Sign in to follow this  

The power and the curse of cliche

This topic is 4666 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

If you intended to correct an error in the post then please contact us.

Recommended Posts

For those not feeling like reading the whole post here are the two questions I have: - Is there a list of clichés and if not how to define what a cliché is? - How one can treat/modify a cliché to utilize it’s power of attracting/relating an audience to a familiar situation? Questions I am NOT asking: - How to be original? - How to make one’s writing interesting/engaging/pretty? Q1: While reading another book on story development and game design I’ve noticed the author repeating an advice that I’ve seen in many other articles and books on the subject. “…when it comes to characters, lines of dialogue, scenes, or plots, a good general guideline is: ‘Find the cliché—then throw it away.’…”. Another author suggested to create interesting “non-cliché” characters, setup a complex situation and see how they would handle it, yet avoid pushing them forward by making them “…jump though burning hoops and obstacles...” and there are many more with the same kind of suggestion. On the other hand, looking at my own design and writing, after some analysis it becomes clear that what I have is nothing more that a mix and match and variations of the things I saw, read or heard somewhere. Not that I think my stuff is completely unoriginal (and this post is in no way a question of originality) - but in a limited frame of knowledge that I posses – how can I be sure that it is not a repetition of something I just don’t know or didn’t read about? Lots of posts here are being flamed exactly for this reason, people just didn’t know that it’s been done (never mind their experience for the moment). And then you read a book on writing with a quote like: “There are no more original stories, everything has been told and what we have is just variation of presentation…” And suddenly you feel like those late nights of “would be inspiration” is just a momentary high, an escape from domestic boredom. The Question I have then is: in order to stay away from clichés is it possible to know most of them? I can’t imagine anyone remembering all of them (clichés) and one probably does not need to. After all you can’t expect majority of your audience to know more of them than you do. Yet there are major ones that are recognized by many. I guess it makes sense then to classify them as “Do not touch!” and mark it with a flaming cross. Another group would be “Some what recognizable” which might be picked up by every 10th member of your audience. The grouping can go on with decreasing recognition level. It might be a silly way to apply some constructive approach to ones writing, but it might be not. Although you still will have hard time of collecting the all or even deciding which group should they belong to, it still can be quite helpful. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not trying to find a formula, although it might sound to some like I do. All I’m trying to do is just to group some clichés together for my own reference. There was a different approach I tried. To define what a cliché IS? Could it be identified relatively easy? But it seems to me it is much more complicated considering all the dependencies like cultural, demographic and historical references. A second part for the question then becomes – is there a list of “clichés”. Maybe not exhaustive one (although there are lists “like that” – take for example the list of 36 dramatic situation), but at least a collection of the first two for mentioned groups (“Do not touch” and “Some what recognizable”). Anyone know of such thing? Q2: Another question comes to mind. Let’s say – fine, all this has been done. How can I take it and masterfully develop a situation/character/plot in a fresh intriguing manner. After all I heard a comment like: “New is nothing more that good forgotten old”, many times. An approach like that probably ties up pretty strongly into a previous problem of defining cliché. How much can a cliché be changed to not look like a cliché? Personally I’ve seen it done (in my view) many times quite successfully. Would the solution come down then to just how masterfully one poses the craft of writing? Is this just a matter of Art? Sunflowers are sunflowers – but every artist depicts them in his own way. How come the yellow headed plan is not considered a cliché? Not sure if I can come to a clear conclusion with this second question, but I was curious if anyone faced a similar situation and what was your approach to solving it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Q1:

I don't think you are going to find a "World Literary Guide to Standard Cliches" anywhere out there. There is a phrase however that I keep in my mind when I'm writing: "There's nothing new under the sun." If you are writing solely to avoid cliche, you'll never be able to tell your story, and you'll never be able to focus on its entertainment/artistic merit. Focus on the important things first.

Q2:

This kind of leads into a response to question number two. Obviously sound technique and focus are a good basis to begin with writing, but you need more. However in mostly visually based form of media, you rely heavily on a game's directing and producing to get your images/points/artsy stuff across. The best tip I can give you for this is to make sure you are working with some one who understands your artistic vision, and has the skill to represent it visually. I'm really lucky to be working with such people right now on my current project.

Best of luck, hope I helped.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What is a cliche?
To understand what cliche is, you need to know the separation between the meaning and its presentation. Clicheness refers to association between the two, i.e. the choice of presentation for a certain meaning. For example, suppose you are trying to design a game with fighting and missions, and the first thing that comes to your mind is ninja. When someone say, "ninja is cliche," they are not refering to the fact that ninja exists in your design, but that your choice is common for the underlying objective and meaning. The idea here is not about avoiding symbols that are well known nor being different just for the sake of being different, but to provide new associations and perspectives, giving new meaning to the symbols.


How do you identify a cliche?
This question refers to cliche that you are unaware of and wants to identify. The most direct method is to post it an see how people react to it. There is an attitude issue regarding this process. When someone tells you that your idea is cliche, it is not a flame. They are simply telling you that they have simply seen the same association (possibly over and over) that you might want to choose other representations. There is a second attitude that you might want to adopt, which is, inspirations never ends, but they come in a queue. When an inspiration comes, a task is to identify its potential. When someone tells you that your idea is cliche, it helps you evaluate your idea and move on, to open up for the next inspiration, to evolve to the next level. It is part of a health process of growth when someone tells you that something is cliche. Just don't read more than there is from the comments.


What to do when something is identified as cliche?
Do nothing. This is always an option. This option is very reasonable if the cliche quality sells. However regarding the intended discussion, if you believe that something is cliche, try to do something else, find a different association. This is not necessarily an easy task, but it can be made easy if you know the meaning of your own design inside out. If you know the meaning of your design really well, there are two possible outcomes: you are able to identify another way to present the idea; or, you are conviced that your presentation is the strongest among the choices of presentation that you have explored. You can also do this backward, by choosing a different perspective or meaning for the symbo, if you want to keep the symbol instead of the meaning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
(Sorry if this is a bit unrelated)
Personally, I've given up on originality in any kind of literary work. It takes so much more effort to recognize the cliches in writing than to simply read/write for the enjoyment of it.

Best example I can point to here is Stephen King's almost-constant production of best-selling novels, all of which seem a little bit like the last, and even more like the one before that. Nora Roberts, too. Great writing doesn't, in my opinion, come from originality or creativity anymore; it comes from the usage of the language. Recently I've become infatuated with older poetry and foreign languages, simply because customs, styles, and traditions change so much over time, and from culture-to-culture. While I can no longer extract any enjoyment from Stephen King's latest "disturbed simpletons group together for survival in a house haunted by an evil lamp" (not that I ever was a huge fan), simple foreign phrases such as "Hoy como ayer" (Today like yesterday) can intrigue me for hours. Or minutes.

I like iPod commercials. Except that one with U2.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by tellman
[...]- Is there a list of clichés and if not how to define what a cliché is?[...]
Well, not exactly, but if you scour the web you can find lists of SOME clichés, such as The Grand List Of Console Role Playing Game Clichés, or Peter's Evil Overlord List(which isn't a list of clichés exactly - it lists the right way to respond to situations which movie villains often respond to incorrectly, so the opposite of what it lists would be the cliché)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think it's important to differentiate between a cliche and an archetype. As I see it, an archetype is a pattern, whereas a cliche is that pattern with the details filled in the same way everybody else fills them in. We create our stories by mixing and matching things we have encountered in others' stories - originality comes in in how you mix them up. For example, everybody's sick of elves straight out of Tolkein - they are definitely cliche. If you really want to have elves in your story, you have to decide what is the essential element that you like about elves, keep only that, and change the rest of the details.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Identifying cliche as an overused uninspired manifestation of an underlying, universal archetype, as done in the previous post, shines light on this matter.

For a story to resonate, it is necessary that the audience be able to identify with the characters and the situations. Therein lies the power of the cliche-the familiarity of the situation.

However, if it is presented in a way that reminds the audience that they are being manipulated by a writer to feel a certain way, the audience rejects it. Therein lies the curse of the cliche- the familiarity of the presentation.

So it all comes down to execution, and this can be done artfully if attention is paid to the essence of the so-called cliche. What is the underlying dynamic that is creating the dramatic tension?

Polarity (ie., conflict) creates energy. Energy holds attention. What more could you ask of an audience but to be engaged and pay attention? The cliche is disguised when the story and characters are moved by an authentic force.

One list of cliches of sorts can be found in a book called Plots Unlimited, which is still in print, and is available through the major online resellers.

There is also a list of essential narrative situations in a software product called Storybase. You can learn more about Storybase at www.storybase.net.

In the name of full disclosure, I am the author of Storybase.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Some very interesting thoughts in this thread, which is reminding me of a discussion I saw recently on the subject of "fanfic". In my opinion, a story engages the reader/player when the characters are believable. In the case of "fanfic", often the names and places are all that connects the fic to the original source. When the readers' beloved characters act "out-of-character" the story often fails. The reader feels cheated; like the writer just ripped the famous bits and then proceded to ignore the story-world to tell her own story.

I think "bad" cliches may feel bad for the same reason. Many of the cliches in story-telling (if not all of them!) have become so because they are the basis of many good stories. When a story-teller borrows the elements of the good story without developing believable characters, the reader/player can become disengaged and see the cliche, which is then distracting.

But when characters act out cliches in a believable manner, it feels right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This topic is 4666 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

If you intended to correct an error in the post then please contact us.

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this