Know your Tropes: Avoid Clichés

trope plus cliche
Screen writers are hyper-aware of tropes: Fiction writers (especially new ones) not so much.

  • Tropes are common scenarios that happen in TV or in the movies (and occasionally in real life)
  • Clichés… are phrases. Simple as that.

Clichés are fatal in writing: Not only because they are so overused that they lack (or even defuse) emotional meaning, but because they make Google’s search engines flag your content as plagiaristic.

Tropes don’t have to be fatal in fiction. In fact, if you understand your trope, you can really have fun with it (as Peter Jackson does with almost all of his “The Hobbit” characters).

Still foggy about the difference between a trope and a cliché? Let’s look at examples of both:

1. Cliché examples

“All is fair in love and war” [phrase]
“Fall head over heels” [phrase]
“And they all lived happily ever after” [phrase]

2. Trope examples

Nice to the waitress—we’ve all seen this little character-setting device, where the hero calls the waitress by name or smiles as he tips her. This in turn tips us off that underneath, he has a heart of gold—even if he is initially mean and grim to others in the movie. Conversely, just look how most of the Game of Thrones aristocracy treat people they deem lesser than them. You won’t find any of the houses being kind to the lesser folk! (And that includes how they treat their relatives too.) [scenario]

Celibate Hero—where the hero (or heroine) chooses (usually for noble reasons, like “the world will end if I do” never to have sex.

This often leads to another common trope, Unresolved Sexual Tension—a frequent problem between mortals and immortals. (Just look at poor Buffy and Angel in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.)

There is often a curse attached to the mortal-immortal-type scenario: For example, Angel can never sleep with someone he truly loves (i.e. Buffy) because then he will become pure Evil. [scenario]

Know your tropes—and use them wisely. Look for ways you can give them original twists.

As for clichés? Avoid them like the plague! Run for the hills! (Oops, just used TWO clichés! There goes the Google Duplicate Content Alarm!)

To learn more about tropes, check out And if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it!

Leave a Reply