Are Tropes/Cliches Really That Bad?

I’ve come across numerous articles online, and have been engaged in many other discussions, about why writers need to avoid using worn out cliches or tropes, especially in fantasy/sci-fi writing. Some of the most common ones people complain about are:

  • The goofy old wizard
  • The orphan who is the chosen one
  • Evil people are ugly
  • Church (religious organization) is narrow minded
  • It takes a quest over distance
  • The reluctant hero
  • The Ancient Super-Advanced Society that leaves powerful artifacts buried everywhere

I’m sure we could list dozens of others. We’ve seen them used over and over again, sometimes well done, but usually poorly. But it’s it automatically a bad thing to use them?

This question came to me as I was writing my (kind of) short story. Gneprix is an old, long gray beard wizard that talks to the air. Kind of goofy, but has a great memory. I’m setting up a quest for a hero to gather certain items to fulfill a prophesy and over throw an evil empire. Is it a cop out to use so many tropes in one story?

On the other side, does it become a new cliche if you turn a trope upside down? Make the wizard a young beautiful women that has the all the answers? The hero comes from a large family and is being trained to do something great his whole life?

Ultimately I don’t think it matters either way. What really matters is that you have a great story to tell and tell it in a clearly comprehensible way. Actually this reminds me of point 6 of Hugh Howey’s article:

6) Plot trumps prose

Readers prefer the clear and concise delivery of an exciting story more than the flowery and sublime delivery of utter ennui. Hell, they’ll even take the horrible delivery of a great story over the absolute perfection of dullness.

What do you think?

Until next time…

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2 thoughts on “Are Tropes/Cliches Really That Bad?

  1. I think it also depends on the genre you are writing in. Like a damsel in distress in a adventure story might work and be exciting. Tropes and cliches can be a tool writers use to keep the story going. Not everything can be new and original in a story. That could be dizzying.

  2. I’m inclined to agree with you. Clitches/tropes are only bad if they are delivered poorly. Star Wars is full of clitches. The Lord of the Rings is full of clitches. Harry Potter is full of clitches. But they are still great stories. The readers will be our judges, whether we write the tropes well, or whether we produce boring sludge.

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