Cliches are…well, a lot of things: annoying, frustrating, predictable, excuses to get out of being creative. So it’s easy to write off books and stories full of cliches as half-assed pieces of potentially fine writing.
But there is a reason cliches are used frequently: they resonate.
The best way to connect with your readers is to write stories that will resonate deeply with them, stories that they can relate back to their life experiences and take with them into the world. And sometimes, the best way to do that is by using a cliche.
Today, we’re going to talk about a few common cliches, why they’ve stuck around, and how to incorporate them into stories without seeming like you’re ripping off story ideas. And we’ll be talking a bit deeply about the importance of stories… and I get on a soapbox. But only for a minute!
Sound good? Let’s go!
You see this almost every Young Adult novel, almost every fantasy, and quite a fair amount of Sci-fi stories and for good reason. Nothing like a prophecy to endow copious amounts of responsibility, burden, and drama.
Generally, the main character hears of a prophecy that those-older-than-they believe he/she is the one fulfiller of. This sets the MC off on a journey to gain skills, solve problems, meet friends, oftentimes fall in love, and save the world. You’re engulfed in a story with events that are far from your own daily life and this escapism can make the Chosen One cliche very appealing.
Who doesn’t desire the opportunity to prove themselves or to have saved the world? We all strive to make our mark on the world, in big and small ways, and the Chosen One cliche is a very telling exhibit of this human inclination. We all want to relate to the Chosen One and even if we don’t have to face absolute evil on the daily, heroism and valor are still valuable traits.
See why this cliche can be so popular? And just because it’s been used frequently doesn’t mean there is only one way to write it.
By changing up the conditions of the Chosen One’s quest, the places they get advice, if there’s only one Chosen One or if there are multiple Chosen Ones, and the POV of the story, you can easily change the cliche enough to still surprise your readers. Even if your Chosen One still sets off on a journey to gain skills, solve problems, meet friends, oftentimes fall in love, and save the world.
But let’s take a minute and talk about another cliche associated with the Chosen: the prophecies. The prophecies can get a little overbearing, can’t they? They can be annoyingly vague, easily mistaken, and sometimes entirely unnecessary.
I’d challenge you to write a Chosen One without a prophecy. There are other ways of handing over responsibility, and you can brainstorm a whole new way to guide your Chosen One on their quest. It’s a change worth making to use the Chosen One cliche without being…cliche.
The Boy/Girl Cliche
This is what I mean by the boy/girl cliche: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love right away, boy screws up, girl forgives him, happily ever after.
You see it all the time and not just in romances (where it’s supposed to happen like that). We love the will-they-won’t-they, the hate to love, the grand apologies and proclamations of love. We’re all a bit romantic at heart.
But so often, story romances can be..shallow. Boring. Petty. Without any depth, heart, commitment, or even compatibility. These are the things that make successful relationships in the real world.
And we need more model relationships in our stories.
Let me get on my soapbox here for a minute:
Get rid of the petty arguments. Get rid of the love-at-first-sight trope. Write two people falling in love because they actually know each other, not because they’re starry-eyed over inside jokes. Write the couple who doesn’t fight and instead practices good listening. Write the couple who think better together and complement each other. Write the couple that we all want to root for and we all want to be.
There is no such thing as perfect love and it’s no clearer than in the stories that exist in our world. But great love is possible. Start writing it, and perhaps many of our societal issues will be solved. Simply by us learning to truly, really love.
And I’m back off my soapbox. Thanks, guys.
This is the slightly more depressing cliche: stories featuring orphans or abused and neglected children. And while these can be hard to read, there is a very good reason why this cliche continues to exist, as hard to read as it can sometimes be.
Because those are the stories that need to be told.
We need to be reminded that not all people grow up in loving homes. And we need to be reminded that those kids are still just as capable and full of potential as everyone else.
These kids have stories that deserve to be told (even if they aren’t superheroes). It’s our job as writers to do that.
Plus it makes for a great excuse to not have parents.
Because let’s be real parents would have held up a lot of action in pretty much every book ever.
The best way to make this less of a cliche is to use it as your character’s motivation. Share the lessons they took from their history and use that to urge them on into your story. Whatever they experienced in their past is great motivation for their future, good or bad. Use it to your advantage.