Everyone rags on clichéd plots. All clichés are bad. Period.
But maybe it isn't always so black and white.
Clichés can be a good thing. You just have to know how to work with them.
First, what is a cliché? It's something that we've seen hundreds of times to the point where we roll our eyes because it's too predictable. According to dictionary.com: "a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox."
Basically, it's boring, unoriginal, and you shouldn't do it.
Most of the time.
Authors can use clichés to their advantages. clichés are a way to get your reader to relate to the story. They've seen it before, so it makes sense to them.
How to use clichés properly is by inserting SMALL clichés throughout the story. With small instances of them subtly woven through the narrative, people will identify with the overall story much more. Sometimes, it's a good thing that your readers know what is going to happen. Clichés are a good road map for certain story elements. It's not always the best idea to be completely unpredictable every single word of the story. You'll be throwing your reader for so many loops, they'll feel like they just got off the a roller coast at the amusement park and now want to puke. Give them a bit of down time. Play onto their expectations sometimes.
Time for examples!
In Harry Potter, it's the cliché good guy vs. bad guy thing going on. Voldemort wants to take over the world. Harry is the "Chosen One". This is a horribly clichéd plot that is basically the plot of most adventure books. But why did it work? Because there are some clichés we never tire of. We love reading about how good conquers evil. Right from the first book, we EXPECTED Harry to defeat Voldemort, and that's exactly what he did. If something different happened, like Voldemort defeated Harry, we'd all throw the series out the window in anger because that's not what we wanted to happen.
You know how at restaurants "The customer is always right."? With books, "The reader is always right." might come into play here. They know what they want out of the story, and as authors, if we lead them to something good, they'd want it, and they'd expect it. In a romance novel, readers EXPECT the girl to fall in love with the lead guy and they live happily ever after. Haven't you read those books where there's promise of this juicy romance, and then the love interest dies or goes away? It makes us angry, because that's not how we wanted the story to go.
There are some stories, some plot lines, we love reading over and over again. With the good girl fixing the bad boy--it's a story I personally loved reading in other books and seeing in movies, and that seeped its way into my own stories.
Just look at Disney movies. They're all based around the overused idea that good/love conquers all. Yet we still watch them. Why? There are small details in them that are unique and unpredictable. In Mulan, Mushu provided comic relief and made the story very different. In Tangled, Flynn was a flirt and Rapunzel had a frying pan and pet chameleon.
Some clichés do work. If there's a boy and a girl lead, we want them to fall in love. If there's a villain, we want them to be defeated. Sometimes, you have to give your readers what they want. Don't do this all the time. THAT'S the bad cliché. Good cliché is when you have a balance of unpredictability with predictability.
I strongly believe that any cliché can be interesting if the writer handles it properly. There's no clear cut way of how to do this. You have to feel it out. Basically, tell the story you want to read.
I first started writing because I hated the way The Thief Lord ended. I decided to write my own story just the way I liked it. That included a ton of clichés like love triangles, tomboy MC, hot guy (well, eight of them), a villain--I could go on listing the clichés for hours. Still, that became my most popular story. Why? Because I wrote the story the way I wanted to, not caring if something was cliché or overdone.
Same thing with my story, Stray, if you've read that. The entire thing has nearly every cliché known to man (good girl falls in love with bad boy, parents died in car crash, bad boy has abusive father, good girl fixes bad boy and gets his life on track, etc.), but a lot of people still love it. Why? Because they get what they wanted. When they first met Darren, they probably started imagining how Annie would fall in love with him. They predicted a romance would happen. If being predictable means it's cliché, then this should be a bad storyline, and I should've just turned Darren into a villain or killed him off at the beginning of the story or sent him to an insane asylum. But the readers started reading because they had an idea of what they wanted the story to be. If they didn't get that, they wouldn't like the story anymore. Unless your new plot twist is so much better and more interesting than the original idea you led your readers to believe, then stick to the predictable idea.
So that's really how you can tell if you should keep a plot element cliche or add a twist. For example, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. We were all led to believe Anikan was the one who would bring balance to the Force. But he ended up becoming Darth Vadar. This new twist is more interesting than the orignal cliche that the boy the story focused on is the good guy.
Now look at Harry Potter. The original cliche was that he's good and he will defeat Voldemort. If Rowling twisted it so Harry became evil, we'd all blow a gasket. She let Harry defeat Voldemort, and that gave us a satisfying ending.
Don't sell yourself out. That's absolutely not what I'm saying. You write the story YOU personally want to read. Do not TRY to make things unpredictable for the sake of unpredictability. Clichés are not a bad thing, so don't be afraid to use them. They're not taboo as literary society makes them out to be. Some stories just tend to overdo it and make EVERYTHING cliché and predictable. A few predictable elements are a good thing to add to your story because it keeps your readers along for the ride. They won't feel lost in this new land. Clichés are like rest stops on a road trip. Give your reader's mind a rest from the twists and turns once in a while, and they'll thank you for it.
YOU ARE READING
Yuffie's Writing How-To'sRandom
A story isn't just a bunch of words slapped onto a page. It's a living, breathing manifestation of your imagination. This guide explores aspects most guides don't touch on such as memorable protagonists, world building, character psychology, and bac...