Episode 85: Cliché – Just Don’t

On Saturday, March 7, 2020 Kasie and Rex were live from the studio of 100.7 The Point talking about clichés. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Cliche — Just Don’t


  • The “cliche” note your feedback group gave you
  • Some commonly used ones that always suck
  • How to write without them
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Photo by Connor Danylenko on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

So what is a cliche?

From this site: a cliche is a word or phrase that has been overused in writing.

BUT, I’d also say that a cliche is anything expected, easy, or convenient. Cliches are a short cut and we need them sometimes. It’s easier to use a cliche in everyday conversation — like industry jargon, cliches express ideas faster because they are familiar. And so it’s okay to use them in that way — maybe you have a character that leans on them and is himself unaware but everyone else knows he does this and is either amused or annoyed by it.

Some examples

  • Too little too late
  • In a nutshell
  • Uphill battle
  • Sleeping like the dead
  • Never say never
  • At the end of the day; when all is said and done

Cliches are most easily seen in those short cut phrases but they are also bigger plot points, characters, and settings. Let’s take each category one at the time.

Cliches in Plot — orphan boy is the only one who can defeat the tyrant, the chosen one (see also Mary Sue episode), the love triangle (does length matter?)

Cliches in Character — the chosen one, the orphaned hero, the Plain Jane transformed, the wizened old witch/sorcerer/homeless guy, sarcastic teen girl who reluctantly becomes a hero

Cliches in Setting — small town, doctor’s office, apocalypse, ad agency office, hospital

Segment 2

Why are cliches bad? Well, they’re shortcuts, so they don’t show what really is meant, they allude to an idea that is vague because it is unclear, or cliche.

This post talks about cliches muddying your writing by forcing the reader to apply his or her own understanding of a commonly used cliche to the work instead of you clearly communicating the idea. Cliches degrade your work, they indicate you aren’t entirely sure about something, so you’ve leaned on a shortcut or a commonality to do the work for you.

Some cliches this post explains include:

  • The Love Triangle — two people vying for the love of a third; I wrote about love triangles here because Young Adult fiction seems to be obsessed with them
  • The Chosen One — we talked about this during our hero’s journey exploration and again in the Mary Sue episode
  • The 2D Female — strong and unexpectedly masculine
  • Abusive or absentee parents — a matter of perspective, are they REALLY? Or does the protagonist just think that?
  • First person narrator describing him/herself in the mirror

Some readers added their own in the comments of that blog: soap opera plot twists like amnesia, secret identity reveals, in love with a billionaire boss

So reading that list makes me wonder if cliche is a matter of usage? Can these things be done well?

Segment 3

How do you avoid them? Of course this blog has made a list. 10 Tips to Avoid Cliche:

  1. Avoid stolen ideas
  2. Resist the lure of the sensational – flight, for example
  3. Reverse stereotypes
  4. Tell the story only YOU can tell
  5. Take your time
  6. Recognize the circumstantial lean toward cliche (what expectations does the story’s setting suggest? If the character is a doctor, how does he think?)
  7. Elevate the ordinary
  8. Recognize melodrama — it’s just a little bit too much — and dial it down
  9. Trade convenient plot points for authentic action — what would people really do?
  10. Curb melodrama with substance — if melodrama never gets solved, the characters never change, then your story should show resolution and authentic growth and change

Some genres have their own cliches so it’s a good idea (always!) to read inside your genre so you know what’s acceptable and what’s not. The Romance HEA of course and the meet-cute and other expected plot points of the romance novel. Fantasy novels have the rise of the dark lord cliche and the chosen one hero to defeat said dark lord. We expect them.

See also: an orphaned boy has a great destiny (Harry Potter), twins separated at birth reunite to fulfill a magical destiny or grew up together but must separate in order to fight the dark lord on different fronts (Alanna and the Song of the Lioness series).

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