Know the Technique: Clichés & Tropes

Hello everyone!

Today I’ve got for you the second post in my Know the Technique series, and we’re going to be discussing what clichés and tropes are in the literary world!

Cliché

noun
a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. Also known as a “stereotype” or “electrotype”.

 

Tropes

noun

A literary trope is the use of figurative language.  The word has also come to mean a commonly recurring literary device, motif, or cliché. 

 

Clichés are an every day thing in literature, but they don’t stop there. They overrun theatre, movies, general media and whatever else they can get their hands on. While not always a bad thing, they are most often used to grab the attention of certain audiences. For example, love triangles are often found in YA books, while wicked witches are more often found in some sort of fantasy. There are so many examples of clichés that it’s best to just give an idea of what counts as a cliché.

Here’s a quick list off the top of my head of some fantasy/YA clichés: the chosen one, peasant child learning that they’re actually royalty, magical powers gained at the sweet age of 16 or 18 where an unimaginable dark force has awakened because of it; love triangles, the bad boy, I’m going to pretend I don’t like you even if we’re perfect for each other, etc., etc., etc.

However, the definition of cliché can be pretty broad and does not always refer to the same thing; a cliché can refer to an event, a person, an item, a race, and literally anything else you can think of, though that’s where the tropes part of this post comes in.

Dragons in fantasy are not always cliché, but they are referred to as a trope more often than not because of how common they are. The same goes for elves, dwarves, love triangles, that magical artifact, good vs evil, who needs parents, anyway?, characters never being in any actual danger, it was just a dream, ridiculous cliffhangers that turn out to be nothing interesting, etc., etc., etc. I could literally go on forever about how many tropes and clichés there are, but I won’t, simply because I’d like you guys to keep a few brain cells for the future (I’m sure that would be convenient for you, too). 😀

When SHOULD I use a cliché or a trope?

Honestly, there’s not much wrong done in using a cliché or a trope. They’re overused because they were once unique ideas, and the only thing truly bad about them is that your reader will likely be sick of them by the time they read your book and may discredit you because of your use of one. Another downside is that with clichés, the reader can often guess how the book is going to end; however it’s important to realize that in some genres clichés WORK and when done properly, they’re PREFERRED. That’s actually kind of strange, I guess, isn’t it? Either way, doing a cliché correctly… hm hmhmhm hmhmmm….

Doing a cliché properly is tough, though, and that’s why clichés are so… cliché. The only way to make a cliché stand out as your own work is to take a spin on it that no one has before, or one that’s uncommon and suits your story well. An example of this would be to have a love triangle (it’s usually m-m-f) that’s not all focused on the girl… so maybe not even heterosexual! Or have it so a love triangle exists, but one person is so clearly getting the short end of the stick. Something like that. If you think about it, there are lots of ideas that can be used to twist a cliché or trope into something almost unique.

Tips for avoiding or using clichés and tropes:

1. Be aware of what is and what isn’t a cliché.

If you know what you’re writing about, it’s a lot easier to figure out what you need to do to change it. Being aware of whether or not your writing is using a cliché is the first step to building upon that cliché or working around it.

2. Don’t avoid clichés just because they’re clichés.

When you try and avoid them for the sake of avoiding them, you’re creating a new cliché. This isn’t always the case, but if you’re creating a world with a whole bunch of new systems, races, etc., to avoid using common clichés and tropes you are more likely to confuse your readers. Why call graceful superhumans with affinities for magic and nature xcarottail when your reader will recognize them as elves?

3. Convenient clichés.

If you want to use an idea that might be considered cliché, no one has the right to tell you not to. Of course, as mentioned before, clichés should only be used when you can make an appropriate twist to make it a little different. Hopefully you have plans to do that, because convenient clichés are the worst. Basically this means you’re using the cliché just because you can, even though there are many ways that you could change it or make it different as to not make it a full on cliché.

If anyone would like a longer list of clichés or some clarifications on the ones I already have written, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do what I can!

What clichés and tropes annoy you the most? Which ones to you actually enjoy reading about?

~Erynn

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