Clichés – the necessary evil?

Here comes another post inspired by a discussion on Goodreads, this time about clichés. They are something advised against but can you avoid them completely? Can you use them well?

The particular cliché in question was “escaping from collapsing structure after defeating a villain”. I mean, who never saw an “I’ll take you with me” moment? I am sure that I could, with some effort, find examples of that in several movies I saw. Hell, even Galbatorix tries this in Eragon! Sylvanas tries the same move (though with her making an escape, nasty b*tch) in World of Warcraft.

The first response to the post? Quoting: “If we had to stop using cliches, most of us (and I point that finger more at myself than anyone) would stop writing.”

“Marry the Princess, live happily forever after.” The King of clichés in children’s tales, one which inevitably makes me think of the intro of Shrek movie and the “what a load of…” comment Shrek makes as he leaves the outhouse. Moral of the story? We’re surrounded by clichés since the first book is to read us when we’re babies.

Now, let’s skip small things like guns having no recoil in movies, countdown clocks on bombs, and such. If there’s one I hate it’s the “kill switch in awful place that demands someone of the crew sacrificing himself” cliché in several movies (The Core and Armaggedon, I believe). To name more: aliens with impenetrable shields of the same color all the time (War of the Worlds, Independence Day). Vampires vs. Werewolves – tell me this one is not overused. Mandatory “With great power comes great responsibility” speeches. Wise, old, bearded teachers (Yoda, Dumbledore). Noseless villains after a resurrection (Davy Jones, Voldemort).

The point, then, is not to not use clichés, as it’s almost impossible. The way I see it, the point is: A) to not overuse them, and B) to use them well and preferably try for an unique way.

Now, for my own experience as a writer: In the very first concepts, dating back to some 2004-ish, the story went towards the “Marry Princess” cliché. I admit there is a collapsing building moment in my trilogy, even though used differently and not as the finale. Prophecies/dreams, those are more that were abused in early concepts and even though I led the story away from them, some parts still linger in the final version. I can’t really say much without risking spoilers but the discussion was a nice way to see some aspects of creating a story.

So, to wrap it up: be wary of clichés but don’t fear them. Try to make some twist on them to surprise the reader with the outcome, execution, or both. I’ll welcome your opinions on this matter, from either perspective.

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