A cliché is an idea that has been used so often it becomes boring, aggravating, or hilarious to see. Ideas that were once ‘showstoppers’ were repeated by ‘wannabees’ so often that nobody ‘blinks an eye’ at them anymore. They instead ‘roll their eyes’. This can include stereotypes, sayings, and even writing techniques. I’ve collected a few clichés to warn you away from. There are always more, but I’m sure you’ve seen them often enough to recognize them yourself if you look.
A band of adventurers quest for a magical talisman, ring, or artifact
Twins are separated by destiny
The idea of a chosen one to save the world
A defeated villain is shown mercy, who tries to counterattack, and destroys their self
Each genre has its own plot clichés. Comedy often purposefully uses clichés to make fun of them and romance expects them. If you are writing in a genre in which you are quite familiar, you have probably noticed them, even unconsciously. This is when it is useful to be well-read. Avoiding the most used ideas will keep your story fresh. Alternatively, you could steal clichés from other genres and meld them into your own.
The exotic, wise, old character who has the answer for the protagonist to reach their goal
The plain Jane who catches the popular/handsome guy’s eyes
The reluctant hero
Main characters who come from abusive or absent families
Race and culture stereotypes
Character clichés can be called stereotypes in themselves, and when you use a stereotype you make people nervous, angry, or frustrated. It can be easy to fall back and use a typical side-kick, but you then lose authenticity. People are unique. Everyone has their own motives and while there are patterns, not everything about a person should mimic another. But you don’t have to create every character’s backstory either. Just know that there is one and write with a few characteristics in mind.
Perhaps study a person in real life then write how you think they would react to yourself. Often writers write themselves into a character but don’t get as much variety then. Think of all the people you know and write about them.
Overemphasis on the weather to create mood
Using a certain setting for mood
Storms mean danger is near and funerals cause it to rain. Romance novels are on deserted islands and mysteries are in spooky woods. They make sense and is an easy way to create mood. But once again, that is the definition of a cliché. People fall in love at other places and storms can appear on your best days. When you use setting clichés the reader sees the story as being just a story. It isn’t realistic and becomes less connectable. Dig deeper into your worlds and use action to create mood. Let people react to the weather instead of the setting react to the characters.
Writing Technique Cliches
Broadcasting an upcoming plot twist
A countdown clock to create tenseness
Using a mirror to describe a character in first person
Knocking your character out to get to a new setting without having to explain how
Writing courses will sometimes encourage writing clichés if they aren’t careful. Good advice can become stale advice over the years. Old techniques can become new ideas. When writing you have to be constantly learning. Read and learn what is being used. Take writing courses from different sources. Practice and learn to trust your own voice. Decide which advice and teachings are going to be good for your style and which is not for you. Time and practice is the best way to determine which techniques to use.
It was raining cats and dogs
Their argument became more heated
Her love was like a rose in bloom
The final hour
There are a ton of metaphors, similes, and little sayings that get overused. Honestly, I don’t believe you have to cut out every phrase just because it is commonplace. Just notice that is is a common saying and realize who would say it. Poetry is nice, but not everyone gets it.
Culture, upbringing, and setting determine how a character uses words. Unschooled people won’t use complicated metaphors. Worlds with different animals than ours won’t use sayings related to them. Future people may get old sayings wrong and believe them to mean something different. It depends on what type of story you are writing as to which words you can use.
Clichés can be boring and reading is the best way to know what is overused. It can be hard to come up with new ideas. Sometimes a new idea consists of old ideas twisted just a bit. It can actually be a plot twist to write your story as if it is a cliché and then change the expected ending. This is where you can get creative. And even though people complain that everything has already been done before, I don’t believe that. There are new ideas out there. Defy those that would box your thoughts in and find the inspiration to create something extraordinary.
Photo by Diogo Nunes