Monday, March 29, 2010


I follow Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating blog. She had a great post on clichés and how to avoid them. She was blogging specifically about clichéd phrases, but I realized that we have clichéd plot devices and themes in children's writing as well.

I think we all have a list of plot clichés that set our teeth on edge. However, I think others tend to slide under our radar because we identify with that particular idea. I'm going to list some of my least favorite clichés, and I hope you'll leave some of yours! It's always good to note what's been done to death so we can avoid it in our own writing.

So, a few clichés:

1) The snarky narrator. I see this a lot in YA. Not to say that I don't like a unique voice, but I get tired of a character that is unique only because of her snarky comments. Yes, most YA protagonists are at odds with their world or life, but there are many different ways to express that.

2) You just have to believe. Often in life, that's true. Which makes it even harder to write about without sounding trite. But... it's a common theme and an even more common phrase. I was just listening to a book recording. It was a terrific book,with a great world and unique characters. At one point in the story, the main characters realized they just had to believe. (And they really did.) Overall, the author handled the situation very well, but I have to admit, when we got to that point, I was thinking to myself, Please don't say 'we just have to believe'. They did- but the story was so great I forgave them.

3) The shy, quiet hero/ine who gets the hottie because the author isn't hot and wanted a happy ending for such a situation ... so she wrote it. I am not poking fun at these stories! It's a universal theme, and we love rooting for the underdog. I'm writing such a story and believe me, it's going to have a happier ending than any of my personal experiences ever did. : ) But! As some kind but firm Slushies pointed out a while ago, there had better be a reason that the underdog wins. And "because I (the author) want her to" doesn't count. I believe the exact critique was, "I know I should care about this person, but I really don't." God bless the underdogs, but give the readers a reason to root for them other than their underdog status.

So help me here. What are cliches that you've seen recently? I'd love to know.

And ... this is so fun, but I'm only posting it because I know you'll never use it in your writing. It's a cliché finder! Please. Use. Responsibly.


KarenG said...

The clumsy heroine who trips over her own toenails. Ever since Bella--is she the one who started it? If so, that's okay, but now it's cliched and tiresome.

KM said...

OMG I totally agree about the underdog thing!!! Honestly, I'm just sick the quiet, bookish girl gets the arrogant, sexy guy. It's been done. I've noticed that female protagonists in YA have gotten less attractive. Sure, everyone can't be beautiful, but there ARE pretty people in the world. I feel like the trend has almost gone too far in the other direction. Anybody else feel that way?????

Sarah said...

Karen, I just read an editor's blog post about that recently! She was running into clumsy heroines everywhere and was sick of it.

Good point, KM. Attractive heroines used to be overdone, but now they're pretty uncommon. It's become a way to show she has substance.

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

Yes, KM I agree, ugly duckling girl gets sexy, popular guy has been done to death. There has to be a happy medium. Why can't a heroine be cute, smart and funny? Buffy The Vampire Slayer fit that mold. It seemed to work for her.

Sarah said...

Good point, Andrea. Is it just me, or do books seem the opposite of movies? In books, the quiet plain girl gets the hot guy. But in lots of movies, the nerd guy gets the girl.

Perhaps it's just a case of demographics. You have far more female readers than male.

Who knows...

Theresa Milstein said...

I like this cliche list. It's hard not to write what's been done a countless times before, but something about what we're writing has to be special for it to stand out amongst the crowd. Avoiding as much cliche as possible probably helps to that end.

Sarah said...

I agree, Theresa. It's always good to be aware of cliches. And the great thing is, if you are aware of them, you can use them to your advantage by turning them on their head. The reader might think you're going one way, but you take them another.