by Elisabeth Wong
I write as the inspiration strikes. Inspiration strikes at random times of my life. Huh.
Oh, and yeah, you probably did read the title of this post correctly. I mean for it to be in writing mostly, but I can kind of see how this will apply to real life as well. (….I’m not sure if I was being sarcastic there, either.)
If you’re like a lot of writers, you probably see the word “cliché” and freak out a bit. “What? No! I AM ORIGINAL. You cannot take away my freedom! I will not follow your silly stereotypes! My character will not follow your silly stereotypes! I am not one of your silly stereotypes! Fight me to the death!!” (Cue the writer’s dramatic sip of coffee [Cliché….].)
I know I’ve also said things about avoiding clichés in the past. However, I wanted to confuse you all by giving you mixed messages, so now I’m going to talk about why clichés (I am way overusing this word) are, to an extent, so important. So buckle up, grab your popcorn, and let’s do this.
Humans are silly, forgetful creatures.
(You can see my low opinion of humanity simply beaming through here.) Truth is, we humans just like to forget a lot of stuff. When we read, we still forget a lot of stuff. Therefore, your readers are going to forget a lot of stuff. As a result of this almost-scientifically-sound proof, we need to use clichés just so that our readers’ minds don’t explode. Good reason, right?
It’s impossible not to use any clichés anyway.
Nothing is new under the sun. It’s seriously impossible to avoid clichés entirely, and why? Because fiction writing is supposed to reflect the real world in many extents, and the real world is full of clichés. Hat, my life is a cliché. (Just kidding, but my life has had its share of very predictable moments.)
The problem comes when you lean too heavily on predictable, easy answers, rather than taking the time and energy to develop your story / characters better. Don’t. Use. This crutch. Because it will leave your story limping sadly along. (I guess Twilight was one of the sad excuses that got away with this somehow.)
Readers need a sense of familiarity.
And when it makes sense for a story, it just makes sense. Besides, clichés tend to underlie all the major themes… no, all the themes we’ve used in writing, so again, it’s impossible to avoid them entirely. Besides, if we throw a neck-breaking twist in every other chapter, the readers will find it hard and/or frustrating trying to keep up, so sometimes it’s better to try to save the audience from whiplash and just keep plodding along toward Mordor.
Finally, clichés are just fun.
It’s fun over-playing the dramatic high school cheerleader; or the flat Mr. Nice Guy; or the completely random, adorable talking animal with an IQ of negative three. Writing is for fun anyway, isn’t it? If all we’re writing for is the audience/money, our writing gets dry and boring (I’m looking at your second PJ series, RIORDAN). (Agree to disagree, readers.)
We should just never forget that writing is never fully for ourselves, but neither is it never fully for the audience, either. We need a balance of that, just as we need a balance of clichés, just as we need a balance of vegetables and candy.
The life lesson learned from this? Having a world power in control of your fictional world is OKAY. So go… live your dreams. And rest easy about how you’ve slipped some clichés into your story, because it’s only natural and not all-bad.
Guest post contributed by Elisabeth Wong. Elisabeth originally created her blog for a creative writing class and continues to pour out her thoughts from there. She also goes by 时慧 and 雪（ゆき).