Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cliches You're Not Supposed To Like (But I Do Anyway) - Random Musings

If you're a writer, a reader, or a peruser of any kind of entertainment media, you know what a cliche is. It's that same trope that you've seen over and over and over again in a thousand forms six ways til Tuesday and it's become TIRED.

As a reader, I'm supposed to scoff at cliches. It's a great way to automatically dismiss a book. "Oh man, that book is SOOO cliche. Don't bother with it."

As a writer, I'm supposed to DESPISE cliches. "Oh, I am so ABOVE the standard dystopian cliches and I am therefore a thousand times better than the author of The Hunger Games."

But... confession time.... There are some cliches that I like.

And I have a weird relationship with them too. If I see these cliches in any form of media, it really does become a way to dismiss it. It makes it too easy to predict. The first Avengers movie is a good example of that. I teach The Avengers in my classes, so I've seen it more times than I care to discuss, and the main reason I teach it is to talk about STEREOTYPES and CLICHES. I swear the movie gets worse every time I watch it.

But if I'm WRITING the cliche, or IMAGINING it, I'm cool with it.

Yes I am strange.

Here's some cliches that I'm supposed to hate, but I actually love.

- The "Guy Nearly Dies Trying To Save Their Love" Cliche 

This cliche doesn't only apply to guys, though I generally write it as such. It also can be modified as "Guy Hurts Himself Protecting His Friends" cliche as well.

This cliche generally works best if the person getting hurt used to be a selfish jerk.

Both Tangled and the first Pirates of the Caribbean films tackled this cliche head on.

Smooth and Smarmy

I took it a step further in a Pirates of the Caribbean fan fiction and had Jack Sparrow nearly bleed to death in a dank cave. XD

...Needless to say, that story will never see the light of day again.

I like this one because I like the idea of someone moving from selfish prick to self sacrificing human being willing to die for his friends. It's an ideal character arch that almost never happens in real life, but that level of selflessness is something I admire. Call me a hopeless romantic.

 - The "Mary Sue/Gary Stu That Everyone Loves To Protect And Will Do Anything For" Cliche

I tend to go for the Gary Stus (the male version) of this one than the Mary Sues. For some reason the idea of a handful of HAWT GUYS willing to throw themselves into danger to protect some clueless chick puts me off.

Here's looking at you Bella
(How come every picture of Bella Swan has her with that same blank, lips-half-parted expression?)

And I know that's a bit of a contradiction, considering the first cliche can EASILY become the Mary Sue cliche... I think the difference between the two though, is that in the Selfless Guy cliche, the focus is on the guy's change and the Mary Sue cliche is focused on the girl's static personality.

A good real world example for this is, believe it or not, The Doctor from Doctor Who.


In the Tenth Doctor's final episodes fighting the Dallaks, all his past friends and companions are willing to throw caution to the wind and fight whatever comes their way to not only protect the Doctor, but also to fight aliens just like he does.

The Doctor HATES this fact though, which kind of makes it even better, since the Mary Sue girls tend to bask in it and use it to manipulate the guys that are following them.

In my own writing, the character Leah Nealia was original like that.

Leah was originally named Rachel and she was a self-insert that kind of grew too big for her own stories. Rachel's point was originally a way for me to write myself into my own stories and she was never supposed to see the light of day.

She had other plans. =P

Since then she's lost her Mary Sue status, but I still enjoy reading those old stories with her in it...

I suppose I like this one because I like the idea of inspiring someone to try and be bigger than they are, or that there are people out there that are THAT charismatic that people flock to them.

- The "Shy, Quiet, Or Computer Nerd Guy Becomes A Badss Even Though Its Against His Character" Cliche

I'll admit. I'm drawn to the nerdy, glasses wearing characters with a posh British accent that are destined to sit at a computer desk and make wry comments about or shy conversations with everyone else while they go off and do badass things.

A good example of this is like, Otacon from Metal Gear Solid or Shawn Hastings from Assassin's Creed.


Neither character would do well on the field. They're designed to be support, hands down.

But I've imagined stories where the main villain gets the Good Guy and it's up to the Tech Support people to save the day!

Yeah? Anyone?

Okay, honestly, it's one of those things that would just NEVER WORK in the real world, because people would automatically be all, "That's ridiculous! They'd never have the skills to do that!"

Which is TECHNICALLY true.... But the idea still appeals to me. Probably because I'd like to be that kind of person, you know?

I've never actually written a story like this... but I have imagined a whole novel idea around Shawn Hastings and his RISE TO BECOME A PROPER ASSASSIN.

DEFINITELY not an assassin.
 ....But that's something that'll never leave my head. Ever. 

I suppose I also like the idea of people breaking out of the stereotypes and labels.

