That's so cliché

I've been pondering a question lately, and the question is this:  When is it okay to create a cliché character?  Here are three  answers I've come up with.  Ranging from the obvious to the controversial.

1. In a parody or satire. Though I think it is acceptable to use cliché characters in these, I don't thinks it's necessary.  A certain Merpire  from Carrie's blog comes to mind.

2. When you're trying to use the character as a contrast to a more non-traditional character. Perhaps this one is controversial because, just because a character does something expected does mean their persona is cliché.   At the same time you can find a slew of characters (especially in sitcoms) that fit a very specific mold, the lazy one, the dumb one, the uptight,nerdy one.  Often they're in the story for the MC to play off of.

3.  When you're writing for very young audiences. Again, not necessary, but acceptable.  Like when you're reading a child a story like,  BEDTIME BATTLE (yes, this is a favorite at our house).  The children exhibit very typical bedtime behavior.  My son finds this very amusing because he can relate to it!

What do you guys think?  You are all so much better at this writing analysis stuff than I am.  I just happen to have a cliché character in one of my books (at least I think he might be cliché)  and I'm wondering if it's okay.  Maybe it would be better to make a list of when it's not okay to use cliché characters, but I'm just sure at least one of you would put a single word on that list:  never! :)

18 comments:

  1. Maybe it's okay, when that character is a very minor character and being cliched serves the story.

    Nice new blog format.

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  2. Thanks, Patti. The last format was just too busy.

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  3. I think it's impossible to avoid the cliche—they are there because people, whether we like it or not, are viewed in these ways. I'm perceived as shy (sometimes bratty), though if you really take the time to get to know me you'd know that's not exactly true.

    So it's not really cliche that one should worry about , but whether or not you move past that cliche as you develop the character. Maybe first you see that person as the "dumb blonde," but then there's this scene where you find out how much she loves to cook—and how good she is at it. Does that make any sense?

    Cliches come from not viewing people as, well, people. But once you show someone's humanity, they aren't cliche anymore.

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  4. Natalie,
    Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Even in real life we tend to automatically categorize people, or put them in groups. It's just sort of a way of making sense of the world. Religion, culture, gender, etc all cause real commonalities to exist. I guess the trick is realizing that those things may influence a person, but they don't make them.

    With characters we have to help our readers visualize and get to know them in a relatively short amount of time. So it's almost impossible not to throw in some stereo typical elements. Our characters might not be relatable if we didn't, but I find that if I can give a character one or two unexpected characteristics that can make all the difference.

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  5. Candice, I agree with Natalie on this one. People ARE cliche. Really, there's personality types that people fit into. Why do think there's always those color-coding personality tests and all that crap? We are cliche.

    Then again, we're writing fiction, not real life. You hit it on the head with your response to Natalie. the trick is realizing those stereotypical things about a character, but making sure you don't let those stereotypes make the character. Every villain is going to have certain traits. The EXCITING thing for me is when the writer sets all of that up and then twists it all! Things can get really creative when you set up stereotypes and then turn them all around.

    So if you have a stereotype, try looking at things from a different angle. You don't have to change the character, just how we view them, maybe, or how they deal with those stereotypes.

    Good luck!

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  6. Oh, and I meant to say that yes, we're cliche, but we're also all very unique. The wonderful thing is that we're all individuals and we all make different decisions which affect those personality molds.

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  7. When I read your post, I thought I had something to say, but after reading the replies, I have nothing to add. So I'm just taking up space to say, "Hello, Candice."

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  8. Glam,
    I think my stereo typical character just might work because I do (at least I think I do) exactly what you said. I make him a character that you think you wouldn't like, but then give him unexpected redeeming qualities.

    "Hello, Linda" :) Have I mentioned that I love your saucy, new profile pic?

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  9. I'm with Linda. I can't think of anything brilliant to add to the already brilliant discussion in the comments section. However I agree with you all.

    One pet peeve of mine is when a writer tries to make the minor characters too un-cliche. Know what I mean? Like when their whole world is full of these quirky, crazy people with all of these unexpected character attributes. I find it distracting. Maybe I'm in the minority here, though.

    Like, have you ever seen the M. Knight Shyamalan movie Lady in the Water? Every character in that is cooky, quirky, unexpected and frankly, it annoyed me. Of course there were many things about that movie that annoyed me, but that's a comment for another post. :)

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  10. Ren,
    It often seems to me that when a writer tries too hard to make their characters un-cliche the opposite ends up happening. I can't tell you how many 'misfit' teen stories I've read where the characters were super predictable!

    I had to laugh when you mentioned Lady in the Water. Teehee, that's one of my husband's favorite movies. Of course, he thinks the stereotypical characters were kind of the point. I'm on the fence... Really after the Sixth Sense it all went down hill if you ask me.

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  11. I agree with everyone else. So maybe I'm the pushover cliche. ;)

    No, but really, I think your examples were very good and Natalie and Michelle are dead on. Make your characters real, that's what matters.

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  12. Yes, I had some brilliant thoughts as well (cough, cough, not really) but then saw them already written in the comments section (I actually didn't think of those things until I saw them written--then they made perfect sense). So yeah, what everyone else said because I'm just as brilliant as them. :)

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  13. Jenn,
    This could be a fun new game: Which Cliche are you? I'm definitely the bubbly blond. My roommates in college actually admitted they thought I was an airhead until they got to know me! Shocking!!

    Kasie,
    Definitely as brilliant! After all, it takes brilliance to recognize brilliance. At least I like to think it does.

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  14. Yea, I was the airhead, too. And then people were always surprised to find out I had real thoughts. Anyway, it's funny because as I "cast" my characters during my first write, it actually helps me to know what "type" they fit under. The twists and alterations will come, but they have to know where they belong now. I'm a very tyrannical writer. And I like to use "quotation marks."

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  15. There is only one cliche that annoys me and that is Hollywood's writer cliche. Hollywood portrays writers all the same--mostly men. They all sit down, write a story, send it off, then their new agent flies out personally to meet and encourage. Blah, blah, blah. Give us a dose of realism. Only in Running with Scissors did they do it right, but they had to because it was about REAL people.

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  16. Wait a sec? You mean that my merpire was cliche?!? I thought it had never been done before!!!

    Ahem. Sorry. Couldn't resist. ;)

    When it comes to comedy, cliche definitely has its uses. I think it's got to be a deliberate thing; you've got to have a really good reason to use it just like you've got to have a really good reason to make EVERY BLINKING CHARACTER a weirdo headcase. Because it drives me to write in all capital letters, people!

    Sheesh.

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  17. Tricia,
    Yes! I just saw that in the movie, Love Happens! It's always the same.

    Carrie,
    LOL! I actually meant that your Merpire was NOT cliche, though it was a parody. :) I think it presents a problem when I can't adequately convey my thoughts in type and I'm aspiring to be a writer...

    And I share a similar annoyance to your 'Headcase' pet peeve. I am so tired of characters who are completely angsty, but have zero reason to be. I guess Angst is just the trendy way to be these days.

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