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Cliches that Deserve a Chance

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by DragonOfTheAerie, Jul 9, 2016.

  1. I'm sure there's already a thread somewhere about cliches that you hate and despise. However, I'm starting a thread that asks the opposite question. What are some cliches you think deserve a chance?

    Stuff becomes cliche, I believe, for any of these three reasons:

    1. A popular book did it, and lots of authors draw inspiration from/try to emulate them.

    2. They're easy to write and make the story easier to write. For example, the protagonist of the story being an orphan eliminates the need to account for the characters' parents and family so they can start straightaway on their quest. Having the minions be hideous, evil orcs eliminates the need to address conflict about the morality of killing them. (I don't know why you would want to avoid moral conflicts, personally I love them...but I can see not wanting to tangle with them.)

    3. They work. Some cliches are used often for good reasons. The antagonist being a relative of the protagonist is a cliche because it introduces a ton of conflict and emotion into the story line. Family and relationships are powerful things and using them to generate conflict can make a story much more powerful.

    I want to emphasize that last point. But first, a definition: A cliche is a story element that is used so often it loses its power and is no longer effective. Everyone knows to expect it and it isn't exciting or interesting because everyone has seen it before. I guess my definition makes "cliche" a subjective term, since a) everyone has read different things and b) what speaks to one reader may not affect another. Which brings me to the point of this post.

    What cliches do you think deserve a chance? Are there any that you think are wrongly calmed cliches? Do you think writers often damage their stories trying to avoid cliches? What are some cliches that "work" for you?

    Hoping this will generate lively discussion :)
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Personally, I don't think there are any cliches that don't deserve a chance. To me a cliche is only bad when it's written poorly.

    Knowing what to expect isn't all that bad either. The industry of film sequels will attest to the positive and negative aspects of that. I mean if there's a book you love, how often will you look for something similar? Generally I think lots of people want something the same but different.

    Also knowing something is going to happen doesn't necessarily remove the power from the story. As a writer, I understand the structure of story and there are times when I can tell what's going to happen and when just because of that.

    It's about the journey not the destination, so to me, it doesn't matter if something is cliche, regardless of what that cliche is, as long as it's written well.
    TheKillerBs and Demesnedenoir like this.
  3. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I think any experience that is not universal is at risk of becoming cliche.
    No average person comes cross a briefcase full of money or a damsel in distress so they become cliches. No average person gets involved in a car chase or a gun fight so those can become cliche.
    A friend of mine actually joked that the word "mustn't" is a cliche because no one uses it in real-life but it shows-up here and there in fiction.

    I think the problem comes from a lot of people feeling that original is an aspect of "goodness". It's really not. I suspect that that fallacy is a symptom of post-modernism but I haven't the time, knowledge or desire to get into that.

    There are a couple (in fact, many) cliches/conventions/tropes that I hate regardless of how well they are done though so maybe I'm a hypocrite.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    What Penpilot said. There are no bad ideas, only bad writing. Conversely, bad writing can ruin even the best of ideas.
  5. I can enjoy almost any "cliche" if it's done well. However, there are some I despise because they tend to lead to bad storytelling and laziness. Such as the potion/spell/magic that makes someone evil. People choose to be evil, they have complex reasons for being the way they are, but I guess making them evil because of touching an evil artifact or something is easier.
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Huh, I can't say I've seen anything of this sort outside of maybe cartoons, and stories geared toward MG/YA & there is concentrated evil in Time Bandits (the movie), LOL. But it doesn't make you evil...

    "Do be careful! Don't lose any of that stuff. That's concentrated evil. One drop of that could turn you all into hermit crabs."

    "If I were creating the world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!"

    Ah man, gonna have to watch that again, heh heh.

    But I'm with Penpilot, orcs, orphans, elves, dwarves, virgin births... If it's executed well, it's just fine.

  7. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    I like it when the main love interest is insanely beautiful.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >"If I were creating the world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!"

    One of my favorite lines. I even have that as a sample (music).
  9. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    I think cliches are simply a way of introducing something familiar. And a readers all have different golden ratios of familiar-original.

    As a blunt example, the romance genre has a cliche that repeats in pretty much every romance book. The guy and girl get together at the end. That is the familiar that readers of that genre want. The original will come with other plotlines.

    In fantasy, I think there is a lot of original going on (as opposed to something like a crime novel), so we have a lot more leeway with having familiar elements. I.e. having too much original can easily overwhelm or put off readers (though, some readers and/or writers will have a higher original to familiar ratio than others), while introducing some familiar amongst the deluge of original can help ground them.

    I think you can even do something like this well. Herewith follows some spoilers for Brandon Sanderson's Reckoners Series:
    Having read the first two books: The Calamity grants random people superpowers, but each one of them is a villain. Later on, it's revealed that using the powers makes you more "evil" (or rather, selfish to the extreme; killing people because they look at you funny etc.). One of the main characters is actually one of the Epics (person with powers) but he avoids using the powers so that he doesn't become evil. And so, there is a great conflict between having to hold back on powers to avoid turning to the enemy side.
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I don't like cliches when they work as gimmicks to force characters to behave in unnatural ways. The big one is the "Chosen One" - the idea that saving the world comes down to one person chosen by magical fiat even though he or she isn't really the person for the job. "Last heir" can sometimes be pushing it close to this. There are stories which are able to pull this off, but the key I think is establishing that the person is the right one for the job regardless of the magical status.

