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How to Avoid Writing Clichés

Keeping a reader interested and engaged is key when writing a compelling story. If your writing is cliched and predictable, you’re limiting its potential. Making your story more original is easier said than done, but I’m going to share a few tips that have helped me keep things interesting in my stories, both for readers and for me as the writer.

I’m sure you’ve read a book or watched a film where every line of dialogue was cliched, every twist predictable, every scene and visual uninspired. The stories I most love are ones that manage to surprise me, even in small ways, by not following the expected route, opting for something better instead. Something that’s been done a million times before doesn’t have a chance of becoming iconic, memorable, or resonant. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my stories to be pale imitations and amalgamations of stories that have already been told.

Total originality is a myth. Every piece of art is a remix, an confluence of influences. But it’s the unique blend of ideas and experiences that makes storytellers, and their stories, distinct. Still, if we’re not careful, we can lose sight of what makes us unique, and start imitating things we’ve seen before. We may not even realize we’re doing it.

There’s a reason cliches exist. If something works, it’ll be replicated. A certain cliche may not have much artistic merit, but if it’s commercially popular, it can still become widespread. And cliches come in all forms. There’s dialogue, prose, character stereotypes, plot devices and twists, and scenes, all of which can follow tired, expected routes.

But there are things we can do to avoid using clichés in our writing.

Think Twice

This is one simple, helpful trick I've found myself using to avoid writing clichés.

Before you decide on an element of your story, second-guess it. Take just one moment longer to come up with an alternative.

Here's the thing: your first instinct is, well, instinctual. So the ideas you come up with at first for characters, dialogue, story beats, action set-pieces, will all be based on what you've absorbed from the stories you've consumed. You'll be regurgitating things you've already seen (yuck).

It doesn’t take long to come up with a few alternative ideas. But once you get into the habit of questioning your instincts, you might just find your stories gain an added spark of originality. It’s not a bad thing that your initial storytelling impulses will be cliched—it’s to be expected. Writing what you’ve seen before is easier than developing something new. Mentally, it’s the path of least resistance. If you don’t intentionally challenge your ideas—seek a less tired way of describing something, introducing a character, ending a scene—you’ll naturally follow what other stories do. Which isn’t inherently bad. Like I said, cliches exist for a reason, and were probably effective the first few times they were used.

The problem comes from the wider context in which they’re used. You may have come up with a really cool character design, but if it’s one that’s been used in a hundred stories before yours, it simply reeks of a lack of effort. Most of your readers have consumed a large number of stories, and they want something new from yours. Yes, they may be returning to a genre they love, or looking for a particular kind of character or story structure that they’ve liked in previous stories, but they can still get bored if every part of your story is predictable. Don’t just go through the motions of a certain kind of story. There’s a better way.

Part of your job as a writer is to surprise the reader. No matter the genre, you can't afford to bore your audience with the same situations, personalities, and exchanges they've seen a hundred times before.

So your first idea for how a scene will play out, or what a certain type of character will look like, will probably be clichéd. Uninspired.

The solution? Come up with something else. Then something else.


Continue iterating until you've got something fresh. The extra time spent thinking it over will be worth it.

If you can, don’t just think of one alternative, but several. The more, the better. It might take ten new ideas to get to one that works for your story. Don’t be afraid to experiment and come up with some crazy ideas; only one of them needs to make it into the final draft.

Say you’ve got a wizard character in your book. But you’ve come to the realization that he looks, talks, and acts exactly like Gandalf. The next step is to iterate. Write down as many ideas as you can, for small details as well as larger concepts. Some of these ideas can, and should be, outlandish. Try going in the exact opposite direction of your initial instinct. Chances are, that’ll be a little too unexpected and jarring, but it might give you inspiration for a new direction.

For example, in my novella Tales from Enigma Island Vol. 1, our protagonists find themselves in a marketplace, and in a tense standoff with the crowd around them. One guy steps out to confront them. He’s an imposing physical presence, meant to be a serious threat to the small group. He’s wearing an apron spattered with red, and he’s got a blade in one hand. My first instinct was to make him a butcher—butchers are associated with violence, blood, and strength, which would complement his fearsome aura.

But then I thought again. If I’d jumped to that conclusion so quickly, so would the reader. And making this threatening guy a butcher wouldn’t do much to make him anything more than a two-dimensional obstacle.

So I made him a tomato seller. It explains the red stains and the knife; we see he was cutting tomatoes at the market stand behind him. It’s less expected and a little more interesting. That’s just a small detail, but it’s an example of how you can add a bit of a twist to something to avoid predictability.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that you should try to go with the less obvious choice, not the least obvious choice. Go too far in the direction of the unexpected, and you could alienate your reader. Most of the time, you want to avoid absurdity. If you find yourself choosing an idea simply for shock value, rethink that. But well-executed surprises can be a welcome breath of fresh air.

And it’s okay to use cliches in your first draft. If you want, you can take that extra time to think twice and iterate in the editing stage. Arguably, the most important thing when you’re writing your first draft is to finish it. Revision can be the time to find and implement those less obvious choices.

This is harder when the predictable element you want to rethink is something significant with an effect on the whole plot or the entirety of a character. So even in the writing phase, try taking just a few moments longer to think before you write something that feels too familiar or predictable. Just don’t get caught in the trap of overthinking.

Don’t Copy, Assimilate

Clichéd writing is the result of copying parts of existing work. Original writing, or as close to 'original' as it can get, is the result of assimilating disparate elements to create something that is, as a whole, new.

Pure originality is a myth, but that doesn't mean that fresh ideas don't exist. They do. They're simply new combinations of existing ideas. So think of how you can combine one idea with another to give it a unique spin.

Creativity is often the art of remixing. Taking inspiration