Cliches come up frequently in writing for a very good reason. They work.
Even if a story has been used a hundred times before, if an author can give it a different setting, throw in some drama/tension, and bring it all together in a meaningful and valid way, then we love it. We might not be able to say exactly why, but we do. There's some mystical or possibly even romantic quality about it that satisfies us.
It's easy, when we're looking at stories and writing styles in an analytical fashion, to look down our noses at cliches with all the snobbery and pompous superiority that we can muster. After all, we simply know
that if we
were writing this story, we would be imaginative, resourceful, and clever with our plot. Our readers would chafe at the thought of reading those bland, stereotypical works once they saw what real
writing should look like.
But I'll bet you dollars to dimes that there are plenty of books and movies that each of us enjoy -and in some cases, if we're being honest, love- that are littered with cliches and stereotypes. Some stories do a better job than others in masking the cliches underneath layers of plot and fine detail, so that by the time all is said and done, you can barely even recognize that there is
a cliche. But if you dig deep enough, you'll find them.
Which brings me back to my original point. Why is it, if certain plot elements are so overused that you can hardly think of a single fictional book or movie that doesn't contain one or more of them, that we like to read or use cliches? I propose that the reason is simple. Human nature.
That's somewhat of a broad, undefined category, but there it is. I lack the prose necessary to put it any other way. I believe that there is something in all of us that loves a happy ending. We can push it down, stomp our feet in opposition, and scream and shout until we are red in the face, but we all have it. We like to read, or see people win at something, because somehow we connect, or associate ourselves with them. It may start, or even remain as something that is only on the subconscious level, but it is there nonetheless.
Here's an example: If you are a male American (although to be honest, this hardly applies to only Americans), the odds are pretty good that you have a favorite sports team. Maybe it's football, baseball, basketball, or the loatheable sport we call soccer (
), but you probably have at least one. Why?
Is it because you like the sport and just happened to decide to root for this team? Well if you like the sport, then don't you think it would be much more fun (and less costly, probably) to actually play
the game? Why should you be interested in watching other people play it?
People would laugh you out of their houses if you went around asking them if they wanted to go with you to watch other
people play Monopoly. Is it because this team represents your state? Well that doesn't make any sense because whether the team is from your state or not, there's no guarantee that they have anything in common with you, other than the fact that they live somewhat within the same vicinity. Furthermore, if the team in question is at a professional (or at this point, even collegiate) level, then I would say there is a good chance that more than half of the team is not
from your state. So why on earth do you care whether or not they win or lose?
Because somehow, in some way, they represent you
When your team wins, they aren't the only ones who are winning. You are winning with them. If your team gets "cheated" out of a game because of a bad call by an official, it wasn't just the team that was hurt, you
were hurt. We love to see the underdog win, or watch the team that we are pulling for stage a comeback victory in the final seconds of the game. Because as we watch their hopes and goals being fulfilled, we imagine that we are fulfilling our own goals. We are right there with the runner who is on the last mile of the marathon (okay, for some of us, maybe just the last hundred feet
) or the football player fighting his way into the endzone. When they overcome adversity, we overcome it too. Deep down we all want to be "winners".
This, I believe, is why we like cliches. We never tire of seeing the hero win, even if it is in an extremely typical, or common manner, because we never tire of seeing ourselves
win. Because of this, it is my opinion that we should do away with the thought process that all cliches are evil and to be avoided at all cost. Write the way you want to write, and say things the way you want to say them. Don't worry about conforming to some sort of system. Embrace cliches, if they are useful towards telling the story that you want to tell. It's all too easy for a writer to stumble over his words because he is so set against not using cliches that he ends up writing something that is (albeit original) terribly clumsy, forced, and unnatural. When, in fact, he could have saved himself plenty of trouble by simply using a cliche, and telling it in his own way.
Readers appreciate honesty, and they can tell when you are not being genuine. If you write something that does not sound like something you would say (and believe me you can
tell when you are the reader), you lose the reader's interest and trust, which will take a lot of work to get back. On the other hand, if you can take a cliche (which most of us are fond of anyway), modify it some, give your own spin on it, and do it in a way that fits into the story so well that it is impossible to imagine the story without it, the reader will admire the simplicity of it, and in turn, admire you.
Don't go against cliches or stereotypes just to be different. Tell your story the way you want it to be told, and the rest will fall into place. You probably won't make a masterpiece. Your story may even have numerous flaws in it. But it will be yours