The other day, I was cleaning my room when I found an old piece of writing from a few years back. It was horrible. Have y’all ever gone back and read an old manuscript/ draft/ scene/ etc and thought what on earth was I thinking? Yeah, it was one of those moments. The worst part about it was that it was full of clichés.
If a reader was on a blind date with your book, a cliché is the equivalent to someone who doesn’t know the difference between me and I (am I the only one who finds that annoying?). Clichés are a major turn off. I have put down a lot of books because they have major clichés going on.
How do we avoid these pesky clichés? A lot of people say read more of your genre to realize you genre specific clichés which is true. Each genre has their own clichés, but it takes a while to read every book in your genre. By the time you finish all of those books, new trends and clichés will begin, so I decided to help y’all out and point out a few I’ve noticed over the past few years. I read mostly paranormal romance (PR) so most of these are PR related, but I hope they help whoever reads this even if they don’t read/ write PR.
- MIA family: I see this a lot with the MC having a dead/ missing mothers who leaves a locket for her daughter (which is another cliché for another time). This is an easy way to let readers sympathize with your character. One of the main things I hate about this clichés is that it’s mentioned, but the characters have no feelings about it. I know someone who lost her mom, and she thinks about her mom every single day. In Kieryn’s post on Tuesday, she talked about the Disappearing Wound Syndrome. Emotional pain, like physical pain, doesn’t just come and go when it’s convenient. It’s always there. Also the MIA family is used a lot to “surprise” the character and the reader into the secret past of the MIA family member except this is done so often that it doesn’t surprise the reader any more. Surprise us! Show us real emotion! Show us a real reason to care.
- Love at First Sight: These feel like such a cop out to me (even though I just bought The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith which I am SUPER excited to read). I understand some people really have fallen in love with someone at first sight, but with all the instant love, I feel like most of these characters are just falling into lust. It’s easy to get the two confused. They are both four letter words beginning with L, but they have a huge difference in how the romance will play out. According to dictionary.com, love is “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person” while lust is “a passionate or overmastering desire or craving.” There are a few actual loves at first sight, but I feel most PRs have lust. After one look, the MC will be willing to stalk, fight, and even die for a guy they have only seen a few times. What really annoys me about this is that the MC always describes the guy as “beautiful” (I tend to see a dreamy guy and think he’s “hot”, “cute,” “easy on the eyes,” “an irresistible distraction,” but I have never really thought “beautiful”). They also focus on the eyes, talk about how perfect he is and how she feels this instant connection. This is great and all, but not enough for me to rationalize doing something reckless for him. I mean sometimes she won’t even TALK to him before she does something reckless for him. The reason Beauty and the Beast was such a great movie for me was because Belle didn’t let his menacing appearance from seeing what was behind the Beast to his heart. It takes time to see someone’s heart though. I think love has to slowly build. You can’t build a house in a day, and you can’t fall in love in a day. Let your characters find love that’s more than skin deep. Let your characters build a relationship worth everything for. Let your characters love, truly love someone.
- The Love Triangle: These are another cop out for me. Love triangles add instant conflict. Yes, every story has to have conflict, but as writers, shouldn’t we be able to come up with more unique plot than a love triangle? A love triangle every now and then is fine, but book after book of love triangles and nothing but will make a reader want to rip their hair out. I feel like every book I see nowadays has a love triangle. The biggest problem for me with love triangles is that both guys are perfect and are Kens. If you do decide to do a love triangle spice it up a bit. Girl loves two perfect guys? Boring. Girl choosing between true love and doing the right thing (think Casablanca)? Interesting. Not the traditional spin on a love triangle. Conflict is the key but so is originality.
- The Plastics: Notice the Mean Girls reference? I’ve moved a lot, but I never went to a school with one popular girl and guy. There was always the popular crowd, but no one person. Also, a lot of the popular people were really smart and nice and not the mean put Nair in your conditioner bottle people. Yes there were mean people, but they weren’t necessarily the popular people. Maybe I just went to one in a million schools (please leave a comment if you thing I’m completely blind or whatever and I missed the real life mean girls), but I never noticed an alpha popular who would do the conditioner thing. Whenever I read a book with an alpha plastic, I find it all very far fetched especially since they always say the most cliché things and back down when challenged. I get that a Plastic is an easy antagonist, but please make them more real. Remember even antagonists are people too.
- The Fortune Teller who Foreshadows the Future: The fortune teller is an easy way to foreshadow the future except done in a completely obvious way. It tends to go like this: MC goes to fortune teller because of the MC’s friend believes in the stuff. They go even though the MC thinks it’s total Bologna (why is it spelled Bologna if it sounds like ba-lon-EE? What is “bologna” even made of?), but she goes anyways to be a good friend. The MC’s friend gets a typical fortune about how she’s going to be successful and whatever basic fill in the blank fortune anyone could give. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! (Did you hear the telemarketer voice?) When the fortune teller gets to our MC, *world shatters* the fortune teller actually becomes legit and gives our MC a fortune about how she’s in danger and bad mumbo gumbo is coming her way. No more details. Just a simple “beware.” I could get more off of a “Beware of Dog” sign. At least then I would know that I need to be on the lookout for a man eating dog. Of course, at the end whatever the fortune teller says comes true after our MC totally forgets about it. To me, this cliché is telling when you should be weaving. Good foreshadowing is weaved so seamlessly that the reader won’t even notice. Is this cliché an example of a bad foreshadowing? Not necessarily. Yes, if you do the copy and paste version of the above, it might be boring but the great thing about writing is that you can make this cliché new again.
Done well, these clichés can be amazing. I have read some well written novels with these clichés that I loved, but clichés send a red flag to readers. Give your readers a reason wave the white flag in surrender and admit that (insert your name here) created an amazingly unique twist on the clichés that thought they hated. Let your story make it past the reading first date to the point that readers beg for a second.
Have you noticed any of these clichés as well? Do they annoy you as well? What other clichés have you noticed? Leave a comment if you liked this because I might post more clichés if y’all find this helpful. Thanks for taking time out of your Vampire Diaries, Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, etc to read this.