Cliches: Characters

Lazy writing?

Do you remember when I used to write to you about cliches? I’d like to do that again, in part because it’s a lot of fun, in part because you seemed to enjoy it (and I crave positive feedback) and in part because I enjoy having a good bitch about things.

Not all cliches are lazy writing, they can actually be bloody useful when used properly (and sparingly), they are a good way to set audience expectations when you don’t have the time or space to dedicate to establishing something.

However, as I said above, this should be used sparingly and in specific circumstances, such as for low screen time side characters who serve a singular purpose and are there and gone again quickly. After all no one wants to spend ages establishing a character when they are only going to do what the creator needs them to then disappear.

Clichés become lazy writing when they are used for main or significant characters, places, plot points etc.

Previously I’ve focused my rants on specific topics, but today I want to cast a wider net, so where previously I did a blog about male characters, female characters etc today I want to touch on three clichés that affect characters as a whole.

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These characters are pretty much always female and they mirror each other perfectly. You have the slut, or sexually promiscuous girl, she will nearly always die early on. She is effectively used as a way to punish women for daring to enjoy their more physical/carnal side. It’s a dated boring concept and has no place in society (not that it ever did). The slut is mirrored by the saint or the final girl. She will be chaste, pure of heart, innocent and most importantly subscribe to societies morals. She’s not a character, she’s a tool, the carrot to the sluts stick and like the slut she’s boring, dated and has no place in modern media.

As always, I’m not saying you should not have chaste or promiscuous female characters but their sexual activity should not be their defining character traits and they certainly should not be the defining factor in whether a character survives the story. Screw these outdated morals and outdated tropes. Have your characters survive or perish based on ability, competence, stupid or wise decisions about the situation, not what they do, or do not do, in bed.

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Token Minority

This goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway, this is racist and is not ok.  

The token minority is, as the title suggests, the only non-white person in the room, and the trope can generally go in one of two ways.

The first way is the ‘punishment’ way, where they often die early on and generally play up to the negative stereotypes of whichever race of person they represent. The ‘mythical’ way is almost the exact opposite in which the minority plays up to the overly positive stereotypes and may not die early on but they will still nearly always die.

Both of these interpretations suck, the punishment one for blatantly obvious reasons. The mythical one because possibly even less thought went into this character than the punishment version. The mythical version of this trope is often put in place to virtue signal, look at me with my diverse cast with zero thought and or depth to any of these characters’ actual experiences. You can tell I’m nice and not at all racist because I only give them positive traits. Also, the mythical version of this trope is often used as a tool to help a white protagonist, they usually have no depth or goal of their own other than this.

If you want a diverse cast then put the actual effort in, write fully realised characters and do that by doing your research. I’ve touched on this years and years ago when The Cursed Child came out and JK Rowling put zero effort into creating Native American style wizards. She didn’t look past the stereotypes and made an entire race of wizards good with plants and animals and bad with ‘complicated’ magic such as wands. It’s painful to read, and easily avoided by writing people as people, we are all different and diverse and all it takes is a little effort and research to consider how the world treats those around us and what effect that might have on your characters.

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Useless Expert

Now, this trope comes in a variety of skins/forms but scratch the surface and they all do the same thing. Evoke fear by showing how ‘epic’ the threat really is. This is actually a good example of using a cliché if it’s done fast enough and they don’t hang around too long.

This cliché can be a policeman, an army chap, a scientist, any kind of expert etc all they have to do is show fear and normally die or in some cases, flee. The point of this cliché is to show how out of the ordinary the threat is, how extreme it is. They can also be used for exposition, to explain what the hell is going on and again show how huge this threat is.

They often create the all is lost moment. An example is in paranormal activity when the priest chap comes to the house, announces how epic the demonic presence is and legs it. He was the last hope for the couple and he ran, not only establishing that this presence is threatening but also that the couple is powerless to fight it. Policemen in slasher films often do the exact same thing, the killer will be on the rampage but hey here come the authorities, we’re saved…oh wait no they died instantly. I guess that means the killer is unstoppable then.

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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