Clichés make everyone cringe. They hurt your writing, and they usually trigger an involuntarily eye roll or groan from readers. It's best just to avoid them altogether. But sometimes it's hard to determine whether or not something is clichéd. Colors are easy. If it's something you've heard quite often--fire engine red, pitch black, or sky blue for example--you know it's probably one of those descriptions with a cliché tag attached. But what about characters, opening scenes, and individual lines? Though clichés vary from genre to genre and there are many of them, there are a few key ones that spread across all genres that you'll want to watch out for. Mary Sue/Gary Stu If you've been writing for any length of time, you've probably heard of a Mary Sue (Gary Stu for the male counterpart). These characters are very predictable, stereotypical, and downright boring. They are neither very well-developed nor original. Though not always true, Mary Sues/Gary are often protagonists, and can even be a reflection of the author's personality. While sharing just one or two quirks, habits, or interests with the author isn't a big deal, the protagonist shouldn't be a portrayal of the author. In fact, each character needs to be his/her own person. No two people on this planet are exactly alike, and no two characters should be either.
Tips for avoiding clichéd characters:
Life Stories and Death Scenes One of the quickest ways to diminish any interest a potential agent or publisher might have in your book is by having a "My name is..." opening. This is a habit many inexperienced writers develop during their early years of writing. They use this type of opening in an effort to show the importance of the story itself. I've certainly been guilty of it before, and I have to force myself to dive right into the story sometimes. It's tempting to give an introduction to the main character; after all, they are usually the most important person in the story. However, if a book is well-written, introductions aren't necessary in the general sense. The author does not need to make the character address the reader in any way. If the plot and action are good in the beginning chapters, the reader/agent/publisher will be hooked regardless.
Another often used opening is a death scene. It's a great, dramatic entrance, and lets the reader know that something big happened. The idea is to make the reader want to read more about what happened, capturing their interest and preparing them for the rest of the book. But sometimes method has the opposite effect. When someone picks up a book to read, they expect a good story to be told. They expect there to be a plot with substance, one that builds up and leads to a climactic point. By starting with a huge death scene, the author has already given away a valuable asset in storytelling, the climax. My advice is this: If you're going to start with a death scene, make it make it odd. Make it small or meaningless. Make it a joyous event, or something else unexpected. Have it be a cause and effect event. In other words, make it completely unique to any other death scene you have ever read, or make it so ordinary that that reader flips through it without much thought. This will give you a personalized opening without giving away key moments in the story right off the bat.
Tips for avoiding clichéd opening scenes:
Dark and Stormy Nights Clichéd lines are just about as annoying as clichéd characters. These lines include those such as the infamous, "It was a dark and stormy night," "Houston, we have a problem," and "Is it just me, or is it hot in here?" Most of the time, these lines are part of dialogue, but not always. However, there is a way to overcome clichés: avoid them, or make fun of them. If you use them and it's obvious that you're poking fun at the line, go right ahead. Some of the most successful television series are ones that make fun of themselves from time to time. Just use this tactic sparingly.
Tips for avoiding clichéd lines: