Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Avoid Clichés like the plague, they're old hat.

by Anna Jones Buttimore

My Dad recently sent me a list of movie clichés. For example:
  • Cars are never locked, and always contain the keys needed to start them.
  • The immediate reaction of anyone in the path of something life threatening is to stand completely still and stare at it.
  • If a person knocks another out and takes their uniform, it will fit perfectly, irrespective of the relative size, sex or even species.
  • Firing a gun on a plane will result in explosive decompression, which will in turn result in all the overhead bins opening, which are full of loose paperwork.
  • All hotel rooms, offices and apartments in Paris have a view of the Eiffel tower.

That led me to think about literary clichés. When I first started writing someone told me about two basic ones:

  • The mystery should never be solved by the baddie turning out to have an identical twin.
  • You should never resolve anything with the words, "And then I woke up and it was all just a dream".

Are there other literary clichés we should take care to avoid, however? Are we sometimes guilty of naming our characters according to how they fit into the plot (calling the rugged, handsome hero "River" or "Clint" for example, but never "Nigel") or wrapping up endings a little too conveniently? Have you ever read a book where the desperately impoverished heroine was suddenly saved from ruin when an unknown distant relative died and left her a fortune? Or where the hero's amnesia lasted just long enough to have dramatic effect, and then cleared up miraculously when all was revealed at the end?

I have a new book coming out next month. It's called Honeymoon Heist and, yes, I am shamefully plugging it here. Forgive me; part of my job is to flog the thing. Having got thinking about literary clichés I'm feeling quite pleased with myself for sidestepping a few.

  • My hero isn't good looking and is somewhat geeky. And he's called Rodney.
  • My heroine is shallow and stupid and self-centred.
  • There's no "Agatha Christie" moment where all the characters sit in a room and the villain is unmasked and the whole plot explained. Rodney and Claire get involved in shady criminal activity of some sort, but neither they nor the reader ever really know what it is that they have inadvertently got caught up in. (In real life, bad guys don't explain the workings of their entire scheme before they kill you.)

Having said that, I didn't escape entirely. There is a view of the Eiffel tower.


Stephanie Black said...

I love that list of movie cliches! Ha ha!

I recently read The Rogue Shop, by Michael Knudsen, and was pleased how when the hero meets the girl he eventually falls in love with, he doesn't instantly think she's the most gorgeous woman he's ever seen, as per the cliche in so many books. She's nice-looking, but not drop-dead beautiful. It's not until he falls in love with her that he starts thinking of her as beautiful. That was refreshing.

Congrats on Honeymoon Heist!

Rachelle said...

These are so much fun! Good points to look out for in our writing. It's fun when there are interesting twists on those old cliches.