I was talking to a fellow writer the other day, general chit chat about the structure and technique of writing a good story or a good poem. Now the writer in question never fails to blow me away because of the originality he uses in his work, it never fails to astound me how far he pushes new concepts. I know for a fact that the majority of work I publish on a regular basis has a hefty dose of tongue in cheek cliche, just because of its nature.
What is a cliche?
No doubt, when it was first used a cliche was a very ingenious expression used to convey a message or irony, but over time the words or thought have become over-used and coined “cliche”. Here’s an example of a few overused ones for you. Can you spot them?
“It made my blood boil to see her standing there basking in the glory. Her raven black hair shimmering in sunlight. Her ruby red lips pouted and parted ever so slightly to reveal dazzling diamond like teeth. The sight of her cut me to the bone, my heart skipped a beat, and I felt my fury rising so hotly it burned me right up”
Did you get all 8 cliche’s within that short piece? Of course that short paragraph was over done, and tells the reader nothing that they need to know, apart from my unoriginality as an author. They have a habit of sneaking into writing when you least expect it. My personal favourite was “he looked like a god/adonis” you can tell when I’ve been up until two in the morning writing as this one always seems to wheedle it’s way into a paragraph somewhere. The truth of the matter is over use of these sneaky little fiends can kill what can be sometimes a fantasic piece of creative writing, especially in poetry where every single word should count for something other than a “roll of the eyes”.
So how do we overcome the cliche and think outside the metaphorical box? Love poetry is one area where people including myself fall into the vicious cycle of iver using analogy, words such as “love” and “soul” and “heart” themselves lean towards the cliche, although if you’re aming it at a reader who wants all these things and more, use them sparingly but originally. Try mixing up metaphors and similies catching your reader off guard will inherently spark more interest in your work and give it power. Empower yourself as an author without falling into “been there done that!” moments.
This is possibly the least cliche love poem I’ve written
Small steps in crossing placid flows
where koi beneath kiss lilly leaves
end summer breeze blows soft and warm
Whilst fingers twine and reach for mine.
The ghosts surround the cherry bloom
full lips invite to set the scene
their blushing petals in your gaze
diminished hues beneath the haze.
A pause in time, a second still
where all around the city works
upon that bridge, where we were us
a secret shared in quiet lust.
This was written for One Stop Poetry’s Sunday feature. I wanted to convey just one second in time that was shared between two people who shouldn’t have been where they were, and excuse the cliche but they “stopped the world and got off” in that shared moment.
Plots and characters can also become cliche’d.
We’ve probably all heard that there are only so many original plots in existence, and that every book in existence is simply a variation of one of those plots. That’s completely true. But, some plots have become so hackneyed, readers begin to think, “Ugh. Not again.”
How to Avoid Plot Cliches gives the example of the character who knows some terrible secret, but dies or falls into a coma before he or she can pass the secret on to the main character.
Or, how about this one: young city girl loses/quits her job and moves to small town which she hates at first, but soon comes to love for its quirky inhabitants and one very special male character.
No one’s saying you can’t make these overused plots fresh—in fact, writers do it every day and still manage to get published. But, if the plot or premise is hackneyed, the writer must do something else to make the story stand out. Maybe the characters or the setting are what sets it apart from the rest.
In my opinion, the best books are those that feature characters who remain in my memory long after I’ve finished reading. That’s why it’s especially frustrating when I come across completely one-dimensional, stereotypical characters that ruin an otherwise okay story.
Within my reading experience, I’ve come across characters like these:
- a male love-interest who was fat in high school, but who turns out to be beefy and handsome when the leading lady meets him again as an adult
- a young professional woman who can’t seem to find love amongst all the frogs
- a handsome, brooding man whose wife died, and now he just can’t allow himself to admit his feelings for the new lady in his life
These are stereotypes. We’ve seen these characters again and again.
Again, that’s not to say you couldn’t take one of these characters and make them outstanding, while setting them within a not-so-hackneyed plot. It’s just more difficult to pull off.
So, as a point of reference going forward, look and read what you’re working on, and see how many phrases or parts of it you’ve heard before. If it’s familiar, or the plot is non challenging, it may well be that you’re falling into that writers trap of cliche! Don’t panic though, with a little crafty editing, and a few changes here and there, even the most cliche’d character can become well loved and memorable.
Thanks for reading!