The difference between a good piece of writing and a great one is often something so disputable and subjective, but regardless, one used to measure the greatness of writing: authenticity. The quantity of originality in a story can be what draws readers to or away from picking it up and reading it. This authenticity is often jeopardized with the use of literary clichés.
Clichés are defined as expressions which have been used for decades and by now, while they are universally known and create a clear meaning, are overused. In the defense of them, however, writers incorporate them to make their work seem more relatable to the reader. As clichés are often universally understood, writers use them as a shortcut to communicating with the reader ((“Cut the Clichés!”). Though clichés may have a purpose in terms of being well known, they do not improve a writer’s work.
In addition to declaring a story as unoriginally written, clichés also negatively impact the overall effect of a story. A story told in clichés is one which denies readers the opportunity to hear a fresh perspective. This not only provides the reader with unoriginal descriptions, but it also degrades the writing skill of the author and gives the impression that the writer is lazy (“5 Writing Cliches to Avoid”). Writers should not compromise their authentic perspective for the convenience of commonly used expressions and clichés, as they instead should continuously work to improve their writing skills and challenge themselves to think of new, creative ways to write something that has been written the same way countless times.
Clichés also cause predictability in writing, as readers are accustomed to reading clichés, making it easier for them to see through the clichés and predict the plot. While sentences and phrases can be cliché, so can plotlines, character arcs, character personality traits, setting, and dialogue can also be clichés. Following these trends may result in the lost grasp of a reader’s imagination and attention and cause damage to the overall effectiveness of the storytelling (“Cut the Clichés!”). There are many specific clichés to avoid, as listed below.
One major plotline cliché to avoid is that of the love triangle. This is when two characters are fighting for the affection of another character. This cliché is especially commonplace in Young Adult (YA) fiction and has only grown in popularity over the last decade (“5 Writing Cliches to Avoid”). While this plotline is trendy, incorporating it into a story makes it more predictable for the reader, taking away power from the storytelling itself.
Another exemplification of plotline cliché is having a character be “The Chosen One.” This is also common in YA fiction, and it is the case in which only one character, particularly a teenager or young adult, has the ability to save the world (“5 Writing Cliches to Avoid”). This is seen in The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and so many more trending series.
Clichés are also common among character arcs. Instances of this are two-dimensional characters, who are seen only as a certain “type” rather than as a fully developed person; whether it is the bored housewife, the emotionless strong heroine, or the superficial socialite, these two-dimensional “types” only bind characters to their stereotypes and prevent them from ever being fully developed (“Cut the Clichés!”). Writers must constantly be aiming to surpass these clichés and work to create multi-dimensional, layered characters.
Additionally, there are many cliché endings to avoid in order to improve the quality of a story. For instance, the “Happily Ever After” ending in which all of the characters in the story live happy, successful lives without any conflict, heartbreak, or grief. The hero defeats the villain, the couple gets married, and everyone can move on with their happy lives. This ending creates an unrealistic and simplistic view of the story, which disappoints readers and provides them with an ending that does not mirror any of the hardships of real life. Another cliché ending to avoid is that of the extended dream, in which a story ends when a character wakes up. All of the characters and contents of the story were merely a part of that dream. This is annoying for readers, as it seems like a scapegoat ending; writers are able to dream up a dramatic plot without having the responsibility of creating falling action or a real resolution (Vannest). This ending also betrays the reader’s trust, as they expect a true ending, rather than one created to ease the writer’s responsibilities.
With the avoidance of these clichés, a work can be dramatically improved. Ways to avoid these trends are to elaborate and refuse to generalize—this will eliminate any stereotypes of characters or settings. Additionally, writers must strengthen their stories by giving everything dimension: their characters, setting, story arc, dialogue, and character relationships. This avoidance of clichés and developing of story elements will ensure that a writer’s story is as authentic as possible. It highlights their writing abilities and capability of original thinking, cementing the fact that the story is their own.
“5 Writing Cliches to Avoid.” NY Book Editors, NYBE.
“Cut the Clichés!” Writers Online, Warner's Group Publications Plc, 30 July 2019.
Vannest, Allison. “Cliche Endings: 4 Story Endings You Should Avoid at All
Costs.” The Write Life, 16 Dec. 2019.