A few days ago, I watched a YouTube video where a girl talked about all the cliches she couldn’t stand in Young Adult fiction. Listening to her list made me realize that I had a few cliches in my own writing and it reminded me of how easily we can use cliches without even being aware of it. So my writing prompt for today is: What cliches have you found in fiction and how do you avoid them?
As of now, I’m working on an outline for my NaNoWriMo story, prepping it so I have everything I need before I start writing on November 1st. It’s a Young Adult story about an artistic young girl who’s a bit of a loner, told in a first-person narrative. Naturally, a lot of genres like Young Adult fiction have basic formulas and it’s understandable that there would be similarities between different books but I think the difference lies in how we choose to write it and in our own unique writing voice.
“What cliches have you found in fiction and how do you avoid them?”
A lot of the criticism I hear about Young Adult fiction is that it’s lacking diversity. I completely agree: we need more stories for young people told from different religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations. Characters are usually middle-class Caucasians, living in the suburbs who have a heterosexual love interest. However, when writers do include characters from different cultural backgrounds, some people say that they become token characters. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword and as a writer, you feel that you have to tread carefully around your decisions.
Including characters from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds in my story only seems natural, as I grew up near an extremely multicultural city. This is part of my worldview, so to include these characters is a given for me. The purpose for me is not to have token secondary characters to appease people. I’m giving these characters just as much attention and character development as my protagonist because they’re all an essential part of the story and of the main character’s life. Since I’m going to write about characters from diverse backgrounds, I make it a rule to be as culturally sensitive as possible with my characters and potential readers. I’ve seen racial stereotypes and jokes in Young Adult fiction before and it turned me off. It felt very stale and I understand that to some people, it may come across as culturally insensitive, even if it’s a joke. What may be no big deal to me may make another reader feel isolated and misunderstood.
Another cliche in fiction is a certain female passiveness. Passiveness makes sense if a character is shy, timid and non-confrontational but too much of it bores people. I believe there has to be some character growth or change in behaviour to make it compelling. It’s also interesting if a character starts out overbearing or hot-headed but then softens their nature over time, becoming more humble or more even-tempered. There has to be some strength of character there and it doesn’t always have to include physical strength or a “strong personality.”
This idea of a “strong personality” also bugs me because I find when people refer to females as “strong” they are usually describing someone who’s tough, not afraid to confront or argue their point with people, and someone with a bit of attitude or sass. All these things can be admirable traits but too much of these traits can get really tiring or too in-your-face after a while. A “strong” female character doesn’t always have to be tough, fiery or sassy. Everyone has their own idea of what makes a woman strong and interesting, so I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that a woman has to have certain traits just to be compelling.
One other big cliche is when characters fall in love immediately. This is a complaint you’ll commonly see about novels on reviews and it’s something I don’t like either. When relationships seem rushed between characters, it makes it easier for me as a reader to detach myself from the story. I understand that writers may not have lots of time to develop a relationship between characters in a book that’s 300-500 pages long but I think there are ways to make the character relationships progress more realistically.
I think showing the passage of time over weeks or months is a good way to show that these characters have spent a good deal of time together, getting to know each other. I also think leaving the high point of the relationship where characters finally admit their feelings or take their relationship further is best left more toward the end. It builds suspense and intrigue better that way, and makes more sense to me. This is just my opinion on the matter but I find it works for me.
If you’ve run into certain cliches you dislike, feel free to share in the comments below. I’d love to hear them! How do you avoid cliches in your own writing or what cliches would you like to see changed in fiction?