On Tuesday we focused on cliché expressions. Today we're talking about cliché plots, scenes, and characters. Once upon a time (cliché phrase!) every cliché idea was new and original and so brilliant that it inspired people to copy it. (They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.) But over time, so many people have overused those same brilliant ideas that they're no longer brilliant, and now they make readers (or viewers) groan or roll their eyes.
As writers, we want to avoid having our readers groan and roll their eyes.
There are so many more story clichés than what I've listed below. But these are some that editors and agents mention at writing conferences and that I've seen over and over in books or manuscripts I've read.
Here is a list of a few overdone clichés:
-The love triangle
-The line, "Don't you die on me!"
-A story about the chosen one
-A prophecy being fulfilled
-Prologues with an abandoned baby
-Portals to another world
-The sequel where the couple has split up and must be reunited.
-The magical item of great importance
-Prologue that happens many years before your story begins
-The best friend falls in love with the main character
-The fake death. We saw him die, but...he's alive! (I did this one...)
-Character goes to a magic school of some kind
-The minority sidekick OR comic relief
-The gay best friend.
-The evil other woman, ex-wife, parent, etc. (People aren't ever THAT evil.)
-A retired guy called back into service because he's the ONLY ONE who can get the job done.
-The bad guy is really the main character's parent
-The man who's planning to retire... you know he's going to die... and he does!
-The "we look alike, let's switch places" plot
-Big guys are dumb and oafish
-Just before the big battle someone says, "Are you ready?" And your hero says, "I was born ready."
-The evil, dark lord of whatever
-Main character is tutored by the old man (I did this too!)
-The rakish hero who falls for the virginal heroine. He's a heart-breaker, but now he's met the one woman who can tame his wild heart.
-The bad guy could have killed the good guy but he monologues instead, giving the hero time to get away. (*cough* James Bond)
-The couple that hates each other at the beginning but end up together by the end of the book.
-The plain girl who gets a makeover and all of a sudden she's gorgeous and all the guys love her.
-The dying man's line, "Tell my wife and kids I love them!"
-The orphan who turns out to be someone really important (And I also did this one! Oopsy.)
If you've got some of these in your book, what can you do?
First of all, Stephanie wrote about cliches last year and had some really good advice, so click here to check that out as a refresher.
And here are a few tips from me:
-Do the opposite of what you planned or do something unexpected. As I'm reading a book, I'm always guessing, "I bet this is going to happen." So try to make sure your readers can't second guess you. Give your hero two semi-normal, semi-flawed parents. Leave the bad guy dead! Maybe he had a son or second in command who will try and revenge him. The plain girl gets a makeover, people are still jerks, no one asks her to prom, but it makes her tough. Make the giant guy brilliant. Make the girl the main guy likes really nice so that your female lead can't hate her--they're friends!--and it hurts to be jealous of your friend!
Flip things on their head and see what you come up with.
-Avoid stereotypes. In real life, the guy you like might not like you. Ever. (Wah!) But life goes on. And beware of the damsel in distress or the manly, battle-trained female. Give us a real girl and let her do her best sometimes and scream sometimes too. Consider making your main character a minority. If the guy is about to retire, let your hero tell the guy to go home before he dies! I'll like your hero all the more for his wisdom. Maybe the rakish hero is a rake, and the girl tells him so and chooses the brainy guy. (Go, nerds!) And leave your orphan an orphan.
I created chams (fire-breathing bears) and gowzals (rat-like birds) in my trilogy and they worked pretty good. But I used swords. A lot. *grin*
-Vary your characters' ages. I mean, it's pretty coincidental that same aged males and females are always going on epic journey's together, isn't it? Consider not having everyone in your story be the same age.
-Skip the prologue. Write it for yourself if you want to work out the history of your characters or storyworld, but don't put it in the book. Too many people have. Let the readers be surprised when they discover your ending without giving them that peek into the past or the birth or your characters.
The point isn't to become paranoid over every little thing. No one is going to call your medieval fantasy novel cliche because your characters use swords. These are all merely ideas to get you thinking. When you go back in to rewrite, work hard to make those cliches work for you. See what brilliant treasures you can come up with that are so amazing people will be copying you!
Sarah (from the comments) inspired me to add this good point that I missed. Every scene in your story should happen for a reason. Including clichés in your story because they seem like fun twists is the wrong idea. You want to make your choices based on who your characters are and the goals they have.
Be sure and read through the comments for more discussions on this topic.