1. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Yet another "are cliches bad?" thread.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by agentkirb, Nov 28, 2011.

    This topic seems to be done to death. And usually I'm on the side of "cliches are good if you do them right". But I wonder if the answer could change based on the specific character and the genre we're talking about. I like writing mystery stories, and one of the biggest cliches in that genre is the male protagonist that is really good at what he does, but he's also very cynical and in some cases something happened to him to make him cynical (suffering a loss of some kind). For example, Jane from The Mentalist or Dr. House from House MD.

    I had an idea for a story, and the whole point of the story isn't the character that's suffered a loss or anything like that... but the story doesn't really work too well without that type of character in it.
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think that characters like Dr. House are popular because he does things and says things the rest of us wish we could, but don't have the guts to. But does that really make him a cliche? And, even if it does, is that such a bad thing? There's a lot to be said for giving the audience what they want.

    I'd also like to point out that there are cliches and there are cliches. Big ones and little ones. Important ones and unimportant ones. There are language cliches which are not plot cliches which are not character cliches. Those of us who spend a lot of time writing and thinking about writing will identify many cliches that the casual reader won't.

    There are kinds of stories that absolutely demand cliched characters, or at least, it seems they do. Hard-nosed cop stories, for example. You want a Dirty Harry type of cop - totally badass, has the biggest gun around, never misses, and never hesitates to shoot. He may be wrong, morally and politically, but when he's facing the bad guys, he does what we all want him to do. Is that a cliche? Sure. Do we care? Not much, so long as we're satisfying the readers.

    I don't write stories that easily fit into any given genre (other than alternative-universe fantasy), so I don't use genre characters. I try to avoid them. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate a Dirty Harry movie every now and then. There's room in life for the occasional cliche.
     
  3. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    That tends to be my opinion as well. It seems like that type of character exists because it works. And I'm thinking maybe I should make sure my story is just more than a character that everyone has seen and done before.
     
  4. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    Funny you mention HOUSE.
    I first could not understand what he was saying because he had a canadian accent on, different from his own, which was a distraction ot me. I simply could not follow.
    Then eventually I got into for a bit and the only noticed or perhaps liked about it was the fact that Hugh Laurie had a dry humour.
    I did not for once relate to him in any other way then that.
    So it a cliche indeed to presume that the characters need to some kind of tragic background to be liked.
    I for one do not.
    I like a character purelybecause of their joviality/charms and wits, hence personality.
    A bit Johnny Depp. You could give these characters any roles, bad, villains,protagonists, heros, they still come trough as amasing because they wistand their personality and makes them even more likeable.
     
  5. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    In this case, cliches are cliches for a reason. Characters with tragic backstories make the reader/viewer sympathetic to them.
    Characters with real life problems make the reader/viewer relate to them.
    Characters who are die hard cynics and say what they think allow the reader/viewer to live out fantasies.

    Cliches like this aren't a bad thing. Done badly, they're terrible, but so is non-cliched writing. Unique isn't equal to good, neither is cliche equal to bad.

    Let's look directly at House.
    If you took away his tragic past and his drug addiction, he'd just be a super-smart, arsehole who always gets his own way because he's brilliant.
    People would hate him and they wouldn't find the show interesting.

    In the stories I'm writing if I think about it, I can pinpoint cliches quite easily. That doesn't make them bad. (Hopefully to the reader, the cliches aren't noticable.)
    It's the quality of my writing that will determine how well the cliches are received.
     
  6. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Every time I come across one of these threads I always say that clichés are not bad, just overused and uninteresting. The characters you mentioned aren't quite clichéd because there's more to them than just 'Cynic', they have more character traits.
     
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I guess now that I think about it even more... the first time I saw the show "House MD" my first thought was that this is such an original character in the way he is smart and speaks his mind and is a complete dick yet to the audience he's funny/likable. But as it turns out, the character is heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes, one of the most brilliant and famed fictional characters in the history of the mystery genre.
     
  8. darkhaloangel
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    darkhaloangel Active Member

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    "I first could not understand what he was saying because he had a canadian accent on"

    He's English? *Is furious*

    Anyways: cliches are never a great thing - especially not too many. But familiarity will help sell a book (to publishers and readers alike). So if your characters are cliche, make sure your writing isn't, and visa versa.
     
  9. JimmyNic
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    JimmyNic New Member

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    TV Tropes has a page on this very subject (To me you are referring to tropes rather than clichés. A cliché tends to be a well-worn remark, eg it was as blue as the sky. A trope is more along the lines of The Good Guys Always Win) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TropesAreTools

    I'm of the opinion if you handle tropes well you usually do it by subverting them, deconstructing them or twisting them in some way, so they really aren't clichéd. The anti-hero you referred to above is boring unless you do something new with him. No-one wants to see another TV show like House - but people might want to see a TV show with another type of anti-hero or a new exploration of it. On the other hand I maintain that you can steal things wholesale so long as you give them a new context. Part of House's story comes from the fact he's in a scenario where he can get away with being nasty. If you took the same character and put him in a situation where there were punishments for him being nasty he'd react differently. The character isn't new but the story would be.

    And I think you are right that stock elements tend to be used because they are tried and tested. But you need to think carefully when you use them. Don't just go "I want an anti-hero, make him really talented but also really dark." You need to reason it all out so it has an impact and challenges the reader.
     
