Friday 5 – How to rise above cliche.

Anything cliché means death to a writer.  #atinybitmelodramatic #notreally

For the longest time, I assumed cliché just referred to certain phrases, like fast as lightning or slow as a turtle. But I was wrong.

1. Premise

Editors, agents, and readers are all looking for that unique story that sweeps them off their feet. #cliche None of us want a tired plot, one that has been redone to death. For example the girl and the paranormal love triangle. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write that. It just means it has to be really, really good with a unique angle. And isn’t breaking into publishing hard enough?

Solution: Don’t stop at the first idea. Keep making those lists and twisting those plots until you’ve got something all your own.

2. Character

For me, there are two different levels of a clichéd character.

First, there is the stereotyped character: jock, cheerleader, hottie bad boy, geek. Not that we can’t use these kinds of characters. But as with plot, the approach must be different and written well.

Second, there is the one-dimensional character. This character has no depth and comes across unbelievable.  And because of the lack of depth comes across cliché. #notgood

Solution: Make character charts. Give the character relationships with secondary characters that have goals and troubles too. Build in world details. Create a primal internal arc with a universal struggle that any reader can connect with. Dig deep.

3. Plot

Don’t make your plot points predictable. With this, the reader can see what’s coming pages before it happens. Surprise the reader!

Solution: Donald Maass break out tips are great for creating turning points that no one expects. And usually, it comes back to character and having them make the choices that no one expects.

4. Villains

Cliché villains have the black twirly mustache and evil laughs. Or they could be the mean girl or the bully. They have no soft side and are there just to cause trouble for the protagonists with very little reason. In other words, they are 2 dimensional and are only there to further your plot.

Solution: Give your villain a save the cat scene. Show his/her softer side. Pretend the villain is the hero – what does he want? Give him plausible and empathetic motivations.

5. The writing

For me, clichéd writing is dull and out of focus. The details are bland or average. Weak verbs. Poor sentence structure or too much of the same structure.

Solution: Use strong verbs. Work hard at creating emotion in the description, setting, and body language by using it to reflect the main character. Vary your sentence structure. And practice, practice, practice.

I’m stopping at five. But anything can be cliché: setting, weather, description… you name it. And the biggest ways to improve is to read, read, read and write, write, write. But to read and write with purpose. Go for it!

Join in our Twitter Game today and share a cliche! Hashtag #writingcliche


29 Responses to Friday 5 – How to rise above cliche.

  1. anne gallagher June 3, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    It was a dark and story night…I actually did use that line in a short story I wrote once. It was part of a scene within a scene. Kind of writers’ joke. I thought it came off pretty good. But of course I’d never use it in my real writing.

    Cliche’s are scary because sometimes you don’t realize they’re there until someone points them out to you. Well at least to me anyway. I think though, with enough writing practive, you come up with new ways to solve those problems.

  2. Susan Sipal June 3, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    I’m just like you, Laura. I started off thinking cliche was limited to phrases as well. Took a few rejections with comments about “overused tropes” to open my eyes! But it’s still difficult because just as soon as you think you’ve come up with something truly fresh, you find a book that’s done it already. Your tools are wonderful examples for working thru it.

    Also, like your game. Will go play #cliche now!

  3. Sarah June 3, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    I’ve definitely heard several agents say that original stuff is really hard to find, so investing a lot of time in adding depth and pushing beyond what seems “good enough” is completely worth it. Great post!

  4. Kris June 3, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Great recap–guess I should scrap that paranormal love triangle WIP with the werewolf and vampire…

  5. Jennifer Shirk June 3, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    I’m trying to study the market too–like taking a bunch of recent vampire books and seeing what the real differences are.

    • Laura June 3, 2011 at 11:16 am #

      Though for as much as we’re warned of cliche, if the writing is excellent it can be done. Even the description thing in the mirror in the first chapter. Right now, I’m not willing to take that chance. 🙂 Jennifer – what a great idea – to see what the real differences are. You could probably include the angel books in that too.

  6. Louise June 3, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    One thing that irritates me no end – and you even see it in some published stuff, which is maddening, to say the least – is when writers just throw in one different character trait to try and make a cliched character unique. For example, the cheerleader who is a snob and popular, etc, etc – but is really good at and secretly likes math. Without giving her anything more (WHY does she like math? WHY does she hide it? WHO told her that popular girls couldn’t be smart? Does she feel pressure from her family to be dumb and popular, or is it her friends? Why haven’t any of her math teachers ever noticed and/or encouraged her?) it comes off as a cheap attempt to avoid cliche without putting any work into it. I’d rather the plain cliche!

