What is a cliché, anyway? When it comes to fiction, a cliché is something overused and betraying lack of originality, typically in the form of phrases, characterizations, and plot-points. These are ten common clichés I’ve noticed in fiction as a whole, but it’s worth noting that Young Adult fiction tends to be especially guilty of these.
1. Love Triangles
Quick: name a love triangle in fiction! I bet you can name at least five off the top of your head. This is such a common trope that it’s almost a relief just not to see it in a book. Not only are they extremely overused, but they aren’t realistic. While it is possible to be unsure how you feel, or even be in love with two people at the same time, is it that common? Even supposing it was, how would you deal with those feelings? The MC (Main Character) typically leads both of them on, or switches between the two constantly. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to deal with that if I was one of the two. It’s disrespectful and unfair. I, as a well-developed love interest and presumably decent person, deserve better than trying to win the affections of somebody that doesn’t care enough about me to tell me to move on. I have a life outside of this love triangle, right? What happens when I sacrifice everything to try and win the MC’s heart, and they don’t even choose me? Be fair to your love interests. Don’t put them in a triangle.
2. Soul Mates/Insta-Love
Often these two clichés go hand in hand. A writer will use the excuse that a pair are “soul-mates” to validate that they fall in love a week after they meet. Think about people outside your family that you love. People you would do anything for. How long have you known them? I’m willing to bet it’s more than several months. Fact is, people can’t fall in love within a week, or even a month. If somebody told you they loved you on your second date, you’d probably be more creeped out than thrilled. It takes time to build a relationship, get to know, trust, and fall in love with somebody. You can’t have the level of emotional intimacy and connection to somebody you just met that it takes to love them. Insta-love is just creepy, and your readers aren’t going to buy it.
“Soul-mates” are also used on their own, and usually no less cliché. They are used everywhere, and as a reader, I’m tired of them. I think that relationships and trust need to be earned, but “soul-mates” guarantee that the two will fall in love and end up together. With this guarantee, often comes problems with the characters, as well. Writers who use this often don’t think they need to focus on romantic chemistry and character.
“Why do they love each other?” I ask.
“Because, they’re “soul-mates”. The story responds. Okay, but why are they “soul-mates”? What makes them this perfect match? Neglecting romantic chemistry and character because they are “soul-mates” is lazy. There need to be reasons the pair love each other, and the characters need to be well-balanced (don’t have one character plain-looking and not good at anything, while the other is some god of perfection). “Soul-mates” are overused enough, but if you insist on using them, at least make their relationship seem plausible.
3. The Chosen One
We’ve all seen this one. The MC is the destined to defeat the antagonist/accomplish a goal. This isn’t always a bad thing. I’ve read books with chosen ones, such as the Harry Potter series, that I loved. It just becomes a problem when there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind that the MC will accomplish the goal. If your MC is all-powerful, or the prophecy is set in stone with no way for them to fail, then why are readers going to read about it? They already know how it ends. There need to be obstacles, struggles, for the MC, or else the book will feel hollow. If your MC has to be ‘Chosen’ that’s fine, but they can’t be unstoppable. Readers want to see them work hard to accomplish their goals, not get everything handed to them by chance of being ‘Chosen’. They need to hit their obstacles and breaking points. You have to make the readers doubt whether or not they will fulfill the prophecy.
4. Stereotypical/Stock Characters
Both of these come across as lazy, and both can be offensive. How many times have you seen the evil step-mom? The mean jock? The stereotypical teenager? All of these character are a result of lack of Character Creation & Development. Not only do they appear 2-D and unrelatable, but often they are offensive. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen the stereotypical teenage girl. “Teenage” and “girl” are demographics, that’s it. You can’t automatically assume what a person is like because of their age, gender, race, sexuality, profession, or anything else for that matter. Everybody is a complex human being, and these stereotypical/stock characters don’t do justice. It’s fine to have a jock who happens to be mean, but what are their other traits? Why are they mean? They shouldn’t be just mean because they are a jock. Not all jocks are mean in real life. Not all step-moms are evil. Take the time to develop your characters.
5. Happily Ever After
It’s fine if your story ends on a good note, but the ending should also be realistic. Things can be generally good for your characters at the end, but you don’t want to make things 100% perfect. This is unrealistic and can make a reader feel cheated. If everything is 100% perfect, where were the consequences for achieving the goal? Were the struggles and sacrifices made (particularly in the breaking point) meaningless? The MC was changed as a result of this goal, they went through hardships, and that should be reflected in your ending. So, go ahead, make your ending happy, just don’t put your characters in a state of eternal, perfect happiness. That’s not how real life works.
6. I Am Your “Insert Relative Here”
This is another cliché that is so common, I’m relieved if a book doesn’t do it. Readers expect it to this point, so it’s not the best plot twist to use. Besides that it’s overused, it’s not realistic. The world isn’t that small. When was the last time you discovered that the school bully was really your sister? I’m not saying it’s never happened, but it doesn’t happen nearly enough to be in almost every piece of fiction.
7. Over-glorified History
I’ve noticed this in a lot of books that are set in the past, particularly when time-travel is involved. Often writers will create stories set in the past and make the era seem like pure beauty/avoid the struggles of the time. For example, they’ll go back to the 1600’s, and make it a beautiful wonderland, full of elegant gowns, pretty people, feasts, and horseback riding. They ignore the fact that waste was dumped in the streets, disease was rampant, slavery existed, etc. It’s just unrealistic to ignore all of the era’s flaws.
8. Bringing Characters Back to Life
This is now expected by most readers when they pick up a book. Some series bring characters back to life so often (Yes, I’m looking at you, Mortal Instruments) that it’s become a joke for the readers. I touch on this in my post: Killing Characters: The Imaginary Circle of Life
9. Dialogue Cliches In General
These can be the actual dialogue or the descriptions that come with it. For example, can we talk about the word “smirk”? It seems to be used everywhere, even when it’s not the right word at all. Please keep in mind: all smirks are smiles, but not all smiles are smirks. Other clichés include (but are in no way limited to): “You’ll never get away with this!”, “What could possibly go wrong?”, “I was born ready”, dying half-way through some important information, coughing words at people, etc.. I was especially guilty of dialogue clichés when I first started writing, and I know my writing has improved leaps and bounds since I started avoiding them.
10. It Was All A Dream/Story
This is done all the time and it needs to stop. I feel so cheated as a reader when I read something with either of these endings. It’s basically telling a reader that their investment in the story was pointless, none of the struggles they cared about were real. Take the time to come up with a unique, satisfying resolution to the story. Endings are often what influence a reader’s overall impression of the story most; do you want their impression to be that you did the exact same thing as everyone else?
Avoiding these clichés will help to make your writing more enjoyable and satisfying for your readers, which will hopefully gain you more readers.
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With all of this in mind, go out and write your masterpiece!