Clichés are the bane of any writer’s existence. We actively avoid them, try to rework our ideas to filter any out, and sometimes, maybe even lament that we can’t go with an idea we really love simply because it’s too cliché. But are all clichés really so bad? I don’t think so. There are plenty that can be found throughout the most popular books today, and they probably aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.
Read on to learn about the most common fiction clichésand how you can use them to your advantage.
The New Girl
You may want to roll your eyes when you read a book’s blurb and immediately discover that the protagonist is a girl or young woman who has just moved to a new town. If she’s starting at a new high school, she’ll undoubtedly catch the attention of the most popular guy (or be captivated by the lonesome rebel with dreamy eyes). Now those two examples aren’t great. It’s a love story that’s too generic and honestly unrelatable to feel new anymore.
But being the new girl at school or in town isn’t an automatic cliché. New beginnings are emotionally charged. You can use them to pique interest in your protag’s past right off the bat; is she here because she wants to be? What made her want to leave? Is she chasing a dream or running from something?
Don’t avoid the new girl cliché if you’re writing a female lead. Just don’t make the fact she’s the new girl a definitive character trait or the foundation of your entire plot.
You know the set-up. Two characters who have absolutely nothing in common are mysteriously drawn together and develop a passionate love despite one of them constantly suffering from extreme doubt and insecurity about the other’s affection.
This is an example of the opposites attracts cliché done wrong. Why? Not because it’s been done to death but because it’s so unrealistic. In the real world, people who are polar opposites either never get together or they do and it winds up ending badly. Differences are just as important as similarities in relationships, but they have to create balance.
The problem with extremely different couples in fiction is that once their together, all of their contradicting character traits become irrelevant.
They diminish into these blobs of people who no one really relates to or identifies with simply because all of their interactions are generically romantic.
I encourage having opposite characters pursue a romantic relationship. Or even just have a great friendship. It feels more real to have characters with conflicting personality traits interact on the page. Just make sure that when you do this, your characters are aware of their differences and handle them differently according to their personality types. Don’t automatically make someone the spunky sidekick or bad boy with a soft side — don’t be afraid to make things messy and have characters fight.
The Fated Hero
So many books as of late have seen heroes that were destined to save the galaxy or change the world because some higher power said so. If you’re writing a sci-fi, supernatural, or fantasy where a greater being’s influence is relevant to the plot, then this isn’t something you need to immediately write out of your story. It is something you have to be aware of, though, and if your book really isn’t into revealing the ultimate reasoning or source of your character’s special fate, then it’s time to do some thinking.
A lot of YA books in particular like making their protagonist stand out by having them be a seemingly ordinary person whose reluctance to conform is ultimately explained by the fact they were chosen to become something much greater. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t really leave readers satisfied anymore unless there is a legitimate connection between the fate of this character and the plot itself.
LitReactor said it best when they wrote, “Characters can be special without being touched by the hand of fate.”
You know what’s more interesting than a character who has no choice but to become a hero? A character who chooses to be a hero. One who fights, sacrifices, and suffers for their cause despite all the reasons they shouldn’t.
Are you using clichés in your writing?
Clichés might be unavoidable but they don’t have to be unoriginal. It defies the definition of the word for a cliché to be fresh and new, but rather than seeing them as confinements within your writing, think of them as basic models that are waiting for you to change and customize in your own unique way.
Tell me about how you combat clichés in your writing in the comments!