1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Cliches to Avoid

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mallory, Dec 13, 2010.

    Hi,

    I thought it would be fun and helpful to start a thread where we can discuss techniques that are cliched and overused - whether it be grammar, character traits, methods of introducing/describing characters, etc.

    I realize that what matters is not what you write but how you write it. I also realize that everything has an exception and it's not all cut-and-dry: some authors can pull things off while others can't.

    However, I think most of us can agree that there are indeed certain things that are, for the most part, annoying, cliched, overused, etc.

    This is also not intended to bash any specific author/book - just a general discussion so that we can all learn what to be careful with.
     
  2. Alterra
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    Alterra New Member

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    I came across a great analogy for this on the internet somewhere. It's not my idea but here it is.

    Picture Man's fist attempts at flight. Men would build contraptions with wings able to flap by peddling or waving ones arms. These attempts failed because man was looking at the nature of birds instead of the nature of flight.

    In a sense, cliches can be formed when someone mistake the physical nature of a novel as its success instead of the underlying nature surrounding the concept.

    an example is that in science fiction everyone thinks that you need cool space travel/ alien species with superhuman trait that defines them entirely/ space craft with unique crew.
    These examples represent the physical nature of many science fiction novels and using them as a template for novel success does not guarantee "flight".
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    After the last six months to be honest I think the biggest cliche to avoid is the:

    Its a cliche
    Its a Mary Sue
    Its purple prose etc like any of this has to be a bad story.

    Chances are someone who writes a bad story won't make a convincing story with an original plotline.

    Cliches, Mary Sues etc are overdone because they CAN be really good and riveting. Many of the best works of literature have paragraphs that are memorable and stand out.
     
  4. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Thats almost what I was about to write Elgaisma. There's nothing wrong with cliches IF they are done properly. The reason something is a cliche is that it works.
     
  5. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    It depends on the cliche and what you do with it i think. You can subvert it, or use it to play to it's strengths.

    Sometimes Character cliches are unavoidable in the interest of believability. There's a reason that policemen or politicians, in the real world, often have a certain type of character - because it takes certain traits to be successful in that kind of job. The key issue then would be to ensure that the character is well rounded, so that they're not one dimensional stereotypes.

    This doesn't mean you can't then subvert the cliche - the ultra aggressive macho marine who is openly gay.

    I think Linguistic cliches should be avoided where possible unless they serve a purpose - to reinforce, in dialogue for example, someone's "down-homey" nature. But i think the key is to be aware about what you're writing. In the interests of the reader you need to be able to justify every word you write.
     
  6. Pook
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    Pook Member

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    What is a Mary-Sue?
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    A fictional character that is too perfect and is idealised - no flaws but you know what sometimes I like reading that.
     
  8. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    I like to take clichés and totally destroy them for fun, like the above "macho marine who turns out gay".
    There isn't a cliché to avoid I don't think. Everyone seems to agree that if it is put to good use then it can be justified.
     
  9. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    In my work in progress there is a Mary-Sue character. I made a decision to put him in there only to kill him off early, which has a huge catalytic effect.
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Things that are categorized as cliche often are because they're used as unimaginative shortcuts to "success". If the same things are used consciously and to make a powerful point, then they're no longer cliches. The cliche is not the object but the application.

    Otherwise all stories would be cliches. I mean, stories about people solving problems? It's been done to death!
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Cliche ideas are capable of being made original in the hands of the right writer, but there are plenty of phrases that I could do with never hearing again. Any time you find yourself using a tired metaphor or a predictable piece of description, can it. Don't think twice. If it feels familiar, forget it.

    Of course, I'm having trouble thinking of any examples off the top of my head (actually, there's one now), but when I read one they stick out like a sore thumb (another one). So stick to original language and original stylistic features--doing that is how you turn an unoriginal idea into something interesting.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Your MC should never find himself on the horns of a dilemma, even when he is.
     
  13. Midnight Pete
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    Midnight Pete Member

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    What about when the author uses the cliche ironically? To sort of poke fun at writing cliches?
     
  14. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The argument that cliches are cliches because they work is a bit misguided. Stuff becomes cliches because they work, but once they become a cliche, it's no longer working. Writers just think it is. Just like women who wear last season's fashion; just because it was popular, doesn't mean it still is.

    Cliches aren't a bad thing, depending on the goals of the writer. Just about every best seller these days is a huge steaming pile of cliches. You have to ask yourself what you want as a writer.

    If I were trying to appeal to the widest audience possible and simply pushy copies of a book, I'd do like many of the best selling writers and intentionally dumb-down everything I write. My goals are a bit different, though. I want to write stories that make me proud, not necessarily rich, and I couldn't maintain my own self-respect as a writer if I was knowingly fluffing up my stories to simply be shallow cliches.

    There's a reason we call a category of music 'popular' music, but that doesn't mean it's good.

    And before people flip out, I'm not saying all popular fiction is bad, or that there's no way well-written fiction can sell. I'm saying as a writer, one must consciously make decisions, and imo one of them is the depth with which one wishes to write, realizing that very often the deeper the story, the shallower the bank account.
     
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  15. FrailBeauty
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    FrailBeauty Member

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    I agree with everything you have said here, and I respect you for keeping true to yourself and not selling yourself out in your writing.

    As for cliches, there are really so many. One could even go on to say that a happy ending is to be considered cliche, because so many books end in the same way (a way that gives the reader closure). In my honest opinion, it would be much easier to make a list of non-cliches (truly original aspects that you've come across in someone's writing) than to make a list of all the predictable, unoriginal traits found in modern day literature.
     