  10. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Well, this guy isn't necessarily the main character in the story either. He's kind of the counter to the main character (maybe a co-main character). While the main character is very idealist in how she views the world, this guy is very realistic and cynical.

    Honestly when I thought of the idea I wasn't watching House and thinking "I have to create a character like that!", but I had a plot in mind... and it required that one of the characters in the story be kind of a realist and thinks people that believe in hope and good will and the power of friendship (ok maybe not that) are stupid. And because it's a crime story, he obviously has to be good at what he does. And for the plot to work he has to be good enough that people will overlook his negativity... and then suddenly I realized I was basically making a character that was like House from the show. But maybe I can tweak it a bit so that it still works.

    By the way, that site looks interesting. It should give me something to do when I have free time at work.
     
  11. ScreamsfromtheCrematory
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    To add to JimmyNic's point, this particular TVtropes article also shows the various ways you can mess around with a trope, providing a fair share of examples of how people take what's recognized and established and turn it on its head.
     
  12. Show
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    Real people are cliche. If I look over my shoulder for cliches when I write, I'd have flat characters.
     
  13. motormouth
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    motormouth Member

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    i guess theyre not bad if they arent stale to the point of total predictability i saw a sitcom where a girl was going to make her parents breakfast in bed and from the second i saw her say that i knew itd end up her catching them having sex.(due to the trope being overused)So said, so done. Tus he joke died for m since i knew what'd happen
     
  14. Show
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    Perhaps, but then again, sometimes it's reaction that makes jokes funny. EVERYTHING has been done before. And one could argue that everything has been done so much that it's a cliche. Killing characters is cliche. Breakups are cliche. Sex is cliche. Villains are cliche. Flawed characters are cliche. Sometimes we just need to find better ways to analyze a story than by measuring what in it is cliche. Cause frankly, what ISN'T cliche anymore?
     
  15. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    Tropes are tools, yes. But when people refer to something as 'cliched', generally there is a problem with it besides it being overused. See, what happens is that a really good, original writer writes something, and it catches on. Then the copycats come out and write other works using this newly-formed trope. Some do a good job of it, but most do a mediocre-to-bad job, and they all tend to make the same mistakes. Then writers start subverting and deconstructing the trope, and these initial guys are good (because innovaters tend to be the best writers), but then the deconstruction/subversion becomes it's own trope with poorer-quality copycats. And the cycle goes on.

    So if you're worried about something being cliched, examine what, specifically, is problematic in most portrayals of that trope. For example, most brooding vampires don't act like someone who grew up in the middle ages (or whenever they grew up) and has lived for several hundred years. You could have a character who acts that way and is considerably younger than brooding vampires usually are (eg been a vampire for five years), or you could write a vampire who broods in a more medieval kind of way (eg praying for forgiveness).
     
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  16. darkhaloangel
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    darkhaloangel Active Member

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    "Real people are cliche. If I look over my shoulder for cliches when I write, I'd have flat characters."

    Cliches (and yeah I think these are more parts of speech) so tropes, are shallow - people are real, and always have hidden depths. If you can't see them, you're not looking hard enough.
     
  17. Show
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    People with hidden depths are cliche. People who are complex are cliche. My point is that the term cliche is so overused that it pretty much covers everything. It's an inappropriate measure in a story anymore. Screw the term and let's banish it. We're NEVER going to write real people if we're worried about being cliche all the time.
     
  18. JimmyNic
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    JimmyNic New Member

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    To a point I think. Basically a story needs certain elements that are familiar and certain ones that aren't. If you have a whole story where you guess everything before it happens, then it's a cliched story. You want to surprise people.
     
  19. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shakespeare made a good living out of redoing cliches and stealing old stories...
     
  20. Show
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    I am not entirely sure I agree with that. Sometimes it's the journey more than the surprise. IMO, better that I be able to predict the story and still enjoy it than not predict it but feel cheated when I'm done. IMO, writing is about the journey and as long as you make that journey worthwhile, the story is worth reading. That's why I avoid worrying about "cliche." And let's be honest, everything has been done to death so much that little to nothing can really surprise people anymore unless it's REALLY out there and often detrimental to your story. Sometimes, the very thing that makes a story predictable is that it's so clear that there's a "shocker" coming that it looses any and all effect. Sometimes the biggest way to surprise your audience is to not try to "surprise" them with "unpredictability."
     
  21. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, clichés have become cliché? ;)

    Seriously, it's how you write it, not what you write. (Almost) everything has been done before, so when you write it badly, it feels old and clichéd, and when you write it well, it feels new and fresh.
     
  22. Show
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    Oh clichés have become SO cliché. Cliché is the writing equivalent of "jump the shark." lol

    I agree. People focus too much on specific things as being cliché instead of on how the story is told. The cliché has become some monster in the closet that only exists because it's given such attention.
     
  23. Immy
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    Seriously, it's how you write it, not what you write. (Almost) everything has been done before, so when you write it badly, it feels old and clichéd, and when you write it well, it feels new and fresh.

    I completely agree. It's hard to see somebody in the street nowadays and not fit them into some kind of cliché. It's the same with books - every book fits into a genre, although there are many that are hard to squeeze into just one genre, and there are many that hardly fit into a single genre at all. With Stephanie Meyer's 'The Host', it's technically a sci-fi yet it's nothing like most sci-fi books.

    I think originality is the key - as you said, everything has been done before, it just depends on how you write it.
     

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