Too often, I find myself reading manuscripts from writers who fall into the trap of creating characters or character interactions that are cliché.
This is not uncommon, of course. We write from what we experience, and we tend to experience a whole butt-load of cliches. And at the beginning stages of our writing journeys, we typically have not yet developed the skills to catch ourselves.
Unfortunately, a banal protagonist or antagonist can kill the entertainment value of your piece.
And chances are that your audience is not like me and the other people in my field. They won’t push through your piece out of professional courtesy; they won’t forgive this transgression because of their unadulterated love for reading.
Bored readers stop reading.
* Even if your goal is just the sale, most consumers will read a small portion of your book before deciding to buy, so you are not exempt. *
Now people often confuse cliches for things that they have heard before. As writers, we can lose our minds trying to come up with something that “no one has ever seen.”
That’s not what I’m suggesting you do.
Just add to your characters, make them unique, and enhance the archetype.
For example, say your damsel in distress is actually an ex-athlete who was cursed with incurable clumsiness, and that is why she is always getting into trouble.
Do you see how a little creativity and inventiveness can help you stay away from having a carbon copy of other characters?
To help you avoid some of these pitfalls, I have compiled together a short list of the cliches that really irk my nerves and some tips on how to circumvent them.
This is a character that I am sure we have all come across.
Ms. Perfect is the idealized love-interest, the girl who is timid and awkward, but also intelligent and (unbeknownst to her) very pretty.
The hero always falls in love with her and she fights him (usually because she feels that her shyness and oddities make her unlovable) until his love shows her how perfect she is.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for this type of character, but it is completely overdone.
Your character can be odd and awkward without tripping every chapter or making social faux pas every time they interact with someone.
A large portion of feeling awkward is an inner turmoil. Your character can feel out of place without overtly being ostracized and made to feel lesser by your other characters.
Called such because of the protagonist in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a Plain Jane is by all accounts homely looking. She is not stunning like Ms. Perfect, but she has a wonderfully intricate and whimsically personality that makes up for it.
Again, there is a time and a place for this type of heroine. It is a rather humbling character type too, since it applies to most of us.
However, the cliché comes in when writers only identify this character as being common, but smart.
What type of intelligence does your Plain Jane possess? What other interesting character traits make her attractive to your other characters?
Sigh . . .
This is one of the clichés that I hate the most. I could go the rest of my life without reading another aloof, borderline stalker, controlling “hero” who confuses his love interested because he is torn between how he feels and how she should feel.
We see this type of character everywhere. Edward from Twilight, Christian Grey from 50 Shades of Grey, Rayven from Darker Dream, David in Fear, Danny Zuko in Grease, the list goes on and on.
The “bad boy is changed by love” scenario is a damaging trope to foster, let alone romanticize. And even more so, when this change comes from thin air.
So I implore you, if you are making use of this trope, carefully consider the inciting incident for your character’s change. People can have changes of heart, but mind to show that alteration to your reader.
The Reluctant Hero
If you have ever read a dystopian, fantasy or YA novel, then you have probably witnessed this little treat.
The protagonist who is forced to be a hero against his/her desires, but who turns out was really the only person that could have saved them all.
For once, I would like to pick up a book with a hero who wants to help people from the start, but who has other challenges that pop up along the way.
Angst is not a good main internal conflict. It makes your character seem whiny and petulant making it very hard for your audience to root for him/her.
The Damsel in Distress
Aside from what you might think, I am not going to bombard you with feminist propaganda about how the damsel in distress is demeaning to women.
What I will say is that it is lazy writing: a quick and easy way for your hero to act heroic and for you to feel justified in your hero’s creation.
If you need to have a damsel in distress character, don’t let the characterization end there.
Why is this character constantly getting into trouble?
Why does he/she always need rescuing?
Does he/she need rescuing?
Why does your hero continue to rescue him/her? And how does this affect your hero?
How does she feel about being constantly saved by your hero?
These are only a few of the clichés that I come across on a daily basis.
If you have a specific cliché that you need help navigating around or have a writing stumbling block that we have not yet addressed in our blog, email us by using our contact form.