It’s an age-old writers’ question: What do I do about clichés and well-worn tropes? This month, we’ve asked authors about the clichés and tropes they find themselves falling back on, and how they fix, invert, or embrace them. Today, Teri Brown, author of the YA series Born of Illusion, discusses how a cliché can work by executing it correctly:
CLICHÉ: Characters describing themselves through a mirror
How many have you heard the term, ants in his pants? Or fit as a fiddle? Or maybe you’ve watched a movie, (or a dozen), where the estranged father is a con artist or where the killer is apparently dead, but then rises one last time?
The upside with clichés and tropes is that they are instantly recognizable by the reader. The downside is that they are instantly recognizable to the reader. Clichés and tropes tend to make your writing as flat as a pancake. Ahem.
Many authors are guilty of these tropes, especially in the first drafts. My editor sent back a manuscript with the words, “Lots of arching of eyebrows here, can we use something else? Please?” But one of the most common tropes for new (and some experienced!), authors is the old looking-into-the-mirror-to-describe-oneself trope. I think the problem with this trope isn’t so much in the use, but in the execution. Most people don’t stare into the mirror and describe themselves in detail, so to have characters do this jars the reader from the story, which is something you don’t want. An example of this would be:
She looked in the mirror as she brushed her chestnut colored hair, wishing for the umpteenth time that it wasn’t so curly. However, the color did enhance her porcelain complexion and the cerulean blue of her almond shaped eyes.
No one wants to read that.
I actually used this trope twice in Born of Illusion and it was left as is. Judge for yourself whether you think they were used successfully or not.
Basically my creative process.