If you didn’t know this already, writing is tough.
That is, writing well. I mean, first off, you need to plan through everything that’s going to happen, make sure there aren’t loopholes or illogical occurrences. You also have to develop likeable or relatable characters that aren’t completely hate-worthy, and who hopefully manage to grow at least somewhat during the course of the story.
Then you get down to the technicalities: making sure sentences flow well, keeping everyone in character, checking grammar and punctuation, double-checking and triple-checking to make sure you haven’t made any stupid mistakes. And you get down to review and critique, re-writing, editing, reading it all over one last time and finding a few more mistakes…. and then you’re done!
Totally a piece of cake. Unless you skip any of the steps, in which case your story may completely flop. Or if you just get kind of lazy with something, in which case your story can also collapse in on itself.
Take plot and characters, for example. With so many ideas out there in the world now, it’s way too easy to just stick with the clichés and flat stereotypes, then roll with whatever comes into mind. Sometimes you don’t even notice you’re using them, or even if you do, you think it’s unique enough to carry your story over.
Is it? Sometimes it is. Take J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, for example. When you think about it, Harry is an orphan boy (yeah, heard that one before) living with his stinky relatives (nothing new) who finds he’s somehow very special (that’s a trend) and is introduced to an entirely new world (yup) which he then manages to save (check that off the list) multiple times. Yet despite maybe an overuse of clichés, Harry Potter is still a much-loved international hit, with millions of “Potterheads” scattered around the globe with one similar interest.
In my personal opinion, Rowling’s writing style isn’t anything superb or entirely unique; it tells the story with basic language and diction, and clearly it uses quite a few clichés. Then what makes it special? I think it’s the time she devoted to developing the world itself. You can find special wizard foods, modes of transportation, schools, spells, sports teams, magical items, awesome beasts… and that’s what makes it such a beloved series now.
So this isn’t to say you can’t still have an amazing story even if it’s loaded with clichés. In general, though, it does help to avoid them to make your story more unique and interesting. I came up with a little list of most-used clichés (in my opinion), so let’s see if we can make them a little more original by avoiding them for a while.
- An orphaned main character. I know this makes everything convenient because your character doesn’t have much authority to worry about, but honestly, I think this kind of character is overused. There are more creative ways to make sure your character can have the freedom they need to go on their adventures. (Maybe you can even include the parents in the story? :O The idea!) We should just pull less Disney’s and keep the parents alive and involved for once.
- Outcast main character(s). Think about your social interactions. How many siblings do you have? How many cousins? How many friends? Acquaintances? Classmates? People you just pass by often on the street? Do you really think you need to make your character a complete outcast? In some situations it makes sense, but unless you really need them to be outcast, making this kind of character is often just a way to avoid making more side characters. Don’t take the shortcut if it’s just because you’re lazy; only use it if it makes sense.
- An OP main character. Yeah, we all love it when the main character can kick anyone and everyone’s butt, but by now we’ve seen it too many times. What if you took the opposite route, like in Matthew Cody’s Powerless tween novel, where everyone but the main character had powers? I know it appeals to our naturally human instinct to enjoy power, but it can be worth it to defy that sometimes. Or what if you make them “powerful” in a different kind of way, rather than just pure superpower or strength?
- They save the entire world! …okay, think about the time when there was someone so powerful that the entire world was put in danger. Or that time when some massive threat from outer space threatened all of mankind. And how that one person managed to stop the potential catastrophe with just their sidekicks. Yeah? No. Maybe try something a little more original.
- A prophecy that foretold it all. Percy Jackson, the Underland Chronicles, Harry Potter… they all have them. And yeah, maybe it can be a form of foreshadowing, but seeing as no one can really even understand it until the end (and maybe not even then), simply sticking in a prophecy won’t be sufficient for preparing the reader for what’s to come. Sometimes it can be good just as a way to get your characters into action… but if that’s all it’s for, is it necessary?
- Using unconsciousness to skip a bit of the story. This is just lazy. Maybe you have a word count limit, but people don’t go unconscious that often. Can you not “zoom out” in your writing instead and move ahead that way?
Clichés are great – really. I mean, why else would they be used all the time? But don’t let your story be bogged down by them. If you can think of a better alternative, go for it, and I think you’ll see a lot more growth in your story writing.