Monday, April 2, 2012

That's SO Cliched.

Writers, and especially YA writers (since it's such an exploding genre right now) are being cautioned left and right about cliches. All the way from the opening scene to the query letter, it's like a screeching alarm.

CLICHE! CLICHE!!!!
STEP AWAY FROM THAT OVERUSED TROPE, PHRASE, OR CHARACTER TYPE.
PLACE IT ON THE TABLE AND BACK AWAY SLOWLY.


Here are some cliches I've been reading/hearing that YA writers should never never never use.
Just for funsies, let's all stand up, and then sit back down if we have used any in the list:

Opening with: Waking up, looking in the mirror, a funeral, a bad dream, starting at a new school, a description of weather, a car crash, a high school hallway.

A heroine: with red hair, who loves to read, with blue eyes, with purple eyes, with blond hair, who is smart and proud of it, who is smart but hides it, who is physically petite, who has low self-confidence, who is trying to keep her presence low-key, who wears Chucks, who is a great runner, who is looking for a boyfriend, who isn't looking for a boyfriend thankyouverymuch (but probably really is,) or who is snarky.

A character list that includes: the trusty best friend, the annoying sibling, the bitchy cheerleader, the nerd, the straight-A student, the mysterious boy, the jerkfaced jock, the clueless teacher, the absent/dead parent, the too-perfect guy, the bad boy, the antagonist trying to use the MC as a weapon.


A plot that involves: A love triangle, insta-love, insta-friends, secret powers, arranged marriage (particular to dystopian,) the bad boy getting the good girl.

A climax that centers around: Prom, the big football game, the MC finding out one of her parents isn't who/what she thought they were, the drinking party gone wrong.

Anyone still standing?

Here's the thing. A cliche is a cliche for a reason. It's because - IT HAPPENS. You know, in life.


Bitchy cheerleaders are real. Common, even (oh yes they are.)  Mysterious boys (especially the hot ones) are interesting. There are girls with red hair and green eyes (I'm one of them) and super petite girls, too (no, I'm not one of those.) I was friends with a lot of kids who got straight As, and who were nerds. Sometimes, insta-friends happen. Heck, sometimes insta-love happens. Even love triangles happen. And they can make for some tense emotional conflict.

Kids move to new schools and get in car wrecks and go to prom and drink too much and have bad dreams. Those are all real things that happen. They happen a lot, and they can be written really interestingly.

And yeah, I could sit here and blog about how I hate stories with bitchy cheerleaders or dead moms. I could harp on how the best-friend-secretly-in-love-with-the-MC makes me roll my eyes. I could rant about the flaws that obviously must exist in a story so carelessly written as to start with a main character looking in a mirror.

Or I could accept that a story well-told might employ some "cliches," or even lots of them, because they are something that readers are familiar with, and sometimes that's a good thing.  Or because, hell, maybe they're actually part of the story that writer dreamed up in her head.

And maybe that story is damn good.
And to get rid of them just because they're cliches is not being true to the plot, or the characters, or the world that writer has created would change the story so much that it's no longer really the writer's story any more. That might suck.

And if we as YA writers try to write a story that avoids cliches instead of trying our best to write a well-paced, engaging story with clearly depicted characters and a unique concept, then we're going to end up with a lot of YA novels with brown-haired, brown-eyed, not-too-petite heroines with boyfriends that aren't too mean and aren't too nice, with no love triangles and fully supportive, present, and honest parents.

Now, that would be annoying.

31 comments:

  1. THIS.

    This this this. People don't need to worry about using cliches. They need to worry about writing a good book and doing it in their own unique way. And shooting something down just because it DOES use cliches is stupid. So what if the story opens with a dream? Maybe the dream is the catalyst for the whole thing. It's dumb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Just write a good book."

      Now that right there is good advice. I knew I talked to you for a reason.

      Delete
  2. THIS.

    I use cliches in my novel - Mean girls, slutty cheerleaders and bad boy (but he gets one of the mean girls soo...) - but I believe it makes my book more interesting. As someone who grew up as a 'nerdy' girl I always wondered what it was like to be a mean girl, etc.. So I explored it.

    I also know of a high fantasy coming out in summer with a main character who has blonde hair and bluish-purple eyes. Now come on THAT'S cliche if I ever saw one!

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    Replies
    1. Yupppp. I have mean girls who are *gasp* also cheerleaders! Like, who are they supposed to be? The math geeks?

      Delete
  3. Wait. I have red hair. Am I now considered to be a cliche?! :O

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you write a story with you as the MC....yeah.

