Cliches and Why You Should Avoid Them

Cliches come in many shapes and sizes – some small, some large.  They can be character types, overused and often repetitive lines (if I read one more, “she let go of a breath she didn’t know she was holding” I swear I will murder someone), full plot outlines and so many more I can’t even name them all.  In this workshop, we’re going to point out some of the most overused cliches and give you ideas on how to stifle their use in your writing.  As always, there will also be a brief lesson/workshop at the end for you to participate in and submit to our gallery.


We all know what these are.  Please don’t make me define it and don’t pretend like you haven’t written a stereotypical character at some point in your writing history.  It happens, and sometimes it works, but most times your reader sees right through it and the character comes off flat and unlikeable.  Not necessarily that they’re a mean person but more a forgettable character.  Forgettable characters don’t pull the reader into the story.  They make the reader walk away.

How do we fix it?

The easiest way to fix a stereotypical character is to turn the tables.  A jock that’s majoring in chemical engineering, an artist that makes a decent income selling their art and keeps the cash flow by doing private tutoring, a biker with a heart of gold and no criminal record.  You need to make your characters unique but keep them real at the same time.  Don’t turn every single character in your story into a dynamic non-stereotype.  We’re talking about your main characters here, not the waiter at the diner that doesn’t even get a line.

The goal, when you’re creating your characters, is to give them depth and make them real.  The more authentic they feel, the quicker they’ll jump off the page and you won’t be able to write fast enough for your readers.

Plot Cliches

You know how it goes:

  • Characters find out the world is going to end, so they set out on an epic quest to prevent it.
  • In a dystopian future, a strong female lead breaks all the barriers and even though she shouldn’t be able to do certain things, she does them anyway.
  • Girl gets dumped by a butthead and goes through all sorts of crazy to come out and realize that she’s in love with her friend and he’s perfect and awesome.
  • Daddy gets a new wife and she’s an evil overlord so the not bratty kids create all sorts of shenanigans to prove to their father she’s evil.

Do you see where we’re going with this?  I can name at least four or five books or movies that fit into each one of those cliches.  And most of the time they’re trivial and boring.  Not always, because every so often there’s an awesome idea or interesting twist.

How do we fix it?

Think outside the box.  No, that’s not just a saying.  You can take an overused plotline and make it completely original.  You just need to come up with an exciting twist; something that hasn’t been done before.

If you’re 100 pages into your story and realize that you’ve fallen into a pitfall with your plot and the story is becoming predictable, step back.  Walk away from it for a little while and come back to it after a week or so.  Look over what you’ve plotted and see where you might be able to make adjustments and changes to enhance the overall story.


It’s easy to let your story fall into melodrama if you’re not paying attention.  If your rollercoaster peaks aren’t being resolved and you’ve just got a steady run of arguing, fights and never-ending illnesses, you’ve reached melodrama on the cliche scale and you need to tone it back because nobody wants to read that.

How do we fix it?

Getting rid of melodrama is actually easier than you think.  If you think it belongs in a soap opera, get rid of it.

More seriously, if you’re finding that you’re just going ’round in circles and not effectively resolving any of the obstacles in your plot, you need to figure out a way to sew them up, and quickly.  As we previously workshopped, having a rollercoaster of highs and lows is essential to keeping your reader intrigued and your story flowing from one scene to the next.

Overused Words and Phrases

Probably the biggest of all cliche categories and one of the hardest to avoid.  We’ve all heard, read and used these before:

  • give the devil his due
  • released a breath s/he didn’t know s/he was holding
  • chomping at the bit
  • in today’s society
  • stick out like a sore thumb
  • never a dull moment

Just to name a few, trust me, we could go on all day with the list.  If you’ve used this, it’s not saying that your writing is horrible or boring.  Again, we’ve all done it at some point, but it could definitely be improved.

How do we fix it?

It’s really hard sometimes not to use words and phrases we’re so accustomed to using, especially in speech, but writing is different and fiction writing is even differenter (that’s totally a word!).

The best way to avoid any cliche is to get more detailed and that will work here too.  Remove these ancient and boring phrases and put something more meaningful in.  They’re not “people”, they’re the “scathing backstabbers.”  Find a way to get your point across, but also add in details about the story and build character.  Remember, you’re supposed to be showing and not telling.  It’s all in the details.


This article was originally written by DeviantArt user inknalcohol for NaNoPlotMo

Already have a DeviantArt account? Check out the original article here, and partake in the online workshops.

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