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What clichés should be avoided in my story?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kittie Brandybuck, Apr 2, 2021.

  1. Kittie Brandybuck

    Kittie Brandybuck Minstrel

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    Okay, so I'm writing a story about a girl who lives on earth. She's having a normal swimming lesson (she comes from Belgium, where it's normal that primary-school children have swimming lessons at school) when she finds a weird box that she can't unlock. She ends up going to a magical world (sort-of like Middle earth) where she finds out the box belongs to this evil guy who ruled the world for 2,000 years and the box contains his soul. To defeat the evil guy, she needs to destroy his soul, but to keep it safe, he hid the box in the town swimming pool where my main character takes swimming lessons, whilst keeping the key with him at all times. She needs to get the key to open the box to destroy his soul. What are some clichés I should avoid when writing this type of story?
     
  2. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    One thing that you should always keep in mind writing, no matter what it is, is "Rules are meant to be broken...as long as you have a good reason for it." When I was a newbie writer in high school, I hadn't read very widely and wasn't confident to come up with my own opinions. I LOVED Eragon, it absolutely influenced my desire to write my current novel, but I stopped liking it because I saw people saying "It's just Star Wars with dragons." I hated the sequel because me and the other people on the fan forum I was on were able to predict most of the twists. It was tropey, cliche, so I thought, ergo, it has to be bad because it was not 100% original. It was very "oh no they used this trope *ding as the counter goes up*" video.

    But now that I've had more lived experience, consumed more media of all types, and even taken college-level literature courses, my mind has changed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with cliches or tropes. This is ESPECIALLY true for stories for little kids! Most kids have not read very widely, so when Eragon's got a secret brother, his mentor dies, etc etc, that was the first time I really experienced those. To me they were big twists out of nowhere, it made me re-contextualize prior things in the book, it was great. It made me think more about the story and the world. As an adult, I can appreciate how the story is so faithful to The Hero's Journey, which is what Star Wars did, too, along with a lot of other media. It's not bad because that's the type of story the writers wanted to tell. I'm reading The Ranger's Apprentice and I can tell from a mile away who the MC's actual father is, but that doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the book; it's making me look at the things he's doing and think about how he must feel keeping this secret. It makes it more enjoyable for me.

    So you're writing a story probably for younger kids (because your main character seems to be younger). You can do the most cliche things in the world and your readers are probably going to experience them for the first time and they'll love it. Sometimes we want to tell a story that fits an archetype, there's nothing wrong with an orphan farm boy who discovers he's got a magic power that will save the whole kingdom. Those stories persist because people enjoy them. If you're writing for an adult audience it might not go over as well, as they're used to books like Game of Thrones which challenge your assumptions about cliches. This is a really good video that goes over it in detail. (honestly most of his videos are great. He might have some about specific tropes you might want to include in your story). But some people just really want to read predictable, tropey stories, too.

    There are no absolute rules in writing, and you need to run far, far away from anyone who tells you otherwise. There is nothing wrong with cliches or a formulaic story, but you do have to think about why you're including them. Does your MC suddenly develop a power because you wrote yourself into a corner? That's what editing is for, make it look like it was planned all along. Do you want to evoke a certain feeling from the reader? Do you want them to think of this world as nice and friendly like The Jewel Kingdom? Do you want it to be a grimdark dystopia like [insert YA series here]? Do your cliches/tropes add to that experience? Or are you trying to blend genres/tones? Just because your story is for kids and you can use more cliches, it doesn't mean kids are dumb and can't tell if a piece of media is objectively Bad. As a kid I didn't really like the gargoyles in Disney's Notre Dame but I didn't have the media literacy to explain why (because they're so tonally dissonant from everything else and exist for Quasi to monologue at/sell more toys), but I also loved super toyetic media like My Little Pony, Zoids, Digimon, Pokemon, Yugioh etc, which are all incredibly tropey because they're just extended commercials. As an adult I love them for that because they're so earnest and unashamed. They embrace what they are and have fun with it. You should, too. If you want your MC to be a secret princess or befriends a magic talking animal or she uses her powers to scare off her bullies, go for it! It's your story, do whatever you want.
     
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  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    What cliches are you worried about? I assume you wouldn't have asked the question without thinking it was an issue.
     
  4. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    In my view, tropes and clichés are tools, to be used as required in your writing. What matters to me is the quality of characterisation and the world building that goes with the story. David Eddings series The Belgariad is an interesting example. Its stuffed full of every fantasy trope going, has some extremely clichéd gender roles and country descriptions - and remains a bestseller. Why? Because its well written, with well developed characters and some fantastically snappy dialogue. Do I write books like that? No, my books are rather more cynical and use tropes and clichés in a different way. My advice, for what its worth, is that you should write the story you want to write. It doesn't matter if its full of clichés, its the way you write which makes the difference - and your readers will be able to tell if you were enjoying yourself when you wrote the story. So write what you want to write, and have fun doing it.
     
