It's hard, because they're literally everywhere, like dust in the air in those allergy commercials, but if you really want your writing to be fresh and interesting, you have to avoid cliches--or bring some new angle to them so that they're interesting again. Here are five cliches I'm ready to never see again. They're all plot-or-character-or-structure cliches rather than language cliches, because I feel it's much easier to fix flawed language than it is to fix flawed structure. Here goes:
- Villains Are Only Evil - You know why Loki was so great a villain and why so many people adore his murderous, probably insane self? Because he's not all evil--and he doesn't think he's evil at all. He has understandable motivations that make sense (more than his plans do, really), he loves his brother and his parents even though he wants them gone (one way or another), he's damaged and sympathetic and interesting.* See, really good villains are as well-rounded as the heroes, with a little good in them, and a lot of stuff we can like, and actually add to the story instead of just standing in the way of it. I hate a flat villain so much because of the examples of non-flat villains out there.
- Everything Goes In A Straight Line - And it shouldn't. You've got to have a plot that feels like it's getting somewhere, that's true, but if you're going for something that feels like it actually happened, you need a plot with stuff going on. If the hero is just going from point to point with no interruptions, no complications (especially moral ones!), no backtracking or misunderstandings or being misled, it's not really a story in my opinion. It's a string of events that could be a story. You've got to give your hero things to grapple with and delays and backslides to overcome as well as whatever villain, world or plot stuff he has to get through.
- Politics And Religion Are Just Like They Are Here, But With Dragons - There is no quicker way to make things sound like they've been done to death than to not diverge enough from how things are. This is a hard one if you're writing realistic / mainstream / literary fiction**, and your job there is to make whatever real thing you're coping with personal and show it though a unique point of view. But if you're writing Fantasy or Scifi, there's very little excuse for everything to be exactly the same as everyone else is saying. Even in Urban Fantasy or Present / Near Future Scifi, you've got to give us something new--don't just drop your robots and dragons and fairies into the exact world we actually have, reshape the world around them to accommodate them. Show us a new angle we hadn't seen before, a new consequence, a new way of handling the intrusion / magic / tech / strangeness / aliens / whatever.
- Heroes Are Always Good - How impossibly boring when they are! My biggest problem with most versions of Superman up until this recent one***, is that he's so sure of himself and his moral stance, so able to do exactly whatever is needed regardless of whether he's ever done it before, so firmly routed in Good that he's dull. Useful to have around, but not interesting. A hero who never doubts, never falters, never makes the wrong choice, never hurt anyone, never lost a fight, is not really a character, he's a cardboard cut out.
- Check-The-Box Characters - To be totally honest, any combo of characters that serve only one function and have no shades of balance and contradiction are cliches. If you can sum up your main characters the way you'd sum up useful players in a game--fighter, healer, magician, thief--and there's no other purpose or meaning to them, you're missing a lot of opportunity to really make your story interesting. The same goes for basing your characters off Archetypes without mixing it up and layering new meanings into them--Maiden, Mother, Crone, Father, Hunter, Shadow are all great starts, but just like in real life, people mean more than one thing, have more than one side, and do things outside of what their strict purpose is.