      Delete
  4. agreed. It bothers me when people complain about insta love and all the swooning that happens in YA. hello?? hormonal teenagers.. they do fall in love at first sight... and sex and kissing and.. whatever.. is on their minds A LOT!

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    Replies
    1. I fell in insta-love with my husband of seven years. I also want to insta-kill him when he wont' do the dishes, but that's neither here nor there. :)

      Delete
  5. Great post! Think about it, if you take away all those supposed 'cliches' how many potentially awesome scene and story line and character won't we meet? In my current WIP my MC has the greatest best friend. If I got rid of her just because somebody thinks the idea of an MC having a best friend that just gets/supports her, is cliche, so be it. Cliches could be rocking if used in the right way, or if you put your own twist on it.
    Labeling something cliche is like saying these things happen in real life but don't you dare put that in a novel.
    I say go for it, but only if you know exactly what you're doing, your motivation, and that you're using it to the best of your ability.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a best friend too! I had to axe her, because she didn't really DO anything that another character couldn't do, but I did love her. Everyone needs a loyal friend, right???

      "only if you know exactly what you're doing...."
      YES. But that's true of everything in your story, not just the cliches. Yes?

      Delete
    2. Yes. With your story it goes without saying. But these thing slip though sometimes. Follow your heart and stay true to the story. Trust your gut but know when to go left instead of right. That kind of thing, you know what I'm talking about.

      Delete
  6. I had no idea it was cliche to have red hair and green eyes. Or to be petite. So I guess you and I are walking cliches?

    But please - PLEASE - write a story in which the Mathletes are the mean girls. That so needs to be a subplot in Getting to Third Base.

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    Replies
    1. That is SO HAPPENING. OMG you are a genius. Wanna co-author? <3

      Delete
  7. Yeah, Crewel has a red-haired, green-eyed sassy protagonist with a secret power who discovers her parents had a secret. And it's doing just fine so far ;)

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    Replies
    1. Bhaahahaha YESSSSSS! :D

      Gives me hope for my petite MC with a Very Sweet Boyfriend and parents who are hiding something. :D

      Delete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Leigh Ann, this is such a great post! :D

    And anyway, I LIKE mysterious boys. So there. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!!!!

      I'm a sucker for insta-love. <3 As my CPs will attest, hahaha

      Delete
  10. Goodness gracious. I was a cliche as a teen. (according to your 2nd to last paragraph, that pretty much described me)

    So how many cliched characters are we allowed per novel? I think that might be the question.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, who knows???? I'm convinced the answer could be "none" or "all" on any given day. :/

      Delete
  11. Word! This post is exactly what's been on my mind lately too - it makes me CRAZY when a MS is judged on a single element which someone has decided is cliche. *sigh*

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  12. You know, I think that people mistake reality for 'cliche' sometimes. Not that it isn't annoying sometimes when I see a badly done mirror scene, or a badly done love triangle, and not that I think that those things aren't sometimes just badly done cliches... but y'know, there are a lot of things that just HAPPEN in life, that aren't cliche. Especially in dialogue... we use cliches all the time, and in a writer's paranoia to avoid that, they can make characters sound unreal.

    Good post!

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  13. I love this post :) sometimes it's a good idea to find a new way to say "my heart skipped a beat." like "my heart tripped and slammed into my ribcage like a raging bull." it can force you to be more creative or to find a way to describe something that's more unique to your character's voice. but other times, the "cliche" is exactly how your character would say it and it's good how it is.

    and I have no idea why eye color or hair color can be a cliche. what, I can't relate to a girl with a different eye or hair color?! lol please.

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  14. I don't understand how hair/eye colors can really be cliche... I mean, naturally, we classify hair into only four categories, eye colors into three... which leaves you with only twelve combinations, unless you want to go way out and say your character has pink hair and yellow eyes, which would instantly put them on the 'outcast' or 'rebel' cliche chart in any story set in our world.

    I just don't worry about that stuff. I worry about telling a good story, and that's all I have to do. I mean... ALL of my characters in Tsirash are ORPHANS. Say what you will about that, it's how their world works, and I'm not going to apologize for that.

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  15. And the church says, AMEN! Seriously can't agree with this enough. As I read down the list of cliches, I was all 'But...I LOVE reading books with those things!' Also, enjoyed your interview at Other Awesome Words. :)

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  16. No idea why I missed this post. But I love it. SO true! I kept cringing when I saw things that are in my novels, haha! Cliche's and cliques and stereotypes are part of life. There cliche for a reason - they happen a LOT. Which means they're EASY to relate to! I think maybe I'll write a book trying to use ONLY cliche's... how fun would THAT be? Hehehe :-)

    ReplyDelete

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