Posted in Bookish Things, Reading, Writing, Writing Tips

How to Overcome the Threat of Cliches in a few Easy Steps

Ah-ha! I know what you’re thinking. My blog post title was cliche. “A few easy steps”? Yes, I know that was cliche, because that’s exactly what we’re talking about today.

First off, let’s just get this out of the way – it’s awful hard to do away with “cliche” in general, and there are times when cliches can actually be used to your great advantage (which we’ll talk about as well). But if you’re writing time travel fantasy, you might find it difficult to get away from the cliche “ancient prophecy” storyline. In fact, let’s start with that one.

WHEN TO DO AWAY WITH SAID CLICHE

Personally, I consider time travel fantasy to be an exceptional sub-genre, one to be used and used thoughtfully. However, C.S. Lewis popularized the trend which has spanned eons – the main characters come into your make-believe world via the projection of an ancient prophecy. Who are we to argue with C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia?

This storyline may be . . . how shall I say it . . . cliche. Now, but maybe not then. Which means if you’re writing a time travel fantasy story, consider doing away entirely with the prophecy cliche. However . . .

WHEN TO USE SAID CLICHE

When it defines your story – when, in other words, there wouldn’t be a story without it. Or when it contributes something meaningful and powerful to the plot. Or when you can use it and completely twist it around so it is unique, or otherwise no longer a cliche. Simple. Pretty much.

You can apply this to practically every cliche, except maybe the happily-ever-after one. Seriously, don’t end anything expect a child’s bedtime story with happily-ever-after.

STEP ONE – OVERCOMING ANY CLICHE STORYLINE

  1. Take care to recognize if that cliche is actually a building block for your story, one you can transform so that it is no longer a “cliche” in the strictest sense. In other words, try to reinvent, to some degree, whatever cliche you’re employing.
  2. Be imaginative! If you’re dumping the cliche altogether, it will likely be a difficult feat, especially in fantasy, or a fairy tale retelling. I get that. So you may want to refer to number one right above this. But if you are determined to be rid of that cliche plot twist or setting or character arc or archnemesis, by all means. Now just be patient in your outlining and be imaginative! Think outside the box – wwaayy outside it if you have to.

STEP TWO – OVERCOMING ANY CLICHE SETTING OR ARC

  1. A lot of settings are cliche in fantasy writing. Forests, castles – you know the ropes. So consider placing your story in a different setting than the commonly appreciated ones. Maybe your main characters are nomadic? Live under the ground? Under the sea? Maybe they’re people the size of ladybugs. How would that affect your story? Tricia Mingerink placed her story in the Blades of Acktar Series on the open prairie.
  2. Be aware of what character arcs you’re using. There is a lot of flexibility here – I mean, a good character arc is a good character arc, cliche or not. So if you’re using a cliche character arc to achieve character development, maybe change the way your character gets there. Jane Maree wrote a fantastic post on torturing your characters that you should find helpful in this.

But that is just about all I can say on the subject. How often you can do away with cliches – we’re more dependent on them than we realize – will only be identified through careful examination of your story. Let me know how it goes! What are your thoughts on this subject? Let’s chat in the comments!

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Author:

Hannah Gaudette is a home-school teen living in the hills of New England. When she’s not writing stories or training dogs, it’s a safe bet you can find her with some other animal, like cats. She's a life-enthusiast and advocate for food allergy awareness, youth ministry, and service dogs.

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