The Disney movie Sky High did this, though I'd argue they broke the cliche wide open.

In Sky High, students are given two "tracts" to follow, depending on what their super power is. They are either heroes or sidekicks ("Hero Support"). This is based on their powers alone, and of course all the cliche powers like super strength, super speed, laser eyes, that kind of thing, are all deemed Super Hero Powers, whereas things like super smarts, plant manipulation, and the ability to transform into a gerbil are all deemed Sidekick material.

In the end, it IS the heroes that are captured and stopped and it's up to the sidekicks to come Save The Day. Which they do, spectacularly, which breaks the cliche, rises them above their labels, and generally spreads a message that we are more than the labels we are given.

As a teacher, I see students all the time that fall into the trap of believing labels and letting that control them. I want so much more for them than that.

- The "Deus Ex Machina" Cliche

This one is probably the biggest one. And this is one I'm not ashamed to use in official published stories.

Now this one has to be handled carefully. A writer could easily toss a standard Deus Ex Machina in the story that basically ruins all the other character's backstories and character arcs in one fell swoop.

A sad example of Deux Ex Machina comes from Lord of the Rings, mostly movies. And we all know what it is.

The Eagles.

They've been made fun of more times than I can imagine. Any time Gandalf or the Fellowship or the traveling dwarves are in trouble, the Eagles come in and save the day.

The books are SLIGHTLY better at explaining it, but the movie is so poor at doing so that EVERYONE has made fun of it.

But an example of a GOOD Deus Ex Machina comes in the form of The Chronicles of Narnia.

In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the story's climax pits Peter and Edmund against The White Witch with a small army. They're losing people left and right, partially to the Witch's spell of turning people into stone, and partially to death and injury. Everything is looking completely hopeless.

Enter Aslan.

Aslan, previously thought dead, is the only creature in Narnia that the Witch truly fears, and the only one really able to turn the tide of war. He comes against the Witch bringing fresh Narnian soldiers and the ability to cure the ones who have been turned to stone. Suddenly it looks like they have a chance!


These are the kinds of moments where the hopeless moments suddenly feel less hopeless.

Similar things happened the Lord of the Rings when the Rohan soldiers arrive at the battle of Helms Deep with Gandalf, or when Aragorn brings an undefeatable army of GHOSTS to the battle of Gondor.

It also happens in Harry Potter when Neville Longbottom is suddenly able to pull the Sword of Godric Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat (which, coincidentally, is also the Shy Guy Turned AWESOME cliche) and is able to destroy Nagini and save the day.

These examples MODIFY the original example and change it into something new and different. Rather than an unlikely act of God saving the day, it's the unlikely act of another hero saving the day.

I have a couple of stories that use this idea. For one, there is a character floating around called The Black Cloak (I'm so mysterious!) that comes in and sometimes saves the day with these Deus Ex Machina things. But there's also a couple of novels where this thing is CRUCIAL to the climax.

People will often tell me that I need to let the heroes fight their own way out of their powers. And I sort of agree with that. For major climaxes, yes, I think the heroes should find their own way. But sometimes there's nothing cooler than the Rescuing Heroes saving the day after everything looks hopeless.

Maybe I like this because I think it's important to admit we need help sometimes. There's no shame in asking for help, or praying that something will come your way to get you out of a situation you can't fix yourself. I want people to remember that, and I want them to cheer when someone comes to the rescue of Our Heroes.

Future Zyearth Fans
All these cliches end up being about PEOPLE.

The Self Sacrificing Character cliche holds up an idealistic trait that may inspire people to be better.

The Mary Sue/Gary Stu cliche (in some instances) holds up an ideal human being, one that would hopefully inspire people to be better as well.

The Shy Guy Turned Awesome cliche encourages people to break way from the labels they are given in life and become their own person.

And the Deus Ex Machina cliche reminds us that we sometimes need outside help and there's no shame in accepting it.

All of these are things that could make the world a better place, or at the very least, help us to believe in a world that can be better than the one we're stuck in. Hopefully we can be inspired to go out and make that world.

Good books will make a reader think and learn and give them a desire to change themselves and the world around them.


What cliches do you guys enjoy that the world says you shouldn't like? Share below!


  1. I think you're confusing cliches with tropes. While very similar, tropes get used over and over because they're story elements that people love. Look at romance: guy meets girl. They have problems that keep them apart. They get together anyway. Things are looking good until their secrets come to light. They break up. They decide that the other is worth it, and overcome the secret to be together again. That is ALL ROMANCE. Yet we love it and want to read it over and over.

    1. I think some tropes, such as the ones I'm exploring here, can be considered cliches too. They're used over and over so much that it's ruined the trope, therefore making it a cliche.

      "Trope" and "cliche" are also parts of genre, which, again, can be used over and over until they're ruined.


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