Whether you like it or not, clichés are the elements that usually keep a story together. That is why even the most original of stories contain clichés; it makes them familiar and relatable. By occasionally throwing the reader in familiar territory, he will feel more connected to the universe that you, as a writer, are trying to create.
Sure, that does not mean that you have to use them excessively. So, without further ado, here are a few ways to avoid clichés in your writing.
Use clichés creatively
I know the objective of this article is to teach you how to avoid clichés, but that does not mean you cannot use them from time to time if you can add an interesting twist to them.
There are many ways to use clichés creatively. Let us take a standard horror story, for example. There is a particular set up that every horror story uses and I am 100% certain you have seen it thousands of times already: the character, usually a woman, leaves her night shift and is heading towards her car. The parking lot is empty, the wind is blowing, and the tension is so thick that you can cut with a knife. As soon as the character reaches the car and is about to open the door, she hears a sound.
You know the drill: the character will act like a fool, head towards the source of the sound and get killed by the monster or serial killer. It is an old cliché that is still used in horror stories today.
So, let us add a little twist to it. How about this: build up the scene exactly as presented above up until the point the character hears the sound. Upon hearing it, she enters the car and leaves. Poof, she did not get murdered because she did what any sane person would do in that situation. The catch here is that you build up tension and you are playing with the reader’s expectations. He will expect you to mess this up, to use the cliché.
Do not use “the chosen one” trope
This is one of the biggest cop-outs that you can take when writing a story. Your hero is not just special, but he/she has been chosen by some superior, benevolent force to save the world from some unspecified evil.
This is a lazy plot device because it prevents you from taking risky and bold decisions story-wise. By making him so central and important to the plot, you cannot kill or hurt him not only because he is invincible, but because without him, the story you are trying to tell would not make any sense.
Apart from that, putting a purely noble character in the center of the plot is not only lazy but intellectually dishonest. The world is not black and white; there are many nuances. By making your character the incarnation of everything that is good in this universe, the reader will scoff at his self-righteousness and lose interest in the story.
The solution? Give your main character an edge. Make him do something bad, or create a tragic (but not too melodramatic) past to justify his way of being. Maybe put him in the background for a few chapters and let other characters have the spotlight.
Loading the story with too many references or inside jokes
Sure, inserting references to pop culture in your stories is fun. I do that on a regular basis. But make sure not to abuse of it too much, because it will alienate the reader. Create a context around them: maybe the character likes that particular movie that he is referencing because he used to watch it with his father every Christmas. Or maybe the secondary character is into hip hop because he was trying to impress a girl when he was in high school.
Moreover, loading your story with references will make it seem outdated pretty fast. Movies from the 90’s are guilty of this, and many people hate them because of that, so be careful how many inside jokes you are using.
There are many other clichés, but these are the most condemned from what I have read and experienced until now. Again, you can use as many clichés as you want as long as you add an interesting twist to them.