You’ve seen this before, haven’t you? In a book, in a movie, in a TV show? This particular character, this particular situation, this particular action scene, this particular kiss under the stars? Nope… it’s not Deja Vu you’re experiencing. It’s what is commonly (and often negatively) referred to as the story cliché. And you will run into them time and time again in the future, guaranteed. The more you read, the more you’ll see them. As a writer myself, you’re probably thinking that I’m going to sit you all down and write an entire article about how you can cleverly get passed writing clichés and work your way around them to create the most incredibly unique, one-of-a-kind scripture in all of literary history! Right?
Wrong! (How’s that for a plot twist?) I’m not going to do that at all. In fact, I’m going to do the exact opposite. So get comfortable, and let me tell you what I’ve learned over the years about the awful cliché of avoiding clichés.
I’m sure that we’ve come to expect a lot of clichés in the hours upon hours of media that we all absorb now on a daily basis. Like going to an action movie and seeing the hero walk away from a giant, slow motion explosion in the background. Or the sudden jump scare of a cat shrieking and leaping out of the shadows in a horror movie. Or perhaps that romantic comedy where the girl’s true love runs in at the last minute to stop the wedding with a big emotional gesture while everyone else claps. Whatever the cliché may be… you’ve seen it before, you’ll see it again… and it becomes a real challenge trying to avoid these written situations that have been battering audiences over the head for most of their lives. Believe me, it’s HARD to be original in this day and age when it feels like everything has been done before… TWICE over! Hehehe! One of my writing teachers used to always say, “No new stories since the Romans.” Meaning that every last bit of drama and comedy and tragedy and story of love, betrayal, war, and nobility, self discovery, and heroism… has already been told. Everything that has been created since then is just a clever reworking or variation on the stories of old. I’d like to think that I can break that rule one day, but… damn you, Shakespeare! He took all of the GOOD ones! Hehehe!
However, that doesn’t mean that your story is instantly going to be a cliché, or that you ‘hacked’ any of your plots or storylines from another source. I think the word cliché gets thrown around too easily these days. Say you have a main character in your story who’s in high school. He has a tray full of food in the cafeteria… and he accidentally bumps into the biggest bully in town, spilling an entire lunch all over his favorite sports jacket. I’m sure that at some time in your watching of movies or TV shows or reading stories… you’ve seen that happen before. Probably multiple times. Now your average critic might roll their eyes and glibly call that a blatant story cliché. Like, “Psh! Gee, it’s not like I haven’t seen that in a story before.” And they may be right. Maybe it pops up a bunch of times in a bunch of different stories, and they’re tired of reading it. They want something new. Who knows? YOU might be the writer that gives them something that they’ve never seen before! And that would be awesome!
But… if you’re not ‘the chosen one’, and you’re still building and learning and practicing your craft… don’t you spend one valuable second of your time worrying about your ideas to the point where you shut down and can’t write anymore. Why would you? As always, I can’t stress enough how important it is for a writer to be comfortable with everything he/she writes. One hundred percent of the time. TELL YOUR TRUTH! Your own personal truth as you see it. Maybe even how you remember it happening to you, personally. Do you know why certain ideas are clichés? Because they happen to everybody. (Well, a bunch of people! LOL!) If you once spilled a lunch tray on a bully’s jacket on your first day of high school… don’t feel intimidated out of telling that story. I’m sure a million boys have spilled a million trays of food on a million angry bullies worldwide. It happened in the 80’s, it happened in the 90’s, it happened to you Millennial teens, and I’m sure once this Summer is over and everybody goes back to school in the Fall… it’ll happen again. If that’s a part of you telling the story you want to tell, then tell it. Plain and simple. Write from your heart, and express things from your own point of view. If that means a kiss during a sunrise, or catching your sweetheart at the airport to tell them not to leave, or jumping out of a speeding car just before it goes over the cliff… then do it! Write it! Who cares? This is your story, isn’t it? Keep it yours.
Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that you should be lazy as a writer. I’m not telling anyone to use typical clichés as a crutch or an easy ‘go to’ whenever they’re feeling stuck. I still definitely think that every writer should put in as much effort as possible to have a unique voice and be as creative as possible. But I’ve also learned that you can connect better with your readers and have a greater impact with honesty and true emotion than you can with literary ‘skill’ alone. Don’t think that you can use fancy words and proper mechanics as a substitute for what you feel. Or for what you want your audience to feel. What is your heart telling you? If you want to have a new, beautiful boy come to the main character’s class and it’s love at first sight, and that’s the vibe that you’re going for? Do it! Why not? You have a character sneaking in the house past curfew and he gets caught by his parents? Great! Write it! Somebody recklessly jumps out of a window during an action scene and he luckily lands in a dumpster or a bail of hay? Sweet! Write that! I tell everyone this because I know that there are a ton of writers who get sooooo wrapped up in trying to be original and avoiding clichés and thinking about what the critics will say about their story… that they end up not writing much of anything at all. A sentence or two a day, tops. And then they stop. It’s almost like there’s this violent pre-emptive strike on their inspiration that bullies them out of having any confidence at all in the words they type out on a blank screen. And that can really suck. You’ll never get anywhere with that mindset. That story will sit in your lost files for so long that you won’t even remember where you put it when you DO want to continue adding to it. Trust me, I know that feeling well. But you have to let go of that entire self-defeating thought process and just write what you want to write. It takes time, but you’ll get rid of it eventually. Just keep writing. Otherwise, that story will stay stuck in author Limbo FOREVER!
