Patricia Bradley / Ten Clichés to Avoid in Writing


I’ve been writing for a lot of years and there are several things I wish I had known early on. You know, those things that make an agent or editor’s eyes glaze over. Like don’t start your story with a dream, or the weather. Do you know how many times they have seen that kind of opening? The only thing worse than an editor or agent seeing these things is if you Indie publish and your reader sees them.

Here is my personal list of what not to do. It’s personal because I’ve either done these things in a first draft or thought about doing them.

  1. Speaking of dreams, at the end, don’t let your hero wake up and the reader discovers everything that has happened since the opening was a dream.

  2. Your antagonist is pure evil. Give your antagonist redeeming qualities of some sort, especially if you don’t reveal he’s the antagonist until the end. Remember that even the worst villain cares about someone or something, so give him that. If you can make the reader want him to change, you’ve done a great job. Another thing, be sure to make him worthy of your hero. This applies to “the other love interest” in a romance, too.

  3. An incompetent superior. While it can be very satisfying to make the boss look stupid, resist the urge. He didn’t get to be in charge by being dumb. And along that line, don’t make every Southern sheriff overweight, red-necked and a bully.

  4. Character descriptions. Don’t have your characters look in the mirror (or see their reflection in water) and describe themselves. This has been done so many times. If at all possible, have another character describe your hero or heroine. Or have the heroine compare her looks to someone else. It takes a little work, but well worth it.

  5. And please, when you are in a character’s point of view, don’t let her flip her long blonde hair, or think about unfolding her long, tanned legs from the car. When you flip your hair, do you think about the color? In thinking of your body do you ever think that you have long, tanned legs?

  6. The alcoholic or former alcoholic detective. Unless you can put a new twist on it, give your detective another flaw.

  7. The waitress with a heart of gold. Or a kindly grandfather. Go against the grain. Let them be grumpy. Downright mean, even.
  8. I’ve heard readers complain there must be an amnesia virus running rampant in the romance genre. I’m not sayinga character can’t block a memory, but for your protagonist to wake up and their whole life is gone is getting a little stale.

  9. Don’t let your story hinge on a problem that can be solved by a good discussion unless you have a really strong reason they can’t have this discussion. I realize your characters are going to misunderstand each other since it happens even in real life. Let them have the discussion and let that discussion make a bigger problem for your protagonist.

  10. The ingenious serial killer who is smarter than the cops. There will never be another Hannibal Lecter. Let your hero/heroine outsmart the killer on smaller levels before the final scene.

You can use the clichés to jumpstart your brain while you’re letting the story jell in your mind. That’s okay, but when it comes time to write, try this. Set a timer for ten minutes and free write whatever plot ideas come to your mind. Then set the timer for ten more minutes and repeat the process. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with.

Now, do you have any clichés to add? Feel free to leave them in the comment section.

Winner of an Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award in Suspense, Patricia Bradley lives in North Mississippi with her rescue kitty, Suzy. Her romantic suspense books include the Logan Point series and the Memphis Cold Case Novels. She also has written sweet romances for Harlequin Heartwarming available as ebooks.

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Thanks to Tom Wood, Arthur Jackson, and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s blog.

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