Skip to main content

Cliches: You Can't Swing a Dead Cat Without Hitting a Dead Doornail

Writer's Digest website had a fun little article on the top 12 cliches to avoid like the plague (ha! sorry) and invited readers to contribute their own.  Yes, most of these turns of phrases have been overused to the point of complete staleness (though some contributions I had never heard of...making me wonder if some folks were stretching a little too hard to contribute an "original cliche" which may be my new favorite contradictory phrase).

Still, they're not the worst cliches in writing, in my view.

These are just sloppy description, placeholder ideas.  They're easily seen and easily edited out.  You might stumble across one while revising on your own, or a crit partner will point it out to you.  You'll see right away how it made the paragraph in which you unwisely included it as bland as beige.

The worst cliches are the storytelling cliches.  Everyone has their pet peeve cliche or two, but cliched storytelling is when the characters feel "done" or when the plot is populated only by familiar tropes and nothing original is added to turn the trope from "done" to "new."  In my view, tropes aren't the problem, as there are a million iterations of most tropes. "Star-crossed lovers" is a trope.  Romeo and Juliet was still original (well, kind of...but it was well-done enough to trump any "been there" feeling).  Reiterations and reimaginings aren't the problem, either--after all, West Side Story is just Romeo and Juliet redux, but it still works, because it's such a fresh take.

No, cliches are when the story hasn't been freshness sealed.  Avoid cliches.  Ziplock your stories.

A few of my pet peeve storytelling cliches:

1) The beautiful heroine who doesn't realize she's beautiful.  Let's be honest.  Most of us are pretty self-aware as to what our attractiveness is, comparatively speaking.  If you have a character experiencing an ugly duckling to swan transformation, there needs to be more than, say, a boy making her realize she's pretty.  (I have other issues with this...) Cliches take away real character development.

2) When the mystery is solved or action is dictated by a dream.  This may be just me, but I haven't stumbled across a good version of this in quite some time.  It feels lazy.  Plus, when the character starts dreaming, you *know* this is where it's going.  Cliches take away the surprise from the reading.

3) Chosen by Fate or what have you.  I have no problem with a character being the best one for the job, or being uniquely qualified for something.  That can drive a great plot.  But when the reasoning is "you've been CHOSEN!" and the immediate reaction (which takes about 3/4 of the book to overcome) is "but I am not WORTHY! You have the wrong person!" it tends to step easily into cliche land, especially if this is the driving device in the plot.  Cliches take away the potential for something new.

Now, just because I listed something here doesn't mean any story that utilizes one of these themes is automatically cliche.  There is still possibility to take a stale concept and freshen it up.  The key is the unexpected and the new--it can turn a dead doornail into a live, swinging, yowling cat.  (But please don't.  I like cats.)

Do you have any pet peeve storytelling cliches?  Any that you've culled from your own work?


Comments

  1. Yeah, I'm kind of over the whole "child of prophecy" thing, too. Rowling, at least, made it interesting, but most people don't.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, the whole "beautiful but don't realize it" thing is getting really old. As is the "prophesy child." But I'd love to see the whole "chosen" cliche turned on its head--I think there's room to explore it and twist it into something new and different.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes to both--the "chosen" cliche can work, like it did in Harry Potter--but Rowling also didn't dwell on it. And I'd love to see more stories where it's an element that's played with! (I'd actually love to read a story about someone who's *not* special and has to deal with that!)

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

In Which I Finally Get to Say: Orbit is Publishing My Book!

I realize I’ve been a little quiet around here recently.  Moms of toddlers will tell you that it’s when things get quiet in their houses that they know *something* is happening.  With toddlers, silent happenings are usually not a good thing.  In writing? They can be a really awesome thing.
Long story short (when does that ever happen writing novels?): I’m incredibly excited to announce that Orbit will be publishing my novel Torn in spring of 2018—and even more exciting, we’ll be publishing a trilogy! The story follows a seamstress who can embed good luck charms into her creations--and becomes entangled in a revolution.
Obligatory Publisher's Marketplace screenshot--because this little blurb means this is super-duper, 100%, don't bother pinching me official!


Long story less short: Want to have the most exciting day of your career and then sit on the news for months? Then writing and publishing books is for you!  This has been in the works for a while, and though I’ve known for…

Delayed Celebrations and GIVEAWAY!

If there's one thing (pick just one!) that's frustrating about the writing and publishing sphere, it's how often the things you really want to celebrate have to be kept quiet..for ages.  Centuries.  Aeons, even.

Ok, but even a few weeks or months on the silent circuit can feel excruciating when you really want to run around like a toddler on a cookie high with a fistful of sparklers and order MY BOOK IS GOING TO BE A REAL BOOK AND BE PUBLISHED AND STUFF! on a cake.  You maybe haven't quite refined the cake wording yet.
Which is why I've never really blabbed much about how, a year ago today, I got a quick text from my Agent of Awesome to see if I had a minute to chat.  I was at work at work, at a community college writing center, and a minute something I had to scrape up given that it was nearing end-of-semester time and I was neck-deep in papers submitted to the online tutoring portal I managed.
But that minute was going to have to give, because I Just Knew that th…

In Which My Debut Novel Releases

Release dates are weird things.

See, this book has felt "real" to me for a while now.  From seeing pass pages (and marking up pass pages and wow a novel means a STACK and a half of pass pages!)



to getting an ARC of my book, to a box of author copies arriving on my doorstep


to handling REAL ACTUAL copies of MY BOOK for the first time...

I've met my book as a book.  It feels real.  
It's been out there dipping its big toe in the world, too--there have been trade reviews and book blogger's reviews (like this one, this one, and I'm missing quite a few but I'm typing fast here, this one).  People have read my book.

I've had that stop and breathe moment--*PEOPLE have read my BOOK.*

(Whether people liked it or not isn't even registering--people have READ it.)

And all that happens before the book releases into the wild of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your favorite corner bookshop that's hanging despite the odds.

So what does happen tomorrow? Well...I hav…