DO NOT write or try to ‘perform’ for the critics! Don’t do it! You’ll drive yourself insane trying, and you’ll just lose in the end anyway. Trust me, they outnumber you a billion to one and no two critics are looking for the same thing, so you’ll always be disappointing to somebody. You have to keep in mind, these are people who might read 1000 stories in a month. That’s a LOT! And then they come to you with their arms folded and say, “Surprise me with something that I’ve never read before.” Well… there are a THOUSAND stories before you, so…how, exactly, does that work? That’s like trying to invent a new way to make pizza!
You’re trying to tell a personal story that’s connected to your heart and soul, and you stop yourself because you’re trying to impress someone who gobbles up stories like random chocolates on a fast moving conveyor belt. You have to relax. You have to create your own moments the way you see it in your head and build the best story that you possibly can. Don’t worry about being different, just be honest. That’s the goal, isn’t it? The more honest and personal you are with your stories, the more original they’ll become. We’re all different, after all.
Don’t worry if it’s been done before, you tell it YOUR way. Don’t plagiarize somebody else’s ideas, hehehe, just don’t be afraid of creating every single scene of your story the way that you originally imagined it. The readers will get it. Have faith in them. They’ll be so involved in the story and the characters that they’ll, hopefully, take the fun ride with you from beginning to end. The story is the main focus, but in all reality, your audience came to see YOU! They want to read your words and experience your world from your own point of view. Period. Be brave about it. Be your own superstar and worry about the critical reception of your themes and concepts later.
There are some really cool people out there who will give you some great feedback on what you write. TONS! They’ll be the majority, in fact, if you’re lucky. Then you’ll get some folks who will give you some constructive criticism in attempts to help you reach your full potential and will encourage you to keep going. Then… well, you have some critics whose job it is to simply criticize. That’s what they do. That’s ‘all’ they do. You can’t curl yourself up into a ball and let yourself believe that impressing them is the reason that you began writing in the first place. It’s not. You know what you want to do with your work, with your voice, concentrate on that. Cliches and all if need be. You’ll always disappoint certain critics because they make it their goal to be disappointed. Write a character one way, you’re being sappy. Write them a different way, you’re being annoying. Write a story where things happen too fast, it’s slutty and pornographic. Write it too slow, it’s too full of angst and it’s irritating. Try to solve a story problem in a surprising way, they roll their eyes and say it’s contrived and unrealistic. Try to write things closer to reality, they’ll roll their eyes and call it unoriginal and predictable. You CANNOT win! Go in just knowing that. Hehehe, but you can take comfort in knowing that you’re not supposed to win. The fight was fixed before you even stepped into the ring. Their job is not to find something right with what you do, but to find something wrong. And when you go looking for it, there is always something wrong. The only way to win is to know that you created the best story that you could, and that you did it YOUR way, win or lose. You created something out of nothing! And then you got to share it with the world in a way that will linger on long after you’re dead and gone! Be proud of that!
These stories are the cave paintings that will still be here centuries from now! So make your voice as truthful as it can be. Aliens might find it someday! Hehehe!
Take the time and make the effort to weave the dreamy story that you wanted to put together from the very moment that the idea of ‘writing a story’ ever even entered your mind. Have the courage to relate to your readers on a grounded level. Never let the word ‘cliche’ bully you out of having your main characters share their first kiss in the rain, or create a sense of jealousy between the love interest and his ex. Whatever. Be comfortable, be confident, and have FUN writing your story! I always try to do something new myself, and I admire others who are always trying to do the same. I definitely encourage that. But if you’re sitting in front of a blank computer screen and nearly giving yourself brain aneurisms and migraine headaches because you’re trying to write something shocking and surprising and ‘critic proof’… don’t. Just… stop, ok? Movies like “Battle Royale”, “Hunger Games”, and “Divergent”, all share similar themes and storylines… and it’s super obvious, but it doesn’t stop them from being appealing to their separate audiences. Cliches exist, but they exist for a reason. Because there’s something about them that is a part of everyday life, and it touches on something deeper that connects us all as human beings. Something that will strike your readers as something familiar and relatable when they read these same experiences in your work. If you can find a brand new way to present that same feeling… then GO for it! Definitely strive for that original story that breaks the mold and creates a whole new path for other authors to follow someday. But you shouldn’t feel like you have to write the greatest novel of all time and create a plot that’ll outsmart Sherlock Holmes himself to be considered a worthy read. Write from the heart. Draw on your personal experience. And if that experience is similar to somebody else’s… then AWESOME! You just made a connection! And ‘connection’ is what any true art is all about.
If you just want to write a story about an orphan boy that’s destined for greatness and a higher purpose… then WRITE THAT STORY! Make it yours! Harry Potter was an orphan boy destined for greatness. So was Luke Skywalker. So was Superman, Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, Peter Pan, etc! Who owns the copyright on the orphan tale, you know? They’re not all the same story just because of a few similarities. You write what you want to write, k? Stop trying to make it critic proof. There’s no such thing.
Writing is hard work. It takes a great deal of dedication and focus, and it can be really draining at times. So, if you’re not enjoying the process… why do it? Take your sense of comfort back so you can consistently put out your best effort to the people who keep coming back for more! It’s always worth it!
I hope my senseless ramblings help you guys out a little bit! Hehehe! This has been ‘Comsie Talks’, and I wish you guys a happy and fulfilling writing experience!
Now… STOP procrastinating and write that story you’ve been thinking about for over a year and a half, but haven’t gotten past the third paragraph yet! Slacker! Hehehe! Good luck!