Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Cliche

When I draft, I'm not really fussed about specifics in my description. All I want to know is what's happening, when, where and with who. Sometimes it's nice to know what the who's and where's look like.

So my first draft (and rewrite, for that matter) is riddled with cliches. Riddled. Because let's face it, Callan has jet black hair. And it's referred to as such in my two rough drafts. When I edit, though, it's time to change things up. Jet black hair is done. So is comparing it to a raven's wing. What then, do I change it to?

Well... this is where us character-strong pantsers have a lot of fun. We just let the view point character tell us. For example, I have a half-elf referring to hair as a glossy ebony. Simple. Perfect sounding coming from him. And that's the thing. Because it's not about how you the writer would say something. It's about how the character says something.

Remember what I said about characters having to act? It extends into narration. Because they have to sound right as well. And look right in the way they move. The perception of others have to fit the character doing the perceiving. If you get that right, and your character isn't a cliche, you'll pretty much cut out cliches in your word choices.

Which brings me to another point. Unless you're trying to lampoon the heck out of them, stay away from stock characters. I'm not saying that the ugly guy isn't evil. I'm just saying that there has to be more to a bad guy than being ugly and evil.

Or her...

Credit

You know, (ignoring the fact she's wearing a wedding band) the most popular girl in school. Confident. Pretty. Just so make up and body. Cliche. Does that mean she has to go once you edit?

No, but if possible, you might want to explore her a bit more to add depth. Like the fact that she's been living on 1200 calories a day - every day - for five years in order to look the way she does. And you know that perfect make-up? Ruin it with a few tears. And that confidence? Reveal (or just hint at) her many MANY insecurities. And if the story is about your character befriending her, maybe it's a good idea to let them stay friends in the end. With them BOTH showing character growth.

So to sum it up, cliche avoidance is about knowing your characters. If you know how they think, you'll know how they'll describe something in fresh and beautiful ways. If you know all of your characters, you can add little bits of them into the story that will add that extra dimension they needed to become awesome.

Look out for these:


1) Phrases as old as time.

2) Characters that fall squarely into a trope with nothing to change it up.

3) Also, characters who are pretty much cliched except for the single token quirk. The readers won't fall for it.

How do you fix cliches?

52 comments:

  1. Oh yes, cliched plots and characters (the stereotypes). Oh dear, I'm always on the look-out. I think my characters are always a little two or even one dimensional in my first draft until I go back and pad them out with a quirk here and something unexpected there.

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    1. Yeah I think it's the case in most people's drafts. They don't know the characters at first.

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  2. I love your point about lettering another character or the character him/herself tell you how to change up their description. Looking at one character through the eyes of another is always more interesting, easier to ask those all important questions.

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    1. Yeah I love listening to the ways my characters talk. They really can say the most wonderful things. :-)

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  3. Great points and suggestions. I sometimes wonder if I'm a stereotype. One doesn't think so in one's mind, but . . .

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    1. Hahahaha no one's a stereotype. That's why stereotyping people is wrong. :-)

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  4. Great post! And so true. There's nothing that takes me out of a story more quickly than when the narration slips from the character's voice to the author's voice.

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    1. Same here. It's a definite pet peeve.

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  5. Yup.Yup. I agree. Make them characters well-rounded. Even the evil ones.

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    1. Especially the evil ones. They turn into cut-outs so easily if we don't pay attention.

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  6. I always get laughs (friendly ones!) during peer reviews for my non-fiction as well as my fiction, because I write first drafts entirely in clichés or expressions. It's hysterical, even to me. Thank goodness for revision!

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  7. Excellent post, and excellent advice on channeling the voice of the character, not the writer! It is so easy to fall into the trap of writing how WE speak, and not how our characters speak. Keep up the great work, A to Z'er! I'm favoriting you so I can come back for more!

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    1. Thanks! It is really easy to fall into that trap.

