As a writer, there is no question that you will have to use one or two cliches in your writing. (And I mean cliches as in phrases and tropes.) Why? Because it makes the world more recognizable and readers are more invested in stories they can relate to. So, how do you know which cliches will work to your advantage and which ones won’t? And how many cliches is it okay to use before you make your reader want to throw your book down in frustration and righteous indignation? Well, that is what I am here to tell you.
Is There A Certain Number of Cliches I Should Use?
Some people are completely against the use of cliches and that is 100% okay but cliches, like ugly sweaters have a place and a purpose and when done right, they can actually be a great benefit to your work. Of course, this doesn’t mean that your dialogue should be full of cliches or that your story arc is one we’ve seen a million times with no real change but it does mean that you have a certain amount of leeway.
Think of it as a cliche allowance. You only have a certain amount to use before the audience grows bored or before a critic claims you’re a hack who has no idea how to write a novel. So, what is that number? I can claim that it is one cliche per fifty pages and I think that is a good number—it is what I try to go by, but that isn’t always the case. Like with most literary things, there are rules, there are guidelines and most of the time it is perfectly okay to break them if you know what you’re doing. For example, Family Magic by Patti Larsen is a YA novel full of cliches and yet it reads pretty original. How? Because she doesn’t focus on them. We see the familiar tropes and we inwardly groan but then Larsen chooses not to focus on all of them even though they may be present. If you want to read more about that novel, check out my earlier post here.
And your allowance may differ depending upon your tale; original plots are always more acceptable to use a cliche or two because we need something familiar. But if your novel is about a recently divorced woman whose teen kids are morons who loathe her, whose husband left her for his secretary and who has to move into a studio apartment because he took everything…well, you should know what I’m going to say.
If you are using cliches just to give us something familiar but they aren’t integral to your plot, feel free! But if you are using a trope that your audience has seen over and over again or even a phrase that has been used so much it’s lost all meaning, stick to one per fifty to one hundred pages, okay?
Which Cliches Are Okay?
As I mentioned earlier, cliches can be quite useful. And no doubt even the most original authors insert a cliche or two (even if they’re well-hidden in the prose). You may be wondering which cliched tropes are okay to include in your story line and I am here to tell you that there are some cliches that we should lay to rest.
A few examples would be:
Teen mean girls (especially evil cheerleaders)
Housewife who wants to be free from responsibility (and her husband) and meets a handsome stranger
A quest for a rare and possibly dangerous artifact
Plain Jane transformations
Bad boys who aren’t all bad
And true, there are tons of books out there that have sold millions of copies that are really just a list of cliched settings, characters and plot points but I know that anyone reading this post is original, creative and awesome. That means you have it in you to be creative and push boundaries. So, which cliches are okay? Most cliches are fine as long as you tell it in a new way or, hopefully, cast down the boring and played out for something new, fresh and unexpected.
I hope this little guide gives you some useful insight! And if this has, please let me know. I am always excited to hear from my faithful bookish family. And I am hoping to do something a bit new! So, please take some time and ask me a question. You can post it in the comments or send it through my contact page. I hope to try and make my posts as useful as possible and I need your input to do it!
Thanks for reading! And please share this post with another bookish soul. And if you don’t already, follow this blog. I greatly appreciate you guys and have some fun stuff coming up!