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Can We Combine Cliché with Originality?

One topic roaming around the writer world is the debate over cliché. By definition, a cliché is an overused expression or idea. I thought of this because my family and I were watching a television show that premiered this week. I’m not going to say which one because I don’t want to openly trash said show and offend someone who might have enjoyed it…although I can’t imagine many who would have. 

While watching, I joked with my mother that at writer’s conferences they always tell us to scrap the first thought, second thought and third thought. That is the only way to plow through the cliché and get to something truly worth writing. I said this show’s writers obviously didn’t do that activity. The clichés were flowing from the plot structure to the bad guy’s “strategy” down to even the dialogue. We knew it was time to change the channel when I predicted what the character was going to say right before he said the sentence…just bragging, but I got it word for word. I am not one who focuses too much on clichés. In fact, I would roll my eyes at people in my English classes who would trash a story for having one cliché line in the entire book. In fact, a friend of mine lost a short story contest in high school to a paper that began “it was a dark and stormy night.” I think there are just some blatant clichés that do push tolerances. 

When looking at the cliché in closer depth, the idea of being “original” is often contradicted. The writer community strives to have a brand new twist. “Don’t be predictable,” they say. But then the writer interacts with those in the publishing world. They want something similar to what is already out. They don’t want something completely different and unique because they don’t know how to sell that. They don’t want blended genres. They want the cliché. 

I can see how a television show like the one mentioned above comes about. It seems safe. It seems easy. But, even though the two sides appear to proclaiming different things, I think there is a way to mesh them. Readers don’t want to read a book by a different author that is just like one they read for someone else. But quirky doesn’t always sell. There has to be a happy medium; a way to do the same story in a different way. 

An example of this would be the show Once Upon A Time. They use fairy tale characters and multi-dimensions, but they throw their own twists on the whole thing. It’s a curse that made the multi-dimensions and Red Robin Hood is the wolf (to name a few). The show works because it captures the old in an original way. That is the only way to bridge the difference. So, is cliché bad? Only when done blatant. When adapted, cliché can also capture an audience or even take them by surprise.