    Everything else, to me, works just fine. I think "Dark Lords," in particular, get a bad rap. There's a lot to explore when you look at the impact of pure evil. And there's a lot of untapped potential embedded in that cliche. For example, I remember waiting for the last two Harry Potter books, and some people had suggested that Snape was the real villain of the story, and Voldemort was secondary. I also remember Magus from Chrono Trigger, who was set up as a Dark Lord when he was actually summoning the evil big demon in an effort to kill it and save the world. You could have a dark lord without the orcs, and look into the mindset of the people who choose or are forced to follow the Dark Lord. If you consider making the dark lord a red herring, or a lesser figure in a big scheming story, or with a hidden agenda that unmasks the darkness, or so on - I think there's still a lot of room to play with idea.
  11. Steel Dragon

    Steel Dragon Dreamer

    I think trying to subvert cliches is even worse. There is such a thing as audience expectation for a reason. Eventually you have to give people what they paid for. Sure, it would be a hell of a twist if Arthur gets Excaliber from the lake, shoves it up his ass and uses it for a pogo stick then goes on to form a WHAM! cover band with Mordred. Nobody would see that coming...and it would be a terrible ending. I think a lot of good stories get ruined looking for the twist or the swerve when they could just deliver what they promised and go home. There was a reason Hulk Hogan always won at Wrestlemania; because at the end of the day that's why people bought the ticket. When a reader picks up your story, you are making them a promise, and more often than not there is nothing wring with delivering that promise. That's why mass murdering madman George RR Martin even said that when fans guessed certain details in his books, he wasn't changing them; because that's what the story was building to and it didn't make sense to change the story just to try and shock people.
  12. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    The cliches that I have the biggest issue with are cliche characters and cliche plots. They can be summed up as uninteresting and predictable.
  13. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    You can subvert a cliche without disappointing the reader's basic expectations for the type of story. For example, in a story about a fighting tournament you could have the antagonist and presumed big bad face the hero's love interest before the climax, with the expected result for most being that the love interest loses and is badly injured or killed... only for her to win, and then fight the hero in the final match instead. Then you still get the big fight against the antag expected in an action story, and another big fight for the finale... just with a different character XD

    'I'm still as badass as I was set up to be when introduced... I won't fall behind and become irrelevant' - the love interest
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2016
    Peat likes this.
  14. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

    Well the biggest cliché of all is for the good guy to win at the end and a lot of people will be dissatisfied if he/she doesn't
    Ireth likes this.
  15. Sanctified

    Sanctified Minstrel

    Have you ever seen the South Park episode "The Simpsons Did It?"

    It featured Butters trying to accomplish some goal (I don't remember what the goal was, but it's not really important), and every time he thought of a plan, another character would pop up and say, "The Simpsons did it first!"

    It was South Park's writers having fun, and obviously poking fun at themselves, but I think it applies in novel writing and lots of other creative endeavors as well. The thing is, if you get too hung up on worrying about cliches or trying to come up with something 100% original, you end up crippling yourself creatively.

    On some level, every story borrows elements of other things, and that's natural. I think what separates "bad cliches" from "good cliches" is the way you use them, whether you put a unique spin on them, or build them into something the reader doesn't expect. Also, I've always found that some people are so cynical they think everything's a cliche. Some of that has to do with awareness of the genre you're writing in, but there are always going to be people who think things are unoriginal, and it's not worth worrying about them.
  16. ddmealing

    ddmealing Dreamer

    Cliches sink you on two fronts, IMO - marketability and prose.

    If the publishing world is tired of vampires and fae (and they are right now, big time), you pretty much need to already be Laurel K Hamilton or Sarah J Maas to publish in those subgenres. This one is *hard* to overcome. Even if you have a fresh take on something the audience considers cliche, they're going to be tuning you out before you get through the first line of your elevator pitch. Not much to say here other than to write what you love, and make sure you are reading the stuff being published in your genre. You need to know what's hot and (at least if you're interested in the commercial side of the craft) you need to find areas where your ideas overlap the market.

    The prose side is much simpler. Don't write things like 'tough as nails,' 'chilled to the bone,' etc. Don't start scenes with a character looking in the mirror or waking up in the morning. And above everything else: make sure you've read enough in the genre to know what the cliches are!

    Macro level cliches like the wise old mentor, the villain as father/brother/sister/mother, etc are usually much more forgiving IMO, so long as you're coming at them with a fresh take. Look no further than Pat Rothfuss for an example - Kingkiller is nothing but macro-level tropes stitched together with beautiful writing, and it absolutely works on every level. An inverse Rothfuss (cliche writing with fresh concepts) would be an unreadable dumpster-fire.
  17. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

    Disregard everything said here. Ask yourself the last time a writer you admired sought validation. Too bad to be on you're on, good luck.

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