I was recently reading some reviews on a book by an indie author and I was struck by how many reviewers said the author was writing clichés. This was a mystery novel and many pointed out that clichés throughout the book made for a boring read. Wow, not what you want in a mystery novel (or any novel for that matter). But…it’s true that if you’re writing clichés, you are bringing your story down. It seems like a simple thing, but many indie authors miss this key point of storytelling: avoid the cliché.
Writers Workshop – What Is a Cliché?
A cliché is defined as a trite or stereotyped sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.
Nice, but what does that really mean? It’s a phrase (or character or plot) that’s been used so much everyone knows it, and it lacks any emotional oomph for your readers. It takes two to tango is an example. Okay, most of you are nodding your heads, saying I got it…I don’t do that. But…
Writers Workshop – Writing Clichés That Creep Into Your Story
I see it happening. Things sneak in (and some are painfully obvious). Early in my writing career, I wrote the phrase smiling like a Cheshire cat. No big deal, right? Wrong. Smiling like a Cheshire cat is an overused phrase. So is wrong side of the bed, the sharpest knife in the drawer, barking up the wrong tree, patter of little feet, bated breath, sheepish grin, and so many more. Avoid these. They cheapen your writing. Look through your work for any clichés and get rid of them or rewrite them. A clever trick is to take something that’s common and rephrase it into an uncommon phrase.
Writers Workshop – Writing Clichés In Your Plot
It’s much harder to identify clichés in your story, but I see indie authors do this a lot. Readers are looking for new experiences. They want fresh ideas. Not the same old story with the same old characters doing the same old thing. Let’s take an example from what I know well, mystery novels. I’ve seen so many examples by indie authors of the cop (you can replace cop with detective), or ex-cop, who’s an alcoholic, or recovering alcoholic, or he’s emotionally scarred in some other way, and he has to overcome this character flaw as he fights crime. Boring. Been done too many times. Or the cop’s sidekick, the slothful, overweight, unkempt, uncouth guy who has a bad joke for everyone and every situation. I find it amusing but JA Konrath falls for this one in his Jack Daniels series (and he still got a book deal – go figure :)).
Writers Workshop – Writing Clichés In Your Plot Part Two
I’m not an expert in fantasy, romance or other genres but I did a bit of research to see what others who write in these genres say is cliché plotting. In fantasy, the sweeping castles, the long and overdrawn description of characters, fairies flying about for no reason, long overly descriptive battles, and so on. In horror, vampire love stories – I’d say the whole Twilight storyline is overused. Thrillers and white male serial killers – talk about overdone. Romance – the evil other woman or ex-wife. The naive virginal heroine. The poor lonely woman who falls madly in love with the gorgeous, unavailable hunk. I’ll give you one that’s become a cliché in the last 5-10 years…the Arab terrorist. How many of those villains do you read about these days?
How to avoid these writing clichés? I would encourage you to search the Internet on this topic. You will find a wealth of information on this subject and examples for every genre. And if it’s being written about, it’s probably a plot point you want to avoid.
Writers Workshop – Writing Clichés and Circumstance
Don’t fall for convenience. We’ve all read stories where it felt like the author didn’t know what to do with the story so he put the characters in convenient situations, easy to write his way out of. Only that kind of writing leads to boredom for the reader. For example, you have a female cop…okay, that’s good, it’s different. But the story is typical crime fiction fare, with no surprises. Creating a different character isn’t enough if the circumstances your character experiences have all been done before.
Writers Workshop – Writing Clichés That Can’t Be Avoided
Some clichés can’t be avoided. The good guy fights the bad guy. The girl falls for the boy. The trick with writing clichés is to take something everyone knows about and put a twist on it. I write mystery novels. I have a private eye, Reed Ferguson, but when I conceived the story, I turned the clichés on end. The first in my first Reed Ferguson mystery series has Reed working on his very first case. He doesn’t have the hat and fedora, but he idolizes Humphrey Bogart (the twist on the cliché). His sidekicks aren’t bumbling, disheveled fat guys, they’re goofy and innocent. You get the picture.
Another trick is to make your readers care about your characters. One of the things I see indie authors do is to create characters that have no depth, or are so flat, shallow and unsympathetic, or just like everyone else and you don’t care about them. Can you say stick figures? This will kill your story.
Writers Workshop – Conclusion
So don’t tempt fate. When you wake up and smell the coffee, you want to look out for number one. You want your writing to be better than ever. Throw caution to the wind and write a tried and true story, not the same song and dance everyone else does. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained :).