Clichés, Readers and Writers

  1. 1.
    a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.
    a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usuallyexpressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lostoriginality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser.
    (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, characterdevelopment, use of color, musical expression, etc.
    3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse."the old cliché “one man's meat is another man's poison.”"
    synonyms:platitude, hackneyed phrase, commonplacebanality, old saying,maximtruism, stock phrase, trite phrase; 
    old chestnut
    "a good speechwriter will steer clear of clichés"

Wow. Sounds terrible, right? What author would want to be accused of writing anything that is described by the words above. And yet I have to ask myself, what do readers want? 

When it comes to YA I often wonder if original thought can actually be a tad disappointing. I've read lots of reviews of YA books where readers don't exactly appreciate what's "original" - they want the guy and girl to end up together, they want the estranged friends to make-up and be besties again, they want redemption, they want to feel good when a story ends, etc. Twists and turns are nice, but at the end of the day, it feels like they kind of want what they want. 

I guess what confuses me the most is what's considered "original." I mean, is there really any story line that is original anymore? They've even distilled down every story into 7 basic plots (overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth) - and those plots go back ages. 

So as authors how do we write "original?" Let me tell you, it sure isn't easy. When I'm writing, I have a heightened sense for "cliche" - how I describe things, analogies, synonyms, comparisons, you name it. Everything feels like it's been done before, so how can I, one little writer, expect to do it all "originally?" 

It's hard. And wondering if readers will accept your version of "original" can make you second guess yourself. Because original doesn't necessarily mean better. But it's a risk worth taking. Even if it isn't easy.  


  1. I totally relate to this. When you bend to the conventions of the genre, readers can yawn. When you're the one doing the genre-bending, they often scratch their heads! Hard to strike a balance, sometimes.

  2. Thinking about this as a reader, I know that of course I want the happy ending, but if I'm honest, the books that really have resonance for me are the ones that challenge my expectations. I like to read a mix of both because I get something different out of each.

    As a writer, I feel your pain. Sometimes I just want to write the predictable ending--because that's what I want to happen to my characters. One thing that's nice about including some real people in my historical fiction is that I don't always have to choose the way the story ends!


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