Use It? Or Lose It?: Character Cliches

Hiya! It’s nice to see you again, and welcome to the third installment of the blog series “Use It? Or Lose It?: Cliches”. So far, we’ve talked about narrative cliches and cliched dialogue, and I’ve given some very controversial opinions about both.

But here, here we come to the big one.

Character cliches.

Character Cliches

Did that make you shudder? I shuddered. I may tolerate other sorts of cliches, but I cannot stand character cliches. Maybe it’s because, like I’ve mentioned before, characters are the backbone of a story. They can’t afford to be the exact same every single time. If they are, it’s unrealistic, because no one is exactly the same in real life.

What is a character cliche, you ask? It’s basically a stereotype of a certain kind of person. Instead of trying to explain them, I’ll just give you some examples of the forefront character stereotypes in popular fiction.

  • The really nice, pretty girl who had previously dated the jerky jock and now suddenly likes the main character but still doesn’t stick up for the MC when her jerky jock ex-boyfriend makes fun of him.
  • The blonde cheerleader (also usually dating a jock).
  • The good guy and the bad boy that are part of a really unnecessary love triangle.
  • The special, pretty girl who always insists that she’s not pretty or special.
  • The brooding bad boy with a troubled past.
  • The beautiful girl who’s nice, helps orphaned puppies, is great with the elderly, is class president, is prom/homecoming queen, gets straight A’s, is loved by everyone, gives to those less fortunate, and somehow manages to just be insanely perfect at everything.

I know those aren’t a lot of examples, but they pack a wallop when you come across one. With my other posts, I more or less said “all things in moderation”. Not with character cliches. There is never a time that a cliched character should be used (unless their cliche-ness serves to prove a point in some way).

But does this mean that you can never write another nice, pretty girl? What about rebellious bad boy with the leather jacket? Are their archtypes gone forever? Not necessarily. It’s okay to have a cheerleader character, or a character that finds out they’re special and destined for something great, but just change it up.

For example, I have a character named Kaden. Kaden could fit the “bad boy” description – wears black leather, is quiet, a bit brooding, etc. – but he’s more than what he seems. For starters, he just likes the color black – he’s not trying to make some statement by wearing it. He’s solemn, quiet, and a little brooding because he’s been treated like an animal his whole life (he’s a super-powered mutant, but we won’t get into that). You might think you have him all figured out at first; after all, isn’t he just another rebel? Turns out, he isn’t. He might be slightly stand-offish at first, but once he realizes he’s made a friend, he is unwaveringly loyal. He likes things kept neat, and he’s a little nervous to try new things (mainly new foods). In a scene where the villain tries to talk Kaden into joining his side, and you really think that he’s turned, he rebukes the baddie and quips: “What, you really think I’m the kind of guy to switch sides just like that?” And voila. Kaden is more than just a bad boy. He’s a living, breathing human being that might have a little “bad boy” in him, with the black leather and all, but he has a complex personality that doesn’t fit neatly into a set stereotype.

So, there’s my advice. Go deeper than the surface. Maybe you have a bad boy too. Okay, so that’s established, but what else? Does he melt when he sees baby animals? Does he have a soft spot for helping the elderly? Maybe, despite what people think, he gets good grades in school. Perhaps his dyed hair isn’t a sign a rebellion, but has some sort of sentimental significance to him. Maybe he’s the kind of guy who has tea parties with his little sister. Go past the norm.

Sometimes, character cliches can’t be salvaged and must be cut out, so keep watch for that too. Analyze your characters. Do any seem cliched? If so, take the next steps to figuring out what you should do about that.

That’s all for “Use It? Or Lose It?: Cliches”, though I probably could have thrown a “Plot Cliches” post in here and made it a four-part, but oh well! Thanks for reading, as always, and please stick around for what’s coming next!

What about you? What are some character stereotypes you can’t STAND? Have you found yourself writing any of these cliches? Do you have any characters that on the surface seem stereotyped, but deep down are complex and unique, like Kaden? Do tell!

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One thought on “Use It? Or Lose It?: Character Cliches

  1. I can’t stand the damsel in distress cliche. I cannot remember much about characters I used to write about in stories and now I write a bunch of reports, evaluations, logs, and emails. I was reading a book where a church consultant used to be the rebel guy.

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