Clichés can also be an overused idea.
Have you ever read a novel and thought, I’ve read this storyline before? Some common plot lines I’ve seen in my years of being a writing teacher and contest judge are:
1) a woman goes home for her class reunion and meets her high school sweetheart,
2) a chemical company is polluting a small town’s water and people are dying of cancer,
3) an old woman (or man) is suspected of being mean in a children’s book, but in the end, the character discovers she is really nice. I’ll bet you can add to this list.
Settings can also become cliché-like. Examples include: conversations that take place in a restaurant, at a kitchen table, or while driving in a car. Why not spice up your book by picking an unusual place for those dialogues? Why not use an attraction like a park or museum or special place that shows off the uniqueness of town where you’ve set your novel? In Seattle we have Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and ferries. Or give your character an unusual occupation and hold the conversation while he’s putting on scuba gear, butchering a hog, or climbing out of a combine.
Most of us use clichés of setting, plot, and description without realizing it. We grab for them when we are in a hurry. They may even feel fresh, like something no one has ever written about before because we’re writing about something that happened to us. Or we do it because we’re trying to meet a deadline.
The best way to guard against clichés is to read, read, read, especially in your genre. If you write murder mysteries, you will soon discover common themes, settings, plots and you will soon learn to avoid them.
Also, take time and dig deeper into your creative mind. Even a cliché can become fresh if you find a new way to approach it. The woman who goes home to her high school reunion is a common story line for a reason. Many women have this fantasy and want to read about scenarios such as this. The challenge is to put a new twist on an old familiar theme.
Can you name a cliché you’ve seen recently?