  16. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    there is no such thing as originality.

    there was an article on Ted recently which talked about the "Eureka myth" and how actually if you traced the origin of an idea it usually had a solid gestation period where several disparate pieces of information happened to coincide mostly through luck or hard work.

    the Eureka moment only comes when you become aware of this processing of information.

    What most people think of as original is simply information that has been processed alongside other combinations.

    As far as Cliches go - it's hard to generalise. Cliches can be truisms or they can be phrases that are so overused they've lost their original impact.

    Cliches also form the basis of some comedy.
     
  17. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    The greatest problems with cliches, as I see it, is that people worry about them far too much.

    It is difficult to find writers that don't worry about parts of their work being cliches.

    Critics throw the word about like it was confetti at a parade.

    There seems to be a popular impression that a cliche is something bad, yet nobody can offer a satisfactory explanation as to why. It is "over used", "tired", "has been done before"...everything has been done before. With the number of writers in the world it shouldn't come as a surprise that virtually everything is over used.

    Let us remember that the folks who enjoy John Wayne movies love the cliche of "Larger than life hero comes to town, discovers good decent folk being victimized by evil cattle baron, rail road bandits, marauding outlaw gangs, stage coach robbers, etc. and is forced to gun the bad guys down when he refuses to compromise his principals".

    ...And I don't see anything wrong with that.

    Writers should write what they like writing. Readers should read what they like reading. What you write only matters when you write for a living, because then you have to write what your publisher wants to buy. If you make a living by writing articles for a camping and fishing magazine, they probably won't be interested in buying your Romance story set in Renaissance Italy, no matter how original and creative it may be.

    Just my two pence.
     
  18. DarkIntuition
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    DarkIntuition Member

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    An all to familiar thread I have seen many times and yet always draws me back into it. Not being an experienced or published writer I myself do not know to many cliches but in my days of writing RPG storyline and character development I have witnessed what people find to cliche. Here are some that I did agree were to cliche and dare I say lazy.

    Perfect Hero/Villain: An all powerful Protagonist or Antagonist who have no weakness, fears etc.

    I am going to save/destroy the world for no particular reason: Self explanatory

    And the oh so popular Amnesia method: So many people use this as a plot in my opinion because they cannot come up with a decent opening or and solid storyline so they give the character amnesia which is more often than not incorrectly used as amnesia does not work particularly in the way they describe.

    Cliches as a whole though I don't find to be an issue if the writer can bring them out in a way that catches my attention and keeps me interested without feeling I have read this all to many times before.
     
  19. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The only time nobody can supply a satisfactory explanation why cliches are bad, is when one is attacking a generalization for being cliche. Yeah, commenting that the summary or ideas of a story are cliche is naive, since just about all ideas summarize is a way that sounds cliche.

    It's easy to defend the general idea of cliches by pointing out how general ideas are often cliche. But there are plenty of writers and teachers who can explain to you why on a line by line basis, cliches are bad.

    Often this is what I see:

    writing teacher/instructor/mentor: This sentence lacks power and specific meaning because it's a cliche or a figure of speech. All the power is built by the external meanings that have been built completely outside the context of your story, so may end up the wrong meaning, or something so expected that the meaning isn't profound or meaningfulness to your story anymore.

    student/novice writer: Psht, well, all ideas are cliche as somebody somewhere has come up with it, and even the best stories in summary can sound cliche, because nothing we write is truly original and anyways some of the best selling novels ever are like totally cliche.

    This is when cliches become bad, when people refuse to see how their writing on a line by line basis is being devalued and under-meaningful and usually banal because they're using cliches and figures of speech instead of creating their own meaning. People saying 'your main character is cliche' or something equally vague and general is just a clumsy attempt at feedback when they're in over their head. It usually means: at some point your line by line writing was simply not strong enough.

    And people still stick to the 'nothing original' idea. Which is great, and somewhat true, but every single day I do read the same old cliche ideas written in new, amazing, and original ways. Boy meets girl, etc, can still be interesting and the writer may not come up with some new method of ending (all stories end in tragedy or 'happy' anyways, otherwise it isn't meaningful). But it can still be original and completely singular in the way it's written, if the writer actually wants to try.

    And it's easy to defend or instruct writing, especially when defending against cliches, by tossing out cliches. Sure, writers should write what they want to write, but they should also realize wanting to write something terribly won't [always] do them much of a service. Which of course is then countered with 'writing is so subjective anyways.' Exactly, it's subjective, and if you give readers or agents the chance to, they'll subjectively judge your work as not worth their time.

    What we write doesn't only matter when we're writing for a living. How many of us are doing that? How many of us want to? How many writers do you think even MAKE a living writing? (by one study I saw, less than 500 novelists in America can/could/do make it on their writing alone, and many of them still supplement their income in other ways so as to not live too uncomfortably).

    What you write--more importantly HOW you write--matters long before you've even seen your first paycheck. And one of the quickest ways to undermine how you're writing is by having your writing littered with cliches and figures of speech. Why? Because of their perceived universal meanings, they can't possibly be the right meaning for that specific moment and time in your story. And also because it clues a reader into the fact you aren't really writing, so much as filling a worksheet based on what people expect to hear, or more likely based on what you've heard too often in bad writing and from bad tv.

    Readers, whether an agent or some random person buying a book in Walmart, aren't stupid. We have the hard job, because a reader by nature is at ever step of the way judging us and trying to find a reason to put the book down. I'm not going to rest on some notion that a reader will simply like what they like, ho hum, I'm going to do everything I can to make my story something singular and meaningful and real to the point people will be riveted and engaged and keep reading even if they may not like the themes or subject matter all that much.

    just opinions, of course ;)
     

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