that to a kid.
  • The whole thing is based on a special traditional story you love and want to reimagine, like the stories of Hunahpu and Xbalanque from Mayan mythology, but you want to modernize it and add a father-son dynamic.

The point is, the story is old, boring, overdone and stereotypical - until you make it something else. Figure out what makes it so compelling to you, and add that, plus what you have that makes a Zara Shab story special to you and the reader. What that is, I can only guess, but it's near and dear to your heart. You'll know it when you see it.

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Do not be afraid of cliches. They are cliches for a reason. often they're the better story ideas that fall out from whatever concept they are part of. So one solution would be to simply embrace the cliches and run them ragged. Basically to get them out of your system.

Having done that, the real work can begin. This involves looking at each cliched element in your story and subject them to six tests. The six tests are: why, what, how, who, when, and where.

What are your human subject's super-powers? Who is or was your human subject? How did your human subject use their super-powers? Why is the superhuman being held? Why are they mind controlled? Why are they subject to excruciating torture? Who are the torturers? Why are they doing it? When is this happening? In the past? In the present? In the future? Where? USA? UK? EU? Brazil? Iceland? Cambodia? In an alternative world?

Each question you ask should have a concrete and specific answer. Cliches are cliches because writers reproduce them without asking how or why they work. Putting flesh on the bones of a cliche will bring it to life. Making something that lives and breathes, and has its own autonomy.

Goodbye to Mr Cliche, Say hello to newly minted version of an old story (but only if you look closely enough).

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