The First Words of Poets and Genre Fiction Writers

Odds are, most kids’ first words are mom or dad, or derivatives thereof. They name the most important things to them, the best way they know how.

The Obvious

When writers pen their first poems, or create their first fantasy/scifi/horror/etc. characters and plots, they often sound cliche.

To the friends and teachers of these beginning writers: don’t be dicks about it.

Even though I focus on genre fiction now (romance, urban fantasy, science fiction), when I first started writing in elementary school, all I wrote was poetry. Only yesterday, as I was talking to the coordinator of a youth writing center I volunteer at, did I have an epiphany about how similar starting out in poetry and genre fiction is.

The first stories may feature unlikely heroes, grandfatherly wizards, damsels in distress, and “waking up to discover it wasn’t a dream” because that’s the most basic code. My early poems were chock full of shadows to describe sadness, birds representing freedom. Using well-known archetypes, trope-filled plots, and dead-tired metaphors, are how genre fiction writers and poets learn their ABCs.

As I advise peer and younger writers breaking into poetry and genre, I’m now reconsidering how helpful it is to point out the cliches. How this string of dialogue could be transplanted into any villain interrogates hero scenario. How much hearing “like a knife to the heart” makes me want to cringe. The point is that they have used a simile correctly! That they’ve created a conversation between Good and Evil.

When my grandmother first taught me to crochet, I did chain stitch over and over. And over and over. And over again. Those first chains were messy and uneven, sometimes knotted, and I had to get them right before she taught me to make a flat circle.

At the very least, I feel better now about my first fantasy story: featuring an orphaned elfin princess who meets a young prince brought up by a benevolent wizard. Wielding an enchanted sword, no less. But those were the most basic of building blocks. Years of reading and writing later, I’m still learning.

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