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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Oh the cliches, let me count the ways....

The Fiery Redhead

The Brainy Brunette

The Dumb Blond

The Hot Blooded Hero

The Overbearing Father

And on and on and on….

Cliches, types, stereotypes, tropes. History and fiction has a million of them (and counting).  Some authors try to avert or subvert these, others embrace them, but they never seem to go out of style, unless certain unfortunate implications kick in (race, ethnicity and religion are the first ones that come to mind).

And the one place festooned with them is speculative fiction. The beautiful blond princess whispers of purity, the fiery redheaded fire wizard (redundant, but of course) screams of swift retribution against those that offend her (or her gender).  Combat leaders are supposed to be either a father figure to their men or complete bastard that cares nothing for their well being and gladly trade their lives for a few meters of real estate.

Many a reviewer whines every time the pop up on the page and asks themselves why, oh why did the author go the simplistic route. Some even profess to closing the book and throwing it in the garbage if a plucky sidekick shows up delivering a few lines of comic relief in the middle of the final battle.

Cliches are out, they tell us. A mortal sin to have one anywhere in your book.

You look at your manuscript and panic. But my heroine is a plucky non-sidekick redhead whose main weapon is…well…fire!

I iz doomed!

No u iz nots.

They’re multiple reasons why these cliches became cliches in the first place and why they continue to appear time and time again (and why TV Tropes is so popular).

  1. They are true. We met somebody who fits the description. Or heard about it from a third party.
  2. Two, they are easy to identify with. We know them and don’t need to spend a lot of time figuring them out.
  3. They are unavoidable. Unless you make an effort to deconstruct every single character trope, in every single situation you are not going to avoid. In fact you are liable to either fall into another cliche/trope (not the exactly the same but functionally so) or if you’re lucky enough, create a new one.

So what do can be done?

Simple, go deep!

Use the cliche/trope as the starting point for the character or situation. By giving the character a bit of depth you can avoid the shallowness of the cliche, which is really what ticks readers off. Giving the reader a cliche and nothing else smacks of laziness and lack of originality. Exploring the reason why the person fits (or not) said cliche shows that you respect your narrative and your reader(s).