A to Z Challenge: Cliche

When I draft, I’m not really fussed about specifics in my description. All I want to know is what’s happening, when, where and with who. Sometimes it’s nice to know what the who’s and where’s look like.

So my first draft (and rewrite, for that matter) is riddled with cliches. Riddled. Because let’s face it, Callan has jet black hair. And it’s referred to as such in my two rough drafts. When I edit, though, it’s time to change things up. Jet black hair is done. So is comparing it to a raven’s wing. What then, do I change it to?

Well… this is where us character-strong pantsers have a lot of fun. We just let the view point character tell us. For example, I have a half-elf referring to hair as a glossy ebony. Simple. Perfect sounding coming from him. And that’s the thing. Because it’s not about how you the writer would say something. It’s about how the character says something.

Remember what I said about characters having to act? It extends into narration. Because they have to sound right as well. And look right in the way they move. The perception of others have to fit the character doing the perceiving. If you get that right, and your character isn’t a cliche, you’ll pretty much cut out cliches in your word choices.

Which brings me to another point. Unless you’re trying to lampoon the heck out of them, stay away from stock characters. I’m not saying that the ugly guy isn’t evil. I’m just saying that there has to be more to a bad guy than being ugly and evil.

Or her…


You know, (ignoring the fact she’s wearing a wedding band) the most popular girl in school. Confident. Pretty. Just so make up and body. Cliche. Does that mean she has to go once you edit?

No, but if possible, you might want to explore her a bit more to add depth. Like the fact that she’s been living on 1200 calories a day – every day – for five years in order to look the way she does. And you know that perfect make-up? Ruin it with a few tears. And that confidence? Reveal (or just hint at) her many MANY insecurities. And if the story is about your character befriending her, maybe it’s a good idea to let them stay friends in the end. With them BOTH showing character growth.

So to sum it up, cliche avoidance is about knowing your characters. If you know how they think, you’ll know how they’ll describe something in fresh and beautiful ways. If you know all of your characters, you can add little bits of them into the story that will add that extra dimension they needed to become awesome.

Look out for these:

1) Phrases as old as time.

2) Characters that fall squarely into a trope with nothing to change it up.

3) Also, characters who are pretty much cliched except for the single token quirk. The readers won’t fall for it.

How do you fix cliches?


52 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: Cliche

  1. Oh yes, cliched plots and characters (the stereotypes). Oh dear, I'm always on the look-out. I think my characters are always a little two or even one dimensional in my first draft until I go back and pad them out with a quirk here and something unexpected there.

  2. I love your point about lettering another character or the character him/herself tell you how to change up their description. Looking at one character through the eyes of another is always more interesting, easier to ask those all important questions.

  3. I always get laughs (friendly ones!) during peer reviews for my non-fiction as well as my fiction, because I write first drafts entirely in clichés or expressions. It's hysterical, even to me. Thank goodness for revision!

  4. Excellent post, and excellent advice on channeling the voice of the character, not the writer! It is so easy to fall into the trap of writing how WE speak, and not how our characters speak. Keep up the great work, A to Z'er! I'm favoriting you so I can come back for more!

  5. I fix as I go. I allow myself in the first few chapters (and drafts) to be cardboard. You said you do the same.

    Then on edit I add depth. It's a process of getting to know your characters. When I first start a piece, I don't know them any better than the reader. It isn't until rewrite that I can add that depth.

    Because by then, I know them very, very well.

    – Eric

  6. I think you and I work by pretty much the same method. With every draft, rewrite and edit round I add a bit more depth to my characters and plot.

    I think of it as building a house. First foundation. Then brick walls. The plaster. Then everything that makes the house really pretty. 🙂

  7. You have the correct approach. For me, first (and second drafts) are about getting the concept down. The dialogue, the wording. I try not to get distracted by fixing echoes and cliches until I have all my thoughts down.

    It's much easier to refine a draft than to scratch your head trying to remember where you had planned to go with that thought before you got detoured into worrying about perfecting the wording in one paragraph.

  8. The overdone phrases and descriptions are the hardest things for me. I just want to say jet black hair LOL. I find it so difficult to come up with interesting ways to physically describe characters.

  9. I enjoyed reading this from the perspective of an omniscient writer 😉 (my clan, we are dying, but we live!)

    Although of course many of these things still apply. =)

  10. Sometimes cliche characters can be useful–in a crowd–but you are right, you need to kick them up a notch and “surprise” the reader with something they do or say. However, it must be something within character.

  11. Hahahahahaha yes things are a bit different if writing from an omniscient perspective. For one thing, finding creative ways to root out cliches will give you hours of editing fun. ;-P

    Not jealous of you at all.

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