Words of a Poor Writer: Sorry, that car accident has to go

Have you ever written a story, only to have it ripped apart because it is riddled with cliches, cop-outs and predictable plot devices? I know I have plenty of times.

If we know this is going to happen, why do we keep falling back on these things? Because, let’s face it, more often than not, writers will use a cliche instead of come up with something new.

My theory is that we are at a disadvantage as writers in this modern time. The fact is most of the good ideas have already been thought and followed through with. This makes it so that there are a lot of potential cliches just waiting to be reused.

I believe we use these cliches in our stories because they are familiar, relatable, but they are also overdone. That is what makes them cliche. It’s true that we might be more familiar with someone going into a coma after a car accident versus some rare disease, but the disease is a more interesting situation.

One of the pitfalls of cliches is that it often can feel like a cop-out to the reader. “I need this character to die,” thinks the writer. “I guess he’s going to drown.” That just seems too easy, too predictable.

Also, real life is full of cliches. It’s where all of our best cliches — love at first sight, unrequited love, car accidents, orphans — come from, because reality is the best fiction. However, when we read, we want to be able to explore something new, something beyond what exists on this plane of existence, no matter how close to reality the fiction is.

Since reality is the best fiction, it is almost impossible to avoid cliches all of the time. They are a part of our being. So, what should you do about a cliche?

Change it.

As a writer, it is your job to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. If you need a character to die in your story, and a car accident is the best option, give us the best car accident ever written.

This can be done by giving sensory details readers wouldn’t expect when thinking about a car accident or by throwing a twist into how the accident happens. We’ve seen the cut brakes, the passed-out driver, the disturbing ghost that wasn’t really there. What’s new? What are the possibilities?

Of course, the first step to removing cliches from writing is recognizing that they are being used. This can be done easily with a few questions:

•    Have I heard this before?
•    Does this seem too easy to use?
•    Do readers skip over this part or become bored with it?

If you have a hard time finding cliches even after asking these questions, ask someone (not someone who will just be nice) to read over your work. I think that it helps to have others look at your writing to also help determine where cliches are being used. Sometimes, we fall in love with our idea and can’t stand the thought of changing it. This is usually when it needs to be changed most, unfortunately.

Cliches can be fun, but they shouldn’t be an automatic fallback for writers. Create something new and become your own cliche for future writers to struggle with.