Cliches I Enjoy

One of the hardest parts about writing, for me, is avoiding cliches.

(Other hard parts of writing: beginnings, endings, character development, plot twists, foreshadowing…oh, we don’t have time to list all the things I struggle with.)

(Moving on.)

I don’t want my work to be considered “cliche.” I don’t want people to roll their eyes when they read it, thinking, “Oh, that’s mighty convenient,” or, “Well, that’s never been done before EVER. Except for the ONE MILLION OTHER TIMES.”

I want them to think “How original!” “How interesting!” “How very un-lame!”

However. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are some cliches I enjoy. A LOT. And I don’t just enjoy using them in my own stories; I enjoy reading them in other books. Especially YA novels.

Here are some examples, along with some of the books I remember seeing them in (and these are just the books I can see on my bookshelf from the chair I’m currently sitting in, so I know there are more):

–Boarding schools and/or a new school (Harry Potter, The Name of the Star, Twilight, Spellbound, Hex Hall, Anna and the French Kiss, etc.)

–Moving to a new city due to family event (Twilight, Die For Me)

–At least one missing or deceased parent (Harry Potter, Paranormalcy, Hunger Games, Die For Me, The Near Witch)

–Magical relics (Harry Potter, Spellbound)

–Portals to other places or times (Harry Potter, Hourglass)

–A group of mean kids who bully the main character (Hex Hall, Harry Potter, Divergent)

–Characters being divided into groups according to personality or some other distinguishing characteristic (Harry Potter, Divergent)

–Mysterious love interest with emotional baggage (The Near Witch, Across the Universe, Divergent, Paranormalcy, Matched, Die For Me, Twilight)

–A girl who rebels against her government with the quiet boy whom she grows to love (Hunger Games, Matched, Divergent)

OH, I could go on and on. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Now, these might not ALL be considered cliches, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard each of them referred to as such at some point or other.

So this begs two questions: 1) Why are these cliche elements used so much? and 2) Why do I like them so much?

I think the answer to each question is this: THEY ARE AWESOME.

Boarding schools? Is there any richer potential for drama and fun? No way. Boarding schools are so common in YA lit because there’s so much FREEDOM. Boarding schools rock!

And the parents? Well, it adds some family drama and gives the main character some depth. How does he/she deal with his/her missing or dead parent(s)? How does it affect who they become?

And the mysterious guys with emotional baggage, OH, THEY ARE MY FAVORITE. Seriously, if Four, Ky Markham, and Elder were real people, well.

I think you know where I’m going with that.

(And yes, I left Edward Cullen off that list on purpose. Sorry, Eddie.)

What do you think? Do cliches turn you off from a story, or do you not mind them? Or are you like me, and you kind of love them if they’re done right? What are some books you love that contain obvious cliches?

10 thoughts on “Cliches I Enjoy

  1. Tara says:

    Good post! I was worried about cliche’s when I started working on my dystopian. I think a lot of these elements are used because it gives motivation for the characters. I also think that once authors see one element becoming really popular, they want to use it in their books to see if it’ll still work in a different way.

    But I agree…the mysterious guys with emotional baggage are ALWAYS such good cliches. :-)

  2. Ansley says:

    I love Four. For real, love him.

  3. I love most of the items on list, but there are two items on the list that I’m not a fan of (I hope it’s okay if I post these for debate):

    –A group of mean kids who bully the main character (Hex Hall, Harry Potter, Divergent)

    –Characters being divided into groups according to personality or some other distinguishing characteristic (Harry Potter, Divergent)

    Keep in mind that I love Harry Potter, but there are elements of Harry Potter that I thought were really weak.

    Now, in Harry Potter, I think Rowling gets her mean kids right for the most part. Malfoy doesn’t like Harry for many valid reasons–that part I’m okay with. But Malfoy is so inherently mean that I really struggled with him as a character until the later books gave him a purpose. Sure, there are plenty of mean kids in high school and middle school, but they’re mean for a reason. Usually they’re overcompensating for something. They’re very rarely mean for the sake of being mean. Also, high school kids in particular don’t want to be seen as unpopular. It’s my perception that even popular kids who are mean to others do so tactfully so that they’re not perceived as a terrible person (thus hurting their popularity). Anne, given your teaching job, you could probably speak to this better than I can.

    As for the other cliche, I’ll say this: The Sorting Hat is one of the most ridiculous concepts in Harry Potter (right up there with dragons being allowed on school grounds and all adults having names related to their future careers despite their parents not knowing anything about their future at the time they chose their child’s name). What purpose does the hat serve? I understand that it’s human nature to understand our personality types and similar people to relate to, but what does that hat add to the story? Why do all the courageous people need to be in one area of Hogwarts and all seedy, greasy-haired people in another? Rowling never really explores the dynamic of what happens when you group a bunch of people together with very similar personality traits. Say the Sorting Hat used the Myers-Briggs instead of magic. The last thing you’d want to do is group everyone together with the same exact personality–rather, you want all the different personality types interacting with each other, right?

    I think the main reason that the Sorting Hat is uninteresting to me is that it’s a device that takes the power of choice away from the characters. Characters are interesting because of the choices they make, not because of the assignments they’re assigned to. I see this a lot in YA–from The Giver to Matched to Divergent. Is it really more interesting to have your role in society assigned to you, or is it more compelling to let characters choose their path (and often choose “incorrectly”)?

    That said, I almost decided to divide the boarding school in my novel into five houses, each with a different love language attributed to it. I decided against it because I realized that although it would be interesting to me, it didn’t make sense for an institution to do that. And that’s what it really comes down to for me–does it make sense for Hogwarts as a school to divide students by personality type? I can’t think of a good reason why a school would do that.

    • Anne Riley says:

      I think the point of the Sorting Hat is that it identifies who each student REALLY is, not who they think they are. If that makes sense. And, Harry did choose, remember? The hat tried to put him in Slytherin, but he said no.

      There’s pretty much nothing in HP that I have the slightest problem with. I adore it. ALL OF IT. But, you’re right–why would they want all the houses to be full of kids who are just alike? Hmm…..

      • That’s a good point, Harry does make that choice.

        But let me ask you, Anne: If you were opening Hogwarts, would you let a magical hat sort students into houses where they all share the same personality types (even to the point where you put all the “sinister” kids in one house)? If so, why is that good for your school? In terms of education and child formation, it just doesn’t seem like the best idea to me. :)

        • Anne Riley says:

          Well, as you pointed out, Hogwarts allows dragons to run amok on campus, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the sorting hat might not be in everyone’s best interest…

  4. For the most part I really don’t mind them, unless they’re really badly done. They are cliques because they work after all!

    • Anne Riley says:

      Yes, if they’re badly done, then I can’t stop thinking about how they are cliches!

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