Reworking Cliches–Kendra E. Ardnek

KATIE WRITES: Last week Mirriam Neal told us not to use cliches in our writing, but how exactly do you avoid that? Here is Kendra Ardnek’s take on how to take old, worn out tropes and rework them into something new!

gruelle_brother1There’s nothing new under the sun, history repeats itself, and all the good story ideas are already used. Every author is barraged with the advice that they should avoid clichés, but I’ve noticed something funny about this advice – it only creates more clichés. Readers are tired of mamby-pamby damsels in distress? Well, now we have an overload of Rebellious Princesses. Describing your main character in an info dump is boring? Guess what? Now the mirror trick is overdone. “Simple” romances don’t have enough conflict, but now readers are sick of love triangles. Of all varieties.

Even the classics have received backlash from this phenomena. People have imitated and improved on them so much, Tolkien is now just typical for a epic adventure, and Narnia is just another fantasy world that entices children away from our own.

I’m a huge promoter of original writing, but sometimes originality is not so much unique ideas, as it is telling clichéd ideas in a new way. In fact, my own books are laced with clichés, but I’ve had very few readers complain. I consider it a personal challenge to use those clichéd ideas in a new, fresh way.

How do I do it? Well, I don’t have a set formula – formulas and writing don’t mix, in my opinion, it creates clichés – but I do have several tips and things to consider.

First, understand where the cliché came from. How it began and why it became clichéd. Every tired idea was once, a long, long time ago, fresh and new. And it resonated with its readers. You probably won’t be able to track it to its original source, but you can still find early examples that are considered “classic” and study them.

Second, recognize why something is cliché. Nine times out of ten, clichés are formed not out of overuse (though it is a huge factor) but through misuse. Many authors, especially new authors, don’t trust their ideas to stand on their own, and think that they can “improve” their writing by injecting it with the “popular” and the “tried and true,” without bothering to find out why those plots and concepts earned those titles. They need some conflict, so just grab two guys and make their lead lady fall in love with both, then choose between them. Lead lady not developed enough? Well, toss her a sword!

Which brings me to the third tip – don’t rely on the cliché. This probably sounds obvious to most of you, but it’s amazing how many writers think that they’re magic formulas to make the perfect books. But as I’ve already stated, there is no formula for writing. Unless you have a good reason for your lady to fall in love with two guys, keep one (or both) of them out of the picture. Don’t give her a sword unless it makes sense for her to have one.

Never use a cliché unless you need it. If it feels right to give your main character Cinderella syndrome, by all means give it to them. And if it’s logical to use the mirror trick to describe your character, by all means do so. But don’t expect any cliché to solve your problems. That’s not what they’re made to do. Some times, for fun, I’ll take a cliché and see if it works for any of my books (especially my Bookanias) but I never force it anywhere it doesn’t belong.

Make fun of clichés. We live in a age of parodies and tongue in cheek. Nothing can make readers laugh more than a caricature that takes a cliché to its ridiculous extreme. But be careful with this one. Not all books can handle it, and it’s also a good way to annoy readers.

Mix and match. Many clichés are unique to a particular genre. Setting your Romeo and Juliet in outer space can give it a fresh twist. However, avoid using a love triangle in a dystopia. There are far too many there already. (Seriously, there’s must be a shortage of girls in the future world, since almost every dystopia I’ve read or heard of involves a triangle, usually involving a girl with two guys)

Don’t confuse re-purposing cliché with plagiarism, though. Yes, you can use general character types, basic plot arches, and generic worlds to your heart’s content, but don’t toss Susan Pevensie into the Hunger game arena, set in the Shire. You’re going to get into trouble for that. Give clichés your touch, your flavor.

So, there we go. Some tips and tricks that I use to mess around with clichés. Have fun with them, and I’m looking forward to reading your fresh, new, clichéd books.

MeKendra E. Ardnek is the author of The Bookania Quests, and The Ankulen, both of which could be considered clichéd, but few people call them that. She blogs at Knitted By God’s Plan, and when she isn’t writing, she can usually be found knitting, crocheting, or reading. Either that or running around the yard pretending she’s one of her characters. That happens a lot.

You can visit her at:

Comments are closed.