  5. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Scribe

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    Don't have the character go on a quest to throw the box into a volcano.

    Clichés are only bad if you arent original about them. Many readers do appreciate some predictability when digesting the story, but they dont want a copy paste of another story. Creative, well done writing can coverup most clichés.

    Cliches that should be avoided
     
  6. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Cliches are just shorthand for story elements that tend to get over-used, basically tropes that have been done to death. (Do not immediately go play on TV Tropes. You'll fall in and die.) Cliches are tools in your toolbox, nothing more. Think a story element is cliched? Flip it on its head. Twist it. Change it. Make it yours. It takes a little practice, but it's not hard once you get the hang of it.
     
    Kittie Brandybuck likes this.
  7. Whatever the cliche, there are a myriad of published stories that embraced it and, as A.E. Lowan said above, flipped it on its head. Write the story YOU want to write and then you can worry about what might need to be revisited in-between your first draft and later ones, after you've had feedback from your first (alpha and beta) readers. The time to worry about things like cliches is AFTER you have a complete story. :)
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    From my perspective, there are no bad cliches, just bad execution.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'll go a step further than the above posts. A trope is indeed something overused, but how does the *reader* react? If the reader is new to the genre, they might think magic-powered airships are the greatest things since ... airships! Another reader might groan and never get past your cover.

    Heck by now *everything* has been overused. And under-used. And mis-used. And brilliantly used.

    The question isn't helpful. Still less because the author, especially one new to the genre, cannot possibly know what's overused and what isn't. And since, per above, everything is a trope, the newbie is likely to wander far through Tropeland and come out none the wiser.

    As the Mad Swede says, a more experienced writer (especially if widely-read in the field) can pick up tropes and consciously subvert them. This is quite á la mode these days, but truly there's no assurance to be found there. For, by now, even the subversions have become tropes. If you can strike the right note, with the right readers, you're golden. But that goes for the original tropes and for anything and everything you write.

    I suggest you not worry about it. Get the thing written first. Let it go down what roads it will. Later, when you have beta readers, editors, and actual readers, they'll let you know. You can learn what you will from what they say, though by then you ought to be busy writing the next book.

    And that advice is itself a trope! Or hackneyed. Or maybe knock-kneed.
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I remember the first time I saw a comment on YouTube about the trailer to the movie Ender's Game. Paraphrasing, someone said, "So...basically it's The Hunger Games?"

    Yeah I was a little furious, but only because Ender's Game was one of my favorite novels when I was a teen. That was a long time ago. When I was a teen was a long time ago, that is.

    It was also long before the very first word of The Hunger Games was written. I realized others might have seen or read The Hunger Games before ever becoming aware of Ender's Game, so to them this idea of teens forced into fighting each other seemed to be stolen by the movie version of Ender's Game. (Never mind the fact these two stories are quite unalike in other aspects—and in major ways.)

    This immediately made me think of Horcruxes. And The One Ring. And even a little bit of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

    Does that matter? Yes, no, maybe. I've enjoyed Harry Potter, LotR, and the Pirates movie quite a bit. So maybe adding a fourth or fifth or sixth example to the list might not matter much. But how were these three examples different from one another? Those differences are a large part of the reasons I liked all of them. I got something out of the Harry Potter franchise I didn't get out of LotR or Dead Man's Chest. I got something out of each of those I didn't get from the others.

    I wasn't interested in each simply because it was different in important ways from other stories utilizing the One Ring type of trope. I was also interested in the specifics of those differences. Simply being different didn't matter; I also had to like the things that made them different.

    I don't think anyone can give you a definitive list of things to avoid putting in your story. Just about anything might work in some story, depending on how it's used in the story. But I also don't think anyone can give you a list of things you must include in your story. How your story works as a whole—how all the various parts interact—is what's important. Your story could have 30 aspects that are commonly found in other stories but have one that is quite peculiar to it, and this one thing will make the whole story work wonderfully. What that one thing is or isn't....no one can tell you, hah. Or the two things. Or three things. Or however many peculiar things you put into it.

    I do think it's important to consider peculiar things. I know this is an abstract notion, but peculiarity can be very powerful. I would say the danger to avoid is all lack of peculiarity.
     
  11. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    Don't call the main character Pandora.

    Although an anagram of Pandora would be acceptable.
     
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