Avoiding the Cliché

When you’re writing down a well worn path, it’s hard not to stumble upon clichés along the way

I wrote recently about trying to avoid the pitfalls of the same old motherhood jokes. This is because I have been trying to write about the experience of motherhood in an honest and hopefully comic way. And it is hard not to fall into the same patterns of jokes.

I have followed this advice before to find your characters quirks, often a short hand for their personality. I like this on one level, trying to find everyone’s inner Amélie. But writing these also can become little too much to read, if everyone is blushing all the time or always holding a coffee cup, are you going to notice the tension between these two people or just notice how often the writer repeats themselves.

Character development worksheets are a great way to feel your way into more depth. I certainly enjoy the listing process of the background things that only you know about them. Horoscopes, their earliest memory, what car they drive – thinking at least some of these things is helpful way to world-build around the characters so that they start to become real. These lists are particularly useful if you are lacking inspiration or brain gets fogged like mine. Lady Writer on Pinterest has an amazing array of resources. I was using a great one this week about character quirks.

It’s amazing how thinking about their inner life, can spark you into other ideas, for example the character who is obsessed with her horoscope, may become the more susceptible character or she becomes more empathetic to other’s emotions albeit because she knows when mercury is in retrograde. The “perfect” character may have many more quirks than the other women in her life, she just works even harder to hide them.

Ultimate quirkiness. How is Amélie twenty years old?

Once the characters are a little more fleshed out, you begin to write about someone you know. Less drawn from a stock character and more from an understanding of how that person acts. And then, the characters start to tell you what to write. I had a battle with a character who keeps trying to take over my other work-in-progress.

The final thing to avoid clichés may depend on your writing style. I have been trying to write from start to finish in my newest project, usually I have written scenes when I am inspired which has landed me in quite a mess of thousands of words for the aforementioned other project, where the puzzle isn’t quite fitting together. What I would say being a bit stricter writing my story in this more planned out way is that I don’t avoid clichés at all. Just as names are stand-ins for the name I choose in the end, sometimes trying to plod through a first draft means having the confidence that you will go back and flesh out the writing. And brain-fogged, sporadic writers like me need to use clichés to get to the end of the scene whenever they eventually sit down.

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