Wordy Wednesday: Non-Cliche Cliches

A couple quick things before we get started:

  1. Yesterday was my last first day of school! (Unless of course I get a masters someday, which is THE HOPE, but we’ll see.) It feels so weird to be a senior in college. When did this happen? WHEN?
  2. My first post on the collaborative writing blog The Book Creators went up Monday! I talked about balancing writing with school. Read it here.

It’s only the second day and things are already insanely busy. Here’s to surviving.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

A while ago my wonderful critique partner Ariel Kalati suggested I talk about crafting non-cliche romantic subplots.

This is an interesting one, because “cliche” itself can be such a moving target. (Check out a post on that right over here.) But romance is certainly one of the easiest parts of fiction with which to fall into writing cliches.

As mentioned in that other post, everything has been written before at some point. EVERYTHING. So it’s less about doing something original (which is impossible) as much as doing something unoriginal in an original way.

For instance, look at people. There is literally nothing about us that is original. You’re left-handed? So is 10% of the world’s population. In as few as fifty random people, there’s almost a 100% chance that someone else with share your birthday. And I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve shared with other Julias/Julies. (Answer: almost all of them. And Julia/Julie weren’t even super popular names the year I was born.)

But it’s not our individual traits that make us who we are, but the conglomeration of all of them. Sure, there are tons of other lefties, and people born on April 21st, and people named Julia. But the number of people who share those traits with me go way down when you combine all of them. And they go down further when you consider other things too, like how I’m allergic to chocolate, or how I’m obsessed with books, or how I’m a vegetarian.

Cliches are like this as well. So I believe it’s fine to begin with something that might be “cliche,” as long as you build from that in order to create something original.

You can do this in a few ways–and they don’t just apply to romantic cliches, but cliches in general.

So, ways to write cliches without being, well, cliche.

Twist Cliches

This is the easiest one. Take a cliche and twist it in some way. Maybe you’ve got star-crossed lovers, but they’re in space. (Ex: Beth Revis’s Across the Universe.) Or, for example, one of my novels has a pretty big focus on a love triangle, but it’s the male love interest to my female narrator at the center, rather than the more traditional “female narrator juggles two equally hot boys.”

The point is that you’re taking something familiar, then changing a key aspect about it. (This is the general principle behind a lot of retellings going on these days. Study them. They’re popular for a reason.)

Play with Cliches

Instead of just changing one thing, turn a cliche on its head. Maybe make the reader believe you’re following a well-worn path, then BOOM: plot twist. You’re actually doing something else entirely. (I’m going to avoid giving examples for this one, because spoilers, but this can be such a fun one. You literally use reader expectations against them in order to create a less predictable story. It’s diabolical.)

Justify Cliches

If you’re using a cliche, you need to have justification for it. Why can your story not function without it? (Because come on now, if your story can function without a cliche, WRITE WITHOUT THE CLICHE.)

And this shouldn’t just be justification in your head. It needs to be on the page. Show the reader why your story can’t function without the cliche and, more than that, why your cliche-infused story needs to be told. (Because a bad story needing a cliche to function is one thing; a good one is something else entirely.)

A really good example of an author doing this is Stephanie Perkins in her Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. All three romances have technically cliche elements (love triangles and miscommunication and parental disapproval oh my!). But the stories are larger than their cliches and they wouldn’t function without them–so, the cliches work. Which leads me to my last method:

Build on Cliches

Even if you’re doing a full-on Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers bit, your story needs to be greater than the cliche. Other things need to be going on. Your characters need to be original and dynamic and real.

How many times have we known people whose real life relationships legitimately felt like they were out of a novel? Chances are, when this happens you don’t look at your friends all like, “Uck. I’ve totally heard the one about the meet-cute with the new guy at school before. Your life is so cliche.” No, you know the people involved, which means the individual details you’ve gathered over the years come together to define your friends, and by extension the relationship, so that it feels unique and fresh instead.

Feeling cliche and being cliche are two different things. It’s the feeling you want to avoid more than anything else. So figure out what feels right to you and run with it.


What are your tips for avoiding falling into cliches?

Thanks for reading!


P.S. Sorry this is going up after midnight. I have no good excuse. It’s just the whole getting-used-to-being-back-at-school thing. (So much fun, amiright?) If you’re back this week too, best of luck!

6 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: Non-Cliche Cliches

  1. Pingback: Wordy Wednesday: Don’t Burn Out | Julia the Writer Girl

  2. In honor of it being your senior year, you should totally do a blog post about all the cool stuff you’ve done/experienced at U-M 😀


  3. “I love Ariel Kalati like Ariel Kalati loves pizza” this is the most beautifulest thing anyone has ever said about me
    And great tips about cliches too! I totally agree with them. Cliches are bad when they feel like cliches, not just when they’re there.


Comments are closed.