      Can't wait to see you back here. :-)

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  8. Such fantastic advice to have the character say it the way they would. I always have cliche's in my first drafts too. And sometimes the second. I have to mark them largely with a pen and think long about how else to word it.
    Catherine Denton

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    1. Marking them is a good idea. Cliches can camouflage themselves in our writing. :-)

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  9. Cliches are everywhere in books - drives me crazy. More imagination authors, please! Great post. :)

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    1. I agree with you. It's so easy to just through in a bunch of cliches and watch them go through a plot. It takes so much effort to freshen it up.

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  10. Everyone's calling this a great post— which is it— but maybe I should go with Awesome just to avoid the potential cliche. =)

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    1. Awe thanks for the lovely compliment!

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  11. Excellent post Misha! Cliche's drive me crazy too and I often try to avoid them in my writing. :)

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    1. Yeah I get really tired of them really fast. :-)

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  12. Fabulous, practical tips. I have to keep track of the cliche's when I go through for edits too.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  13. I read the paragraph out loud, if there is even the slightest rolling of the eyes, it's gone.

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  14. "Hair as black as the singularity of a black hole." That's where my mind goes. Also, I'm copyrighting that sentence.

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  15. What if I start out my book with the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night..." Is that cliche? :P Great post, Misha.

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  16. Another great post! I use a similar approach when I'm going through my initial drafts. Those cliches can be tricky sometimes. :)

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    1. Yeah they definitely are. That's why I have six awesome crits and at least three planned betas to catch them. :-D

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  17. I fix as I go. I allow myself in the first few chapters (and drafts) to be cardboard. You said you do the same.

    Then on edit I add depth. It's a process of getting to know your characters. When I first start a piece, I don't know them any better than the reader. It isn't until rewrite that I can add that depth.

    Because by then, I know them very, very well.

    - Eric

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    1. I think you and I work by pretty much the same method. With every draft, rewrite and edit round I add a bit more depth to my characters and plot.

      I think of it as building a house. First foundation. Then brick walls. The plaster. Then everything that makes the house really pretty. :-)

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  18. I suppose "Once upon a time" would definitely fall into the cliche column. So probably best to avoid that one.

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    1. Hahaha unless you're writing something witty and the cliche is exactly what you're going for. ;-)

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  19. You have the correct approach. For me, first (and second drafts) are about getting the concept down. The dialogue, the wording. I try not to get distracted by fixing echoes and cliches until I have all my thoughts down.

    It's much easier to refine a draft than to scratch your head trying to remember where you had planned to go with that thought before you got detoured into worrying about perfecting the wording in one paragraph.

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    1. Yeah, someone once said that you can't edit what isn't written, and I firmly believe in that. :-)

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  20. Since at times I am a walking cliche, I embrace them!!

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    1. Hahaha go for it! Sounds like a great way to live life. ;-)

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  21. The overdone phrases and descriptions are the hardest things for me. I just want to say jet black hair LOL. I find it so difficult to come up with interesting ways to physically describe characters.

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    1. Hahaha yeah, I guess that's why I never describe my characters all in one moment. Makes it easier to deal with the cliches if it's only a line here or there. :-D

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  22. Great post, lady. I am a plot writer myself. So while plot flows easily out of me, characters take more effort. *sigh* I'll get it eventually.

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    1. Yes all of us have areas that we're not so good at, but that doesn't mean that we can't fix them later, with some help.

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  23. I enjoyed reading this from the perspective of an omniscient writer ;) (my clan, we are dying, but we live!)

    Although of course many of these things still apply. =)

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    1. Hahahahahaha yes things are a bit different if writing from an omniscient perspective. For one thing, finding creative ways to root out cliches will give you hours of editing fun. ;-P

      Not jealous of you at all.

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  24. Sometimes cliche characters can be useful--in a crowd--but you are right, you need to kick them up a notch and "surprise" the reader with something they do or say. However, it must be something within character.

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    1. Ooh yes! Cliche characters make for the best canon-fodder. :-P

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  25. I like to turn cliches on their heads. Not too much though, or it becomes cliche in itself.

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    1. Hahaha yes I do it too. It's like walking a tight-rope. :-D

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