Sunday, April 22, 2012

Embrace the Cliché

Last month I spoke about being unique in your writing and how to not be a copycat. In the second part of this series of articles, I am going to cover the embracement of clichés.

The other week, I was looking through my twitter-feed and came across a tweet from Amanda Wilcox that proves I am not alone in embracing clichés:

“The art of story writing seems to be simply re-writing clichés in your own words.”

I don’t know if I can attribute it directly to Amanda, or if someone else said it first, but story writing certainly seems that way.

I touched upon genre property last month, but not all genre property is cliché. Magical schools are not yet cliché and still have much uncovered ground. However, vampires are probably now cliché, what with Dracula, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and The Secret Circle to name but a few.

That isn’t to say that vampire stories should be avoided. If approached sensibly and with the right mind set any cliché can be turned into something new and exciting.

Before we go any further, perhaps an exploration into the definition of a cliché is needed. According to the Collins dictionary it is:
“An idea or phrase which is no longer effective because it has been used so much.”
This definition states that it can’t be used effectively any more. However, that doesn’t explain why some clichés are effective even after they have become ‘overused’. Perhaps I am being too broad with my own definition of:
“Something that has been used so much that it becomes predictable.”

Even with my definition, you probably would think it best to avoid any cliché where possible. Nevertheless, I am a firm believer that we shouldn’t waste clichés and should whole-heartedly embrace them with open arms. After all if you don’t try, you’ll never know, and knowledge is power. Remember that with great power comes great responsibility and that to use clichés is a privilege, not a right.

OK, so I went a little overboard with my clichés there, maybe to serve as an example of what not to do with them.

To properly embrace a cliché, you must first recognise you’re working with a cliché. This requires a number of realisations:

1. This has been done before, so I better make it damn good!
2. People will likely know it’s been done before, so I better be ready for the flack!
3. I am not the original author of this idea, so I better make it different!

In The Magician’s Tattoo, I have taken one of the biggest clichés of all time:  The fight between good and evil. As far as clichés go, this is big. Luckily, it is big in its scope as well as its cliché-ness.
In chapter one the reader learns there is an evil magician wanting to turn the good guy into a fluffy rabbit. I hope that I have ticked point one in the way I wrote it, I know I’m ready for flack and I think the fluffy rabbit is suitably unique.

But one thing you may notice is that rabbits are often associated with magic. With the rabbit out of the hat being one of the most iconic magic tricks, I knew I was taking a risk. However, this cliché shows another thing you can do. You can use clichés for comic effect.

As a comedy writer, clichés are a godsend. They allow me to take well-known ideas and openly use them in an unusual way to get a laugh. I have taken a lot more clichés than I have mentioned. I’ve used the orphan cliché (with a twist later on), the chosen one cliché, the magician’s apprentice, the romance side-story and more.

I don’t know if I am successful, but I think it’s good and a few other people agree.

You may here people online telling you to avoid clichés, that they are the sign of a weak writer, but remember if they are used appropriately and with a big enough twist they can work.

I would like to end on a quote by T.S. Eliot:
“Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal.”

Hope this helps,
Matt B


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