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.
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?