    Shannon Hale’s “Princess Academy” comes to mind as a great story that could have been horribly cliched, but wasn’t because she put so much work and effort into knowing her characters through and through.

  7. christine danek June 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    I get so scared of the cliche. One time I had someone tell me that mine was similar to twilight because the girl and boy fell in love. Seriously? That’s when I get a little weary.

  8. Stina Lindenblatt June 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    It’s also important that your first chapter isn’t cliche because the rest of the book might not be, but if that’s the first impression an agent get, she won’t be reading the rest of the book.

    The beauty of beta readers is that they could point out the predictable parts which you might not realize are predictable. 😉

  9. Angela Felsted June 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    This post is awesome! I really like that you give a list of what to do. Varying sentence structure, that’s one I’m working on. Sometimes I feel like fitting words together is akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle.

  10. Meredith June 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    This is an awesome list! As a reader, cliches are the number one thing that As a writer, I try to watch out for them, which is sometimes easier said than done…

    • Laura June 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Avoiding cliche is much easier said than done. Because some of them are very sneaky. I’m pretty sure I use some that I’m not aware of.

  11. Susan Kaye Quinn June 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    I think the best way to avoid cliched characters is to make them dimensional (as you say, internal struggles). I tend to make my bad guys or secondary characters TOO dimensional (and they steal the show), so I have to be careful about that. The protag should be the most dimensional character, but bringing that out is somehow always more difficult for me than the other characters. #notsurewhy

  12. Marie June 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    This is so great! As I’m editing and doing rewrites, I’m watching out for those clichés. They can be so easy to miss at times, and other times are glaringly obvious. I love when characters who you think are walking clichés turn out not to be – the pink-wearing blond with pretty, girl clothes who you assume will be an airhead turns out to be a genius or the jock turns out to be a great musician or something like that. Those are the characters – and books – that really shine for me, and I hope I can bring that to people with my own writing. I’m going to keep these 5 things in mind as I continue my rewrite!

  13. Tana Adams June 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    My favorite part of writing is having my plot points surprise me! Even though I outline, I leave room for growth.

  14. Marisa June 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Oh man, I’m the Queen of Cliches. So lame. I’m currently cutting them out and making them 1000x more interesting, but at the moment, I’m fixing a cliched plot point AND aprox 300 pages of cliches. Le sigh.

  15. Laura Marcella June 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    Awesome list here, Laura! Your solutions are terrific. Time to go take another look at my MS and think about fixing any clichés!

  16. LynNerd June 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    That’s two excellent posts in a row, Laura. I forwarded your post to two critique groups. Thanks!

  17. write-brained June 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    I woke up and stared into the mirror-ha!! Yes, this a great list! I am working on all of them, all at once definitely!

  18. Traci Kenworth June 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Very important advice!! I try and twist character traits together to come up with something unique. Although, yes, there are times when “stick-figures” in the crowd helps.

  19. Misha June 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    So true!

    Only one of my villains could be classified as… uhm… cliche-ish. But I’m already working on ways to change this.

    If not, he’s probably going to find his way to a quick death.


  20. Margo Berendsen June 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Hmmm…. “having them make the choices that no one expects.” Hmmmm you really got me thinking on that one. *open outline document, makes note* Thank you for a golden thought there!

  21. Leslie Rose June 4, 2011 at 3:07 am #

    I think Tom Hanks summed up the predictable plot pitfall in a recent interview about his new movie. He said the movie should have been called “Guess What Happens,” because its about a man(Hanks) who loses his job and has to go to community college. HIs teacher is a slightly messed up (JULIA ROBERTS). Guess what happens?

  22. Heather Kelly June 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Laura–thanks for the awesome #TwitterGame on Friday!! And, great post. Lovely, really!

  23. Ghenet June 6, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Great post! I agree with everything you’ve said. I love Donald Maass’ writing tips. 🙂

  24. Carolina Valdez Miller June 6, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    Really great point,s laura! I think sometimes it’s unavoidable, but even then, you can usually take what feels like a cliche, such as a cheerleader or a love triangle, and take them outside the boundaries of the cliche.

  25. Theresa Milstein June 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Please visit my post. It’s all about the cliches we newbie writers make in our writing and in figuring out how to be a writer!

    Yeah, enough paranormal love triangles!

  26. Jewel Allen June 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Great post! I love the ideas you give here. I just started a new manuscript, and I don’t want to write more until I have a better handle on the premise and plot.


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