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The call of the cliche

I’m jittering like someone on their twentieth straight shot of espresso. I wonder if I eat this mini Snickers bar whether my heart will stop. Nope, still alive. But now I’m hearing maniacal laughter and I’m about 45% certain it’s not coming from me. Ok. It’s Halloween. The weird thing is, despite saying yesterday that my blog today would be about Halloween, I actually don’t wanna write anything about Halloween. You know why? Because that feels entirely cliché. I mean, how many blogs out there are going to be saying things like, “So what’s with all the candy?” or “What are you dressing up as?” Oh, it’s not because I don’t like the holiday. It’s practically my favorite one. I love the masks, costumes, candy, all the goodies and just the overall “have fun for the sake of having fun” atmosphere. I just don’t want to write about it, which is ironic I guess since this whole paragraph is kind of addressing it anyways.

Moving on then. Since it’s a general goal for writers to avoid cliché, why don’t we talk about what is cliché? What makes something so overdone and trite that you just groan when you see it starting to sneak into a story? Want some examples of cliché? Take a peek at that Fantasy writer’s exam link on the right there. Funny…but sadly true in many stories you pick up. (Hint: Good stories avoid pretty much anything listed in the exam)

What causes cliché then, and how do we, as writers or lovers of a good story, avoid it? “Cliché” is something that is overly commonplace, boring, or otherwise familiar to the point of making one fall asleep and drool on the page. In the realm of science fiction and fantasy, one might list plot ideas such as mad scientists with zany schemes to take over the world, traveling back in time to kill Hitler, a rewrite of the Adam and Eve account, and (except for those few-and-far-between cases) a lot of stories that involve vampires and werewolves these days.

Fortunately, flipping on the cliché alarm in your head is easy. Just learn how to spot them. Research what’s been done before and how many times, and how it has been received. Look up stories in similar genres and themes as yours and compare them. If you start seeing a lot of similarities to the point of making yourself wince, that could be a warning sign that the clichés do lurk in the murky depths. This is not to say your idea is a bad one. You just need to revisit your novel, short story, or otherwise and figure out how you can make it entirely yours…original to the point that no one would mistake it for a recycled adventure quest about some really short guys with a powerful, but evil ring. Yes, research can be hard, but it’s worth it so you don’t spend weeks, months, or years on a story only to have some editor look at it and go, “Meh, seen it a hundred times today.”

Those are my thoughts for now, though this is a huge topic that could be talked over for hours and days. Anyone have other examples of clichés that you hate seeing pop up, whether plot points, descriptions, etc?

I see that smile.

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2 Comments

  1. Mirtika
    Mirtika October 31, 2006

    Thanks for dropping by Mirathon yesterday. Nice to see a new face. 🙂

    I posted on “All Hallow’s Eve”…and I don’t do the costuming and partying. I remember the beloved dead. So, maybe I’m not cliche. 🙂

    Well, okay, I do buy candy.

    Mir

  2. Josh
    Josh October 31, 2006

    Hey, mirtika. Glad you said hello. There you go…the perfect example of approaching something familiar in an original way. And no worries, candy is never cliche. Candy is just eaten.

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