I have been a reader my whole life, but there was one particular phase when reading slump was at its peak. Nothing was taking me out of it, not even re-reading Sherlock Holmes. It was a very hard phase because I realized my lack of a happening life. Finally, I found Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. The book is about a heist pulled off by… a group of 17 years old. I came upon the world around that age, so when I saw the characters not only pulling off an impossible task with style but also falling in love extravagantly. There was cliché all over their journey and I was there for it!
Often, we dismiss literature as being extremely cliché. Waving it off as predictable. But I feel there is a large difference between the two. Clichés don’t necessarily mean predictable. They are known, but sometimes it is what we know that surprises us the most. It is the national Cliché Day so it seems like a good time to appreciate the little sanity “the known” can give us.
Cliché, is something that is familiar or commonplace as defined by Merriam Webster. For me, familiarity is a safe place in this mad, MAD world. When I read about a car breaking down and the two protagonists having to say a night in a motel, I know that motel is going to have one bed. I want that motel to have one bed. The familiarity of a cliché then allows the writer to create the unpredictable. The reader has arrived in a comfortable zone where they are at peace with the environment so when the writer brings about something completely out of the box, they feel the impact.
Taking the one-bed example, if the characters then proceed to talk about their messy childhoods and then build a blanket fort because one character loved it during hard times, there is a moment of pleasant surprise! The cliché is that there was one bed and they had to share it but what happens is still unpredictable. A bad use of this cliché would have been that the characters then held each other and fell asleep.
Clichés make the book familiar and a good use of one can have the quality of holding onto the reader’s interest. Bardugo has done this plenty of times in Grishaverse. The love triangle between Alina, Mal and the Darkling is a cliché that has generated a never ending debate in the fandom. Alina’s decision to be with Mal was established in the first book itself, but yet the trilogy has many scenes resurrecting the triangle. The trope is a cliché used often in romance, but in this particular case you can not predict what Alina will do.
If it is not already clear, I love clichés. But, I know some are problematic. The cliché of “the nice fat friend” being one of them. The “fat friend” has notoriously always been created to provide unconditional support for the main character. They have no life of their own other than being ready to drop everything for the sake of being their friends beck and call. Their entire purpose is to care about their weight, or to be in love with a jerk. The “friendly fat friend” is a trope that needs to go.
More useful and less harming ways of using this trope are evident with characters, such as Kat in Euphoria, Dumplin from Dumplin or Nina Zenik from Six of Crows, who do not cower behind their much thinner friends. Instead, they break that cliché and end up having thriving lives of their own.
So clichés may be familiar, but sometimes these familiarities are a sugar-coated way of embracing stereotypes. For cliché day, take note of some of them: find peace with them, but also look out for the prejudices masked behind them.
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