Today I looked at a variety of pages cataloguing the typical cliches of the fantasy genre (which, somewhat inexplicibly, I find myself writing). These included The Grand List of Fantasy CLiches and The Not So Grand Cliche List. These are amusing, but also instructive, of course.
I am of two minds about the cliche. I realize, on one hand, that the idea is to avoid cliches at all costs, because if you’re using them your story isn’t terribly original. But on the other hand, cliches are cliches for a reason; they do something useful, they stir something in us (if well executed, of course). I’m interested in cliches, I’ll be honest. There’s nothing like a retelling of a powerful fairy tale, there’s nothing like that sense of satisfation when a story ends just the way you felt it should, and nothing quite so annoying as when a character does the exact opposite of where you felt she was going (ahem, Little Women). It seems to me that cliches, on the bright side, are that feeling; cliches scorned, that’s the real mistake.
I’m inspired by cliches, to be perfectly honest. I love to write stories that are based on something so well-worn you think there’s nothing salvagable in them. I learned long ago that it’s no the cliche that’s boring, it’s relying on it to take you all the way home that doesn’t work.
Maybe this is the difference between people who want to be surprised by a book and those who want to see the process. I don’t really care about how a book ends; I’m more interested in seeing how we get there. Likewise, I don’t care if a storyline is cliched. I just want to know if it works, if it’s satisfying. There are only so many stories, isn’t that true? We’re all writing the same story, metaphorically speaking. But only we can put ourselves in ours. So they’re all bound to be different in a million little ways.