When I started to write my story my friend who has been reading it time to time has giving me these insight what he sees on it when reading it and main topic has been rising up is “Don’t write a cliche”. It was actually his first advise not a bad one but we both are that old that we have behind of us thousands books that we had roamed thru so at this point it starts to get harder.
At some point I started to lift a imaginary finger to my friend about his using cliche and shooting down his examples about his point of view what in his mind is not a cliche but in my readings has been more common point.
So just about curiosity I did go online pages where you can buy a book. Took my genre of writing and when you got about 126 661 titles on audio book’s alone, on physical books somewhere closer to 500 000 and just thinking how long mankind has been writing…?! How in earth you can not be writing something that someone has been writing earlier?
Firstly, by “don’t write a cliche”, this could refer to the entire work, not a phrase within it. I highly recommend people do not write cliched material. But, it seems like the majority of movies being made today, which were correspondingly written by a writer (or two or three), are cliched and apparently cliche sells quite well. This puts us in the area of - What exactly are you after with your work (or this particular work) since that determines the nature of the technical response.
Secondly, assuming you’re after a work of art (literature in this case), originality is what an artist seeks, and cliche isn’t original. There is such a thing as an original use of a cliche. A cliche could be employed, for instance, to demonstrate absurdity, folly or fallacy. If this is intended then it would behoove one to ensure the attempt worked.
Thirdly, natural dialogue should use cliche as people use them when they speak to one another, that is after all how something comes to become a cliche - feel me? -know what I mean? -see what I’m gettin’ at? So, a hard fast rule in some cases might handcuff you.
Fourthly, there are no hard, fast rules except this one - rules are made to be broken. Ultimately, your usage will be gauged by its effect. Does it do what was intended? If there is intent, one can then assume, the writer is being creative and not just repeating sayings and phrases overheard in passing. I think that’s what people are cautioning against when they say this about cliche. Make sure you’re actually inventing your phraseology and using cliche as a device with intent.
“Thirdly, natural dialogue should use cliche as people use them when they speak to one another, that is after all how something comes to become a cliche - feel me? -know what I mean? -see what I’m gettin’ at? So, a hard fast rule in some cases might handcuff you.”
I think you are right.´, about that it can handcuff your writing. And when I really started to think “don’t write clishe” - I just understood that I haven’t read those 500 000 books that I would know actually what is clishe. I just wanted to share my thinking of it because its really hard thing if you start really thinking it too much. But you never heard that used when you see movies done over and over again even almost everything is the same. So why would it be so bad on writing?
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” wasn’t a cliche when Shakespeare wrote it. It would be if you did.
Yes, avoiding cliches is hard. That’s why writing is work.
Yes, there are legitimate uses for cliches. But you’re only allowed to break the rules if you know that you’re breaking them and are doing it deliberately. In most cases, cliches are just a sign of laziness.
Edit to add: The reader is never wrong. That is, if someone who has read the story is bothered by your use of cliches, then you are not using them effectively. Readers don’t care about your theoretical “cliches are sometimes okay” argument, they care whether they are enjoying the story.
An elderly lady after seeing a Shakespearean play for the first time was overheard to comment “not bad, but he used a lot of cliches.”
If your whole story is cliche then you have a problem, unless your intended audience likes formulaic plots. But if what was meant was that your writing, like Shakespeare , is peppered with cliches, I would ignore it for now and write it, and then replace the cliches when you edit at the end. Otherwise you will expend a lot of creative energy editing when you should be writing.
IMO-- and this is only my opinion… “don’t write a cliche” really means more, don’t write something so obvious, tired, or overdone, it pulls the reader out of the story. And, not for nothing, people talk the way they talk, cliches or no. So that adage goes out the window anytime quotes or italics get used.
So, like most things in writing, take it with a grain of salt, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill, and for gosh sakes-- keep writing!
For a character to speak in cliches says something about that character. Speech patterns are much more noticeable when written down than they are in actual conversation. So it’s like dialect. A little goes a long way.
At least, when it is a character speaking (and you can’t think of a better way of having him/her say something that happens to be a cliché), you can always use this as a trick :
Have him/her say “Well, I know this is gonna sound cliché, but…”
In other words, if you can’t burry it, expose it.
But that too, is to be used sparingly. (Twice in a book is already a bit much…)
Well, I guess it is a matter of opinion, but if you ask me, “As you know, Bob, […]” is about a thousand times worse. (Just as bad as “Perhaps we shouldn’t stand in front of that window, you know, with those guys shooting at us from outsi-”.)
And yet, we’re still submerged with movies and novels where people meet by bumping distractedly into one another, then helping out picking up what the girl (why does it always have to be the girl ??) consequently dropped on the floor – usually books. (Coffee stains for the male characters. Always. Why ??)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“You met someone ?! How nice Lisa, tell me about it.
– Well, I was simply minding my own business, then distractedly ran into him. He then helped me pick up the books I consequently dropped, and I guess that was it…” ← that is 100% cliché.
“You met someone ?! How nice Lisa, tell me about it.
– Well, this is gonna sound incredibly cliché, but I was minding my own business, then distractedly ran into him. He then helped me pick up the books I consequently dropped, and I guess that was it…” ← not as cliché as the above example.
I’m not saying that exposing the cliché for what it is suddenly makes everything good, but at least it makes things not quite as bad afterwards.
Or: “You know this movie cliché, where the guy runs into the girl, who drops her books? Well – I just got some huge coffee…”
But there are some good things to say about clichés and stereotypes: They can function as shortcuts. Because the modern audience is so saturated with images from movies and tv shows, this can be used as an advantage (let the reader fill in the gaps of a minimal description).
Tvtropes is a great website, and it illustrates that things one person might describe as a cliché can also be thought of as part of the essential dna of a specific genre.
To take an extreme example - you could view making your vampire afraid of sunlight and killing them at the end of the book with a stake to the heart as a cliché, or you could view it a core part of what readers expect from that genre.
To put it another way… things are only really a cliché if you do them badly.