Cliché, Cliché, Cliché! Like, Oh My God! A Stereotype!

cliche, dialogue, stereotype, writing, Writing Advice
This caught your attention, didn’t it? Because you didn’t expect to see it, because it’s not a man and a woman having sex on the beach at sunset, but instead a pack of dogs presumably having an orgy in plain daylight.
One of my biggest pet peeves in writing are clichés. I am not above clichés, especially when it comes to actual phrasing in a book. ‘His blood was boiling.’ Not great, but I can’t say I’m not guilty of it, either. I’d have to go back and check.
My beef is with cliché scenes and situations in books, stereotypes, and poorly contrived dialogue. Of course, we know that a cliché is defined as an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work that has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, sometimes becoming annoying.

Again, I am not going to say I’ve not done this, but I do try very hard to make sure that my characters and events, no matter how significant or not, do not make my readers’ eyes roll. I’ve seen this too much lately. I read a scene and it’s always the same thing, whether with indies or traditionally published authors.

Cliché/Stereotypical Characters

Too many times, I read about the ditsy blonde waitress wearing yesterday’s prostitute-like makeup, smacking bubble gum in her chops. Or the sinister man who speaks with very proper language, keeps his head low to the ground, says only what needs to be said—and don’t let me forget the overcoat and hat pulled over his brow. Why does your bad guy have to be stereotypical-sinister? In some cases, yes, it’s definitely appropriate, by why not wake your audience up by giving them a different personality? I went to elementary school around the corner from the home of a serial killer. While I was at school, he was murdering young girls. You may have heard of him: Paul Bernardo. The guy was just a ‘regular’ business man, had everyone fooled. But deep down he is one of the sickest, most sinister men I am forever thankful I should never have to come across.

Why can’t your waitress be like many true waitresses, young women looking to make money to pay for college? Bubbly (not bubble-gummy) and smart? It’s up to you the type of character you want to portray, but have a good reason for them falling into a stereotype if they’re on more than one page. I don’t read books to see the same characters and stories only with different names. I want to be on my toes, all the time. Instead of the cop or detective being a hard-ass, alcoholic, divorcé with a death wish, make him a devoted family man with a baby on the way, a guy who in his off-time likes to horseback ride with orphans. I don’t know. Just shock me already!!!

Cliché/Stereotypical Scenes

Unless you intentionally, knowingly, consciously (have I emphasized it enough?) have your characters sparring or fist fighting at the end, even though they both have weapons, and this is meant to add some ironic or dramatic effect to the book, don’t do it. Maybe your point is to write a book that is like every Hollywood action movie out there. In real life, though, one person is bound to either NOT drop the gun in the first place, or to pick it up again and shoot. If someone believes they are in mortal danger and doesn’t want to die, they’re going to protect their life with any means possible. If you are without a weapon, you’ll find one somewhere, you’ll even use a shoe if you have to, unless you’re barefoot in the middle of a flowery meadow. Then, I can’t help you.

Oh and injuries. Hero always seems to be able to get through anything, doesn’t he? Shot in the shoulder? Arm works just fine. Shot in the leg, limp a little, but he’s okay. I mean it’s only the femoral artery that’s bleeding out. No biggie. This aggravates me, especially in movies. The fist fights that never end, despite that the guy’s been punched in the skull a dozen times. When I write about injures, you know what I do? RESEARCH, peeps! Damned right. Lots of blood loss? Hypovolemic shock, maybe? Injury to a limb? Don’t want to tourniquet that thing too tightly or you might lose it due to lack of circulation. The body is not made of stone, or jello. Yeah, people can actually die from a broken heart, so you sure as hell can die from a gunshot to the arm in the right conditions.

I have only just touched on the subject but I must move on.

For characters and scenes, please make sure you are using these stereotypes and clichés only for a purpose that somehow positively influences the course or perception of the story.

Poorly Contrived Dialogue

Now, this is going along the same theme as the clichéd and stereotypical characters and scenes.

People don’t speak like an encyclopedia. If you do, I probably don’t want to hang around you because it could be exhausting and boring! Why would you want your characters to sound this way? Boring?!?! WHY, I ask!?! Following you may find an example of bad, cliché dialogue:


Scene: Stereotypical counterfeit money deal. Night. Seller approaches black limousine, where the buyer is leaning against the trunk with a briefcase beside him.

Buyer: “You got the stuff?”

Seller: “Yeah. I’ve got the stuff alright.”

Buyer: “You ain’t gonna stiff me, right?”

Seller: “Now why would I wanna do that, Frankie?”

Buyer: “Let’s see the goods, then.”

Seller opens up the briefcase, offers a brief glance at the counterfeit bills, and locks the briefcase again. Glances over his shoulder to make sure no one else on the deserted pier has seen.

They switch cases.

Seller glances in the briefcase. “It’s all there?”

Buyer: “All there.”

More crappy dialogue, and then the Buyer drives away. His car blows up 5 seconds later.


For one, why is it always a pier or some dark back country road or an airport runway? And why would one buy counterfeit money without even properly looking at the quality of the bills? Why on earth would a criminal trust another criminal with the dollar figure handed to him in a briefcase without at least taking a better look than a quick glance to ensure that he is being paid the appropriate amount? Of course, I have extracted this text from too many bad movies. Bad guys are not cyborgs (well, not all of them). They’re still human beings that speak like human beings, and do not trust easily, and do not follow only one premeditated series of actions! Most of all, don’t use bad movies as your examples to go by while writing.

This is what I see all too often, definitely not all in this context, but with a similar approach to dialogue. Most people these days don’t call their bosses “Sir” or “Chief”. They call them Mr. Blah or Frank. “Hello Bill, how are you doing today? How are your wife and children?” That’s so dry. You’re more likely to hear, “Hey Bill, how’s the family?” It’s more concise and realistic. You don’t focus so much on the phrasing of the question. Rather, you focus on the question. If you want to express that Bill’s got a wife and children, say “Hey Bill, how’re the wife and kids?” If I have to read 13 words instead of 7 or even 5 too many times, I’m bound to lose interest and move on to the next book.

Moral of this post? Be unique. Catch the readers’ attention by throwing something unexpected in there. You probably won’t have your counterfeit money dealer break into a waltz on the pier, but why not have them exchange money at a gym, in gym bags, where people are not likely to suspect criminal activity taking place? Would make it more interesting, wouldn’t it? Not saying it hasn’t been done, but at least it’s not overused.

I’m also not saying to write out the slang, or even to use slang in dialogue, only when appropriate. I wouldn’t want to read “the daingo aite my baybay!” but I could deal with “It’s all a load of rubbish, mate.” If that’s how people talk, that’s how they talk.

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