Last week I wrote a short story featuring a fiction writer in the future. Each morning she goes to work and her thoughts are harvested for stories. People known as “The Watchers” decide which of her ideas are the most marketable. In the afternoon, my poor protag must flesh out and complete those tales.
Problem is, my character is bored with their choices. The Watchers always pick the same general ideas. Originality, it seems, is frowned upon.
When I wrote the story, I wasn’t actively thinking about clichés.
I am now.
You know what? I think most of us treat clichés in a very cliché’d manner.
Editors, critics, reviewers, readers — we all condemn them.
Oh, no! They’re hackneyed, formulaic, unoriginal, tired.
Deep down we crave clichés for the comfort they give us, for their efficiency and predictability.
This week I developed a taxonomy of clichés that centers on four main categories:
► So hungry I could eat a cow
► Eyes like limpid pools
► High as a kite
2. Literary Devices
► Ticking clock
► Cliffhangers at ends of chapters
► Multiple POVs to give a sense of urgency
► Protag with crippling problems – alcoholism, traumatic past
► Brilliant scientist who is also really, really hot
► Bumbling policeman who never sees the most obvious clues
► Mysterious stranger arrives in town. All hell breaks loose either for the character . . . or the town.
► Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl hate each other. Boy and Girl fall in love.
► A world is in peril. Hapless man/woman meets sexy scientist (see category #3). They save it in the nick of time.
So why do some of these “overworked” concepts sometimes work while others don’t?
I’m reading Jeffrey Deaver’s The Bone Collector right now. It’s got the ticking clock for sure. Both of the main protags – Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs – have enough emotional baggage to sink the QEII. And don’t tell me that SERIAL KILLER isn’t a cliché theme all its own.
Yet the book is a riveting read.
Is it really possible that there’s “no new idea under the sun?”
That plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — which, of course, is a cliché — is the reality?
That still doesn’t explain the difference between successful clichés and those that make us want to throw a book across the room.
Is it merely a question of how they’re employed, the way a story is told?
I honestly don’t know.
Let’s discuss it . . .
Give me your theories.
► Create new categories of clichés.
► Correct mine.
► Tell me of a cliché that drives you bonkers.
► Find a cliché that works and tell me why.