Everybody hates them. Every writing lesson, course, article, blog, or Pinterest thingy says to avoid them, at all costs. If you so much as hint at a cliché, your story immediately becomes boring and just like every other book ever and no one will want to read it.
Mm . . . no.
Before I go any further, let’s define our terms. What exactly is a cliché? Here’s what the dictionary says:
1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox.
2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.dictionary.com
So a cliché is something that is used too much and isn’t interesting anymore. A few writing ones I can think of off the top of my head are stuff like; the princess in the fairytale gets locked in a tower, poor orphan turns out to be royalty, EVERYONE IS AN ORPHAN.
But are they really not interesting anymore?
Why are clichés clichés?
I promise I’m going somewhere with this, hold on.
Let’s start with the ever-popular Young Protagonist Is Always An Orphan trope. There is actually a very good reason for it. Parents — at least in fiction — ruin everything. They care for the hero. They protect the hero. They give them love and wisdom and a sense of belonging.
Who wants that?!
I have read a few books where the protagonist still has at least one parent, and let me tell you it is difficult to get those kids into any kind of fun trouble. The most used strategy is the Overworked Single Mom strategy, where the kid just doesn’t let their poor hardworking mom (who is conveniently not there for most of the day) know that anything is going on and therefore not receive her help. Or, just having the MC straight up run away, a strategy I never really like. So the most convenient way to do things is to just kill off the parents Disney-style. Gives the kiddos extra tragic-backstory material, as well.
Another popular one is that your Orphaned Protagonist is
The Chosen One
and has special powers that they must use to save the world. This one is a bit easier to understand why it’s used so much, and it’s deep-ish too. Everybody wants to be a hero, everybody wants to be special. Why wouldn’t they? I certainly do. If a reader connects with a protagonist, they feel like it’s them saving the world, being the hero. It’s quite a nice feeling. Also, who wants to read about somebody who isn’t special? What kind of story would that be?
(Actually, having written that kind of story, I can say that it can in fact be quite fantastic if you get the right kind of character.)
And why do the main characters always have to be edgy? Like, yeah, I get that your family is dead and you’re a lonely outcast of society and no one likes you or understands you but do ya gotta be quite so angsty!? I personally like bouncy charries a lot better than edgy ones. Of course, the reason this is a cliché is probably because everybody likes angsty protags. Feels, and such. Bounciness is for side characters. Probably why I like them so much.
Don’t even get me started on eye colors. Everybody’s gotta have ‘sapphire blue’ or ‘ice blue’ or ‘sea gray’ or ’emerald green’ eyeballs. What about brown??? Or like normal green? Now, if their specific eye color is important to the plot (say if it matches the eye color of a dragon and that is a very important thing, for example) that’s all well and good. But I’m like 90% sure that when you meet a random stranger you don’t immediately go “Ah, his eyes, like the sea after a storm, with hidden turmoil and grief hidden behind stoic quiet.” What the heck, guys.
Need I go on?
I don’t think I do.
So, some clichés are okay. And some are just . . . . nah. But what makes the difference?
I think it’s that some of them make people like the story more. It’s familiar, plays to what the readers want. and then others are just being lazy. I don’t think anything can be written without using something someone’s already done, so it’s not a disaster if you use a cliché. In fact, I quite like some of them.
Are there any clichés you’re particularly fond of? What about ones you particularly despise? Leave a comment, do, and maybe at some point I will take upon a challenge to write a little thing using as many of them as possible. Who knows?