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?

YA Stereotypes

YA Stereotypes

Ever since I discovered YA fiction, I’ve loved both reading and writing it. But after immersing myself in it for a while, I noticed something (something that I’m sure hasn’t escaped your attention either!). There are certain themes that crop up pretty often in YA literature. So often, in fact, that I now expect to come across at least one whenever I read a new YA book.

  • The Love Triangle 
Usually a girl and two guys. Usually a nice guy (kind and sensitive, possibly a best friend for years) and a bad boy (the kind your parents most certainly wouldn’t approve of). There’s a lot of emotional back-and-forth while the heroine tries to figure out who she really wants to be with, and you, the reader, can usually tell from the beginning who it will be. And neither boy ever seems to think, You know what? This girl is messing me around. I’m off to find someone else.
  • Love At First Sight 
I can understand attraction at first sight. That makes sense to me. You see a guy (or girl) for the first time, he’s really good-looking, and you feel attracted to him. But love? And that instant “connection” you often read about? Hmm. I have a hard time buying that. I think love and a connection can only come once you know a person.
  • The Bad Boy Love Interest
Rude, obnoxious, sarcastic, dark-and-brooding, has a troubled past, pushes the heroine away, no one else has ever been able to change him, but for THIS HEROINE he will turn his life around and become a better person. Secretly, I like this one (if I have to pick a vertex on the love triangle, I’m usually Team Bad Boy). And I’d like to believe it’s possible. I’m sure in some cases it is. But surely in other cases, the guy who’s a jerk will always be just that – a jerk. And the heroine should tell him to get lost and instead find an awesome good guy (like Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door!)

I’m not saying these themes are wrong. There are, of course, instances where they work really well. For example, the love triangles in The Hunger Games series (Katniss, Peeta, Gale) and The Infernal Devices series (Tessa, Will, Jem) are cleverly pulled off and add much to the storyline. And sometimes the Bad Boy has a really good reason for acting like such a jerk (again, Will from The Infernal Devices series).

After thinking about it for a little while, I realized that none of these three stereotypes show up in Guardian:

  • there’s only one main guy, Nate, so no love triangle
  • Vi thinks Nate is kinda cute, but once he ruins her perfect assignment record by following her into the fae realm, love-at-first-sight is the last thing on her mind
  • and Nate is certainly not a “bad boy”. In fact, the only bad boy here is Ryn (the faerie who reports Vi’s assignment screw-up), and Vi’s feelings for him extend more toward shoving him out of a tree than love. 

But you may have noticed there’s a stereotype I haven’t mentioned yet . . .

  • Forbidden Love 
And that’s because, well, there may, kinda, possibly be a bit of this in Guardian! I mean, Violet’s a faerie, Nate’s a human, it’s against Guild Law for him to know she exists, so of course any feelings Vi may, kinda, possibly develop toward Nate would be forbidden! 

Okay, so I couldn’t steer completely clear of stereotypes!

A question for readers and writers: How do feel about these YA “stereotypes”?

~  ~  ~

Rachel Morgan is the author of Guardian, the first novelette in the Creepy Hollow series. She was born in South Africa and spent a large portion of her childhood living in a fantasy land of her own making. These days, in between teaching mathematics to high school children, she writes fiction for young adults.

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Five Dead-giveaways your Story is Cliché

and Some Soul Searching Questions. 

Spotting clichés in the stories of others is often easy-as-pie. But how do we know when we’re seeing ourselves clearly? What if our own story sounds just as derived as fan-fiction, and we don’t even know it? Our ideas feel different to us. We can see the world in our heads, and it looks nothing like Twilight or something from Disney. But is that how it’s coming across to other people? We’re not naming names today, or listing clichés. As useful as this can be, there are lots of places to find those. Let’s talk about patterns that tend to show up in every genre and every target range–patterns in the way that you and your readers react. Here are some tell-tale signs. Read on if you are brave.

1) It reminds people of something else.      Your describing your story and your listener responds with, “Oh, like in Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter/Dragon Riders of Pern/Ender’s Game/Star Wars?” Some people will ask this the moment you tell them you’re writing a Fantasy etc, but we’re not talking about them. This is shortly after you’ve started talking about your story and the events in it. Question: Why am I getting this response? What could I do to change the immediate association people seem to be making?

2) You have to explain why it’s not cliché. Often.      You tell your listener that you have elves, or wizards, and then you launch into an explanation (that in truth sound more like excuses), as to why yours are different. Chances are, they’re not. If one of your ideas is really different, you wouldn’t have to tell us. You wouldn’t have to tell yourself. It would just be different, and we would see that in the first five seconds of being introduced to the idea. Question: Am I feeling particularly defensive about this? How can I make my ideas immediately stand out, instead of counting on readers to “keep going?”

3) You remind yourself that “you thought of it first.”     When your originality is questioned with an actual example, you refuse to change your manuscript because “you thought of it first,” or that “you would have thought of it anyway.” You need to explain to people that the idea came to you years before what they’re seeing on the shelves. Or that what is currently on the shelves had no effect on your story. Question: Really? Am I brave enough to change this?

4) Those names sound familiar…     You have names for things that also show up in other stories, such as: Dark Lord, Empire, Rebellion, Dragon Rider, Black Rider, Elemental or Chosen One. They’re nothing like what people usually associate with the word (or are they?), but you have to explain this (once again), to people. Question: Do I really want to use the same name another author did? Am I okay with people continuing to point out my “Dark Lord” is like Star Wars for as long as I live? What else can I call this thing?

5) People can guess how it ends.      Go ahead. Tell your mom, boyfriend, or critique partner what your story is about. Ask them how they think it ends. If they can do it a couple chapters to the end, you might want to shake things up with a twist or two. If they can do it around the middle, consider throwing in a red-herring or two. If someone can guess your end from your initial hook? You’d better get crackin’ on revisions, because that’s no fun for anyone. And just saying, if there’s a prophecy about how things end? I’m not betting my money on your story ending any differently. Question: What would make your readers say, “Blah blah blah…I so saw that coming.” What would make readers go, “Yes! I was afraid we weren’t going to make it!” Or better yet, what would make your readers say, “What the wiggedy-whack?! My brain is blown with awesome!”

You are an author. You have the authority to sculpt your world. You don’t owe anything to your muse, the Goddess of Inspiration, or your original dream. Stop having to defend your originality and go be original. Work. Sculpt. Shred. Build. Take ownership of your characters instead of letting your whims walk all over you. Be an artist. Make someone go, “Wow! I wish I’d thought of that!” …and then smile because you make it look easy.

Christine Tyler lives in the underwater realm of the Pacific Northwest. She is accompanied by her submarine Lieutenant husband and organically grown offspring. She enjoys geology, botany, romantic chemistry and yoga. And raptors. Very much raptors. You can read more useless pontifications on her blog: The Writer Coaster Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thanks for this great post, Christine!

I tend to avoid cliches by looking at my stories from a different perspective. And by focusing on my chatacters instead on the roles they play. How do you all deal with cliches?