Clichés: Forbidden fruit

Forbidden fruit: a very old cliché that, in some forms, became an idiom for something one should not do even though it’s far from the original magnitude. It still has its charm and purpose in writing. Today, I’ll look into this one.

If you decide to use this, you don’t need to necessarily use it in a Bilbical scope (banishment from paradise and so on…). The point of something desired but forbidden is elsewhere: to show some divide between what someone wants and can’t have – and why aren’t they supposed to have it. It can be used as a challenge to overcome (the typical “commoner marries the princess” archetype of children’s tales and thus the ‘princess cliché’) or a roadblock.

Whether the “challenge to overcome” or the “roadblock” approach is taken, this cliché has a potential to show more about the story’s setting.

Why forbidden?

For this to work, this should be the first question to ask yourself: it won’t be a forbidden fruit if there’s no real reason for it to be forbidden – something that’s hard to get past. Sure, if an angry father locks his son’s foot ball for having a bad grades until he gets better, it will feel like a forbidden fruit but that’s not a grand story. On the other hand, it still works the same, presenting the character with pretty much two choices: get better grades, or cheat your way around (such as by prying the lock open or borrowing a friend’s ball).

Anyway, back to the larger picture: if I was to go back to the ‘princess cliché’, it shows one of the simplest reasons, one called ‘social stratification’. This can take many forms depending on the setting: in medieval-like settings, the populace is divided between the nobility, the feudals, the common folk, and possibly the slaves. In modern times, the division will be slightly different: CEOs and politicians instead of the nobility, underpaid manual workers instead of the slaves; for example. Still, it’s something that works in stories because different groups have different approach to life, different values and goals.

Overcoming the obstacles

As I hinted above, there are many ways. Let’s leave ‘luckily being at the right place in the right time’ be for now. The point for using this cliché is to show whether the character will rather take the honest (and possibly difficult) path and work hard for the prize or try to make it easier when possible. Of course, accepting help from another character is not cheating (unless the challenge specifically says that) – but manipulating or cheating the character might be. To use the “boy and a ball” example from the beginning: pleading parents for forgivness is not cheating, stealing the father’s key is.

So, the way to the goal shows more about a character’s personality: taking the long route shows honesty and determination. Finding shortcuts when possible without (ab)using others shows intelligence and creativity. Using someone just one or two times on a long journey might be a sign of impatience rather than ill will – and might give a chance to show the character’s guilt. Cheating the way through will show the unsportsmanlike qualities but might also show using good traits for bad reasons (such as confidence or ambition).

The roadblock

I’ve mentioned this above. By this, I mean the possibility to use this differently: instead of having the character work towards overcoming the obstacles, one might decide to start exploring different ways to progress and give up on the initial prize in favor of something else. Instead of taking the hard way, the character just goes in a different direction. It can eventually lead back to the ‘forbidden fruit’ when expected the least or to something that’ll help reaching the ultimate goal in a different way.

Another possibility is a chain of requirments that can eventually become a Catch-22 type of roadblock. This’ll usually lead to finding the weakest link in the chain and trying to either outsmart it or taking it out by force and/or cheating.


So, these are my thoughts on the topic. I’ll welcome yours, so feel free to leave your comments. See you next time!

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