Today I have a guest post from author T. K. Arispe discussing clichés.
Maria Elena thought she’d sworn off gaming forever. But she hates her new internship, so her brother Balt convinces her to play Heroes of Avonell, a cutting-edge virtual-reality video game with such complex programming that it’s like the non-player characters are self-aware.
Disappointed with the usual cliché job class offerings, Maria Elena’s character Quinny stumbles through a glitch in the game and ends up in Caed Dhraos, a strange city populated with friendly monsters. Quinny decides to work for the resident dark lord as part of his magic personnel, but she can’t tell anybody she’s playing in off-limits areas of the game—not even Balt. Soon Quinny finds herself getting to the bottom of a mystery surrounding an ancient demon and why Caed Dhraos is suffering from the Blight.
But the artificial intelligences in the game really are self-aware, and some of Avonell’s so-called “heroes” have decided they don’t like humanity very much. The game has gone out of control, and Maria Elena and her new friends have to find a way to set things right. Can she save Avonell – and Earth – while juggling her real job and trying to salvage her crumbling relationship with her brother?
Pixeldust is a dive into a fantastical, fun virtual world where the universe may be made of data, but the dangers, friendships, magic, and lessons learned are very real.
I’m T. K. Arispe, and I enjoy writing fantasy and science fiction that breaks the mold. Today I’d like to talk about one of the key themes of my novel Pixeldust: dismantling clichés to choose your own path. Please note that this post does contain plot spoilers for Pixeldust.
What is cliché? Perhaps it is true that in storytelling, there are no new ideas. But just something having been done before does not make it a cliché. Rather, clichés are story elements that have seen excessive repetition throughout literary history or in a particular genre, to the point where the general public can name them off-hand. A knight fighting a dragon, a band of rebels resisting an evil empire, or a young hero who possesses uncommon power—these are all clichés.
I have never liked repetition in my art. I remember in elementary school quickly tiring of such songs as “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and stories like “The Three Little Bears”. Yes, every time Goldilocks will think one item is too big, one item is too small, and the third will be just right, I thought. I get it already. Please stop wasting my time and get to the conclusion. I like stories that catch my interest and hold it. Stories with something new and fresh to say.
Another reason why I dislike clichés is because they only tell one story, as if that is the only story that can be told. Knights can only fight dragons, never befriend them or become them. Evil empires exist purely to be overthrown. Young heroes simply cannot be just mediocre in their world’s powerful skill or ability.
How limiting. If I resigned myself to always following the railway of clichés, I would never be able to explore uncharted territories. And just as bad, my stories wouldn’t give readers something new to think about. The human experience and the wonders of the universe are so much more multidimensional than how clichés narrow, rigidize, and standardize life.
In Pixeldust, when the characters of a video game find out that they are only artificial intelligences and their world is not real, they are faced with some profound questions about who they are, who they want to be, and how much control they really have over the matter.
General Orsamus was designed by his creators as an infallible paladin of righteousness, a role he embraces even after he learns the truth about his existence. That is, until he discovers that the game developers have been tossing around ideas for a future storyline where he turns evil. Orsamus is distraught. His entire existence, he has only wanted to be good, and now someone is telling him they have other plans for his moral character. His critical mistake is to not question the cliché the developers are setting up for him. Orsamus has a mind of his own, but he believes it is his “destiny” to turn evil, and believes he must take that destiny upon himself and has no choice in the matter. Embittered and consumed with the horrifying idea of someday inevitably becoming something he never wanted to be, he allows himself to make detrimental decisions and puts countless lives in danger with his actions.
His experience with clichés contrasts with that of Lord Zaragoz, the game’s demonic final boss. Despite the plans his creators have for him, Zaragoz is a friendly and kindhearted artificial intelligence by nature, and his new mage employee Quinny helps bring out those sides of him with her friendship. When Zaragoz discovers what he really is and his intended role in the game, he is upset, but he rejects his developers’ plans for him. Zaragoz believes that he is more than what clichés are saying he should be, and that he is in control of how he conducts his life. So he becomes a valuable force for good as he and his allies try to stop the fallen Orsamus.
One of the messages of Pixeldust is that you are free to choose your own path. You are a unique human being with unique strengths, and your life can be as un-cliché as you want it to be. Go ahead and break those molds.
T. K. Arispe is an illustrator, gamer, and unashamed nerd with a background in animation and webcomic production, including the webcomic Trainer Wants to Fight! which somehow got its own page on TVTropes. She loves interesting stories, well-crafted worlds, and memorable characters, and is passionate about creating quality, intelligent, slightly offbeat media that everyone can enjoy. Most of her story ideas come from random research binges, usually in the fields of theoretical physics, computer science, or oddly enough food history. She lives in California, where she enjoys not having to deal with snow because it is terrifying.