Saturday, 18 May 2013

Avoiding cliches is the biggest cliche of all

It should be pretty obvious really, shouldn't it? Everybody knows that we should avoid cliches like something that isn't the plague (but is still really bad).

Just last week, I was reading another one of those blog post tips for writers thingees that was going on about all those cliches you should make sure you avoid. And this one even came from an agent.

Yes, yes, I've heard it all before. Cliches are boring. They're lazy writing and they devalue your story. We've heard them all before, yada yada yada.

You know what  I think. I think that constantly being told to avoid cliches is becoming more boring than the cliches themselves. I think avoiding cliches is the biggest cliche of all.

When you look at what is up there on the bestseller lists, you see how much of a lie the avoiding cliche thing is. What's the first thing you usually see? More of the same. Volume 27 of this series of volume 238 of that series. More of the same of the same of the same. It's pretty obvious if you ask me. We're not bored by repetition. We love it. We embrace it. We're all constantly crying out for more of the same, more of those good old cliches.

And I think this is especially rich coming from an agent. From where I'm sitting, they're the ones helping to perpetuate this whole repetition thing. In their position as gatekeepers for the industry, they're the ones who have a big say in what gets through and what doesn't.

Funny thing is, when you actually try to push something that does things a different way, and tries to strive for something that avoids those cliches, what do you get. "Oh dear, this is a bit hard to categorise," or, "This is going to be a bit difficult to find a market for." I know. I'm one of those shmucks who actually took the avoiding cliches thing seriously and tried to do something a bit different.

At this point, I suspect it's all a bit of a lost cause. And besides, I've pretty much decided that writing a cliche free story is nigh on impossible. Because, as I look more closely at that list of cliches we should all be avoiding, the main thing I can see is that there actually isn't much left. By the time I get through expunging all of those cliches, I don't think there's anything left I can actually write.

So I say embrace the cliche. Enjoy it for what it is - a mechanism that allows your reader to place your story, and make some sense out of what it is.

That's enough of my rant for this week. Here's one final cliche to finish off with - hope you have a great week. 


  1. It’s like everything, you can use the cliché in a clichéd way or you can be creative. That’s the challenge. As you suggest, there’s nothing new under the sun; everything’s been done before and yet people still keep churning out love songs. Surely there’s nothing left to be said on that subject! I reviewed a book recently called The Humans and much of my review consisted of listing all the common tropes the author relied on. To which I said, “So what?” Kids love us to tell the same story over and over again and I don’t believe as adults we completely lose that. We want the same but different.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I like that- trying to be creatively cliched sounds like a fun challenge.

  2. Yep - the reason popular things are popular is because they give the people what they want! And most people want a variation on the same old same old. Just because you use the popular tropes to hang your story on, doesn't mean your story can't be unique for what it brings to the table. Best just to relax and write what you want to write to the best of your ability.
    Great post. Glad to read that someone else is having the same thoughts as me!

    1. Hi Soulhaven,

      Thanks for your comment. A bit scary to think someone else shares my thoughts - could that mean they too are on the way to cliche-dom?

  3. We try to avoid cliches too, but they lurk around our writing just waiting for a chance to sneak in, the opportunistic mediocrity-mongers! Truthfully, cliches probably became cliches because a majority of people can relate to them. Loved your article and even found it therapeutic. It has not taken away all of the fear of cliches, but it's lowered the volume. :-)

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I like the idea of cliches as characters - might see if I can work that into a story.