Should You Avoid Cliches?

Why do you think no one writes about Hobbits?

The short answer to this question is, yes.  You should always do your best to avoid cliches.  I mentioned in an earlier post that you should think long and hard before allowing a cliche into your work.  Generally, even when you do it intentionally, a cliche is going to come off as just that, a cliche.  It will seem trite, silly, and obvious and will bring the entirety of your work down a level.

Now I know you’re thinking, ‘but what about so and so? He had such and such?’  Yes, most of your favorite authors probably have cliches in their work.  They can get away with this for two reasons, 1)When they were writing, those cliches weren’t cliches (it is often the best authors that actually create a cliche, because everyone copies them) and 2) They are better writers than you.  Unless you really, honestly think that you are the next J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, or Steven Erikson (and have outside, professional corroboration of this opinion) then you can’t judge what you can do by what they can do.

Think of it this way: You’re trying to lose weight.  Your best friend, however, is the kind of person that never puts on a pound and runs five miles a day.  Your friend can get away with eating two cheeseburgers and three jelly donuts for lunch.  You, on the other hand, probably need to stick with a salad.  Right now, stick with the salad.  You’ll get better, you’ll get published, you’ll find an audience that loves you.  Then, if you still want to, you can start writing those stories about farm boy heros, timid princesses, and fearless knights.

I mean really! Tolkien is responsible for a lot of the cliches in the fantasy genre!

The other thing you need to realize, and I’ve mentioned this before, is that everyone sees different cliches.  Personally I tend to think that the entire Medieval Fantasy genre is cliche.  I’ll only read the best of the best of the best when it comes to Medieval Fantasy, because I don’t like it.  Give me Oriental fantasy, ancient fantasy, South American fantasy…actually I’d love to see some South American or African Fantasy.  I can only think of one South American fantasy novel that I’ve seen (and it didn’t look very good), and no fantasy in a strictly native African setting.

Personally most of what I’ve written has been fantasy with either a Middle Eastern or Oriental setting, a little in a Native American styled setting.

I say this so that you realize that, at least for some people, entire genres can be considered cliche.  This is not to say that any specific genre is entirely horrible (there are many people that love Medieval Fantasy), but that people define cliche differently on a regular basis.  There are even some people that love cliches, and seek them out (though these people are generally not publishers).

So, to sum up all of my posts on this topic in one sentence: Avoid cliches, but don’t be afraid of them.