Laura Howard: That is So Cliche!


That is So Cliche!

Cassandra Marshall is a freelance editor, lit agency staff, and author of The Stars Fell Sideways

She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. 

Cliches, according to Wikipedia, are any expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. 

Love Triangles - The objection here is that the usual triangle has two boys, one the "good" guy and one the "bad" boy, and it's up to the girl to choose one of them, often mirroring her own journey from "good girl" to "bad girl" by choosing the "bad boy" or vice versa. Nearly every other kind of triangle is a-ok, like perhaps boy 1 likes girl 1, who likes boy 2, but boy 2 likes boy 1! Or two boys both like the girl, but the girl likes herself more and chooses neither! Perhaps two girls can like the one boy, but the girls are both best friends and neither wants to hurt the other. There are endless possibilities!

Waking Up - Lots of writers are told to start 'at the beginning' which can mean at the start of the day--waking up--but what is really meant is that you should start at the start of the action. If a character wakes up on the first day of going to a new school, start with walking into the building instead. Everyone wakes up in pretty much the same way, dreads the 'what's going to happen?' stuff, but not everyone reacts to the actual pressure, the actual start of the school day and all that comes with it in the same way, and that's a great way to show the guts of your character.

Mirrors - Waking up usually means your character can stand in front of the mirror and list off his or her attributes. But instead of that, what about catching her reflection in a window, instead? Maybe a flash of bright hair (and the character can react to the new haircolor she's just tried out), or perhaps he works in a bakery and the inciting incident happens when he's kneading dough, spreading flour over his dark skin. maybe whole wheat dough looks like freckles on her superlight skin? Maybe she's in a play and has to put baby powder in her hair to look darker, or she cakes the makeup on to help form wrinkles to look older, etc. Your character has lots of ways to remark on his/her appearances without having to list them while standing in front of a mirror. Of you could forgo describing the character altogether and let the reader decide what they look like.

Character Tropes - There's nothing wrong with a boorish football player or a ditzy cheerleader character. We've all met them. The problem lies in keeping the ditzy cheerleader a ditzy cheerleader. There's the temptation to make her "sad" inside or lacking somehow, or mean to your MC because she's jealous, but that in itself is a cliche too. Why not make the cheerleader the class president? The valedictorian? What if she's a foster kid with her 18th birthday looming? What if the geeky science girl gets pregnant? What if the jock breaks his leg? Let you characters be more than their stereotypes.

New Kid In The New Town - Either your character moves to a new town where the fun stuff happens, or a new kid comes to town and reveals that the MC is special in some way. Do you have any ideas to turn this one on it's head?

What do you think are the most overused cliches in the books you read? 


  1. My way of handling cliches when I'm writing is that I scratch out the first three phrases that come to mind. They are usually cliches. Take the time to describe it in a way that only you could think of--that's when it resonates with a reader cause it's unique and fresh and totally YOU. :)

  2. That's a great idea Sophie! Thanks for sharing!


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