A cliché is an odd beast. On the one hand, it has been done, done and re-done so many times that it now resembles a paper beer cup trodden into the ground after a rock concert – damaged, dirty and completely unusable.
On the other hand, the reason behind its overuse resides in its inherent usefulness in the first place. Let’s take Watergate as an example: nowadays we tend to roll our eyes when a journalist refers to the latest political scandal or public controversy with the suffix ‘-gate’ tacked on the end, but in the wake of the 1972 eavesdropping scandal it gave people a universal reference point and made it easier to understand what was going on.
However – while clichés can prove useful in daily life – it is the job of a writer to express themselves in terms which are fresh and exciting. So, here are 5 romance clichés writers should be aware of in their writing.
Unless it’s handled well, amnesia in a romance novel is a cop-out. It can be tempting to inflict a bout of forgetfulness on your character in order to iron out any discrepancies in the plot, but nine times out of ten your readers will see straight through it.
Image by Hobvias Sudoneighm via Flickr
It’s important to respect your readers. They must invest themselves in your journey, and they may feel cheated if you perform a sudden u-turn in the narrative and blame it all on amnesia, so tread carefully.
When two characters who are emphatically “just friends” are introduced early in a novel, it’s a fair bet they are going to get together by time the novel reaches its conclusion. The same can be said about two characters who hate each other’s guts.
Image from Pixabay
Of course sometimes this will happen as part of a natural progression of the novel’s plot and themes, but try to throw your reader a clever curveball here and there and they will feel rewarded.
Jane Austen did the whole enemies-who-become-lovers thing rather well in Pride and Prejudice, but that was 200 years ago. Maybe it’s time for something new.
Alarming Behaviour Presented as Normal
There is a scene in the 2006 movie version of The Notebook in which Ryan Gosling’s Noah dangles himself from a ferris wheel and threatens to kill himself unless Allie – Rachel McAdams – will go out with him. The scene is designed to paint Noah as a passionate and devoted man, but really it makes him look like a manipulating and emotionally disturbed psychopath.
I should point out that this scene does not occur in Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel, but it is a good example of a fictional character not being bound by normal standards of taste and decency. A cat can stalk all it wants, but if one of your human characters does it, it's going to come across as creepy.
Image from Crasstalk
When writing your romance novel, be sure of what direction you want your character to take. If he or she is a sympathetic character, ask yourself, “What if I experienced that sort of behaviour in real life?” If your answer is that you would call the police, the character’s behaviour might need a rethink.
Baby from Nowhere
Throwing a surprise pregnancy into the plot might seem like a handy way to introduce a third act crisis into your narrative, but it has been done time and time again. Writing on the Barnes and Noble blog, editor Sara Brady is particularly irked by this one
Image from Wikipedia
She describes how she looks for realistic attitudes to contraception in contemporary romantic fiction, and also for more realistic depictions of pregnancy. It is simply not enough to spring a surprise pregnancy on your readers as a convenient plot device.
However, Brady does point to Shannon Stacy’s Undeniably Yours as an example of a romantic novel in which a surprise pregnancy plot is used in a well-thought out way that satisfies the reader.
Listening to Advice on What Not to Write About
One particularly well-worn cliché tells us that “everyone is a critic”. This one also happens to be true. As a writer, you will have people telling you what to do and what not to do at all stages of your project. It can be difficult, but you must try to weather that storm.
A romantic novel should be expressed from the heart of the writer. Constructing a novel based on a framework of avoiding cliché’s like the plague will leave you unsatisfied and may ultimately prevent you writing the novel you set out to write.
The important thing is to be aware of these clichés, and if you find yourself straying into clichéd territory, try to reconstruct it in a way that is fresh and invigorating for your readers and for yourself as a writer. Thinking about your plot critically in this manner can only lead to a more well-rounded and complete work, so try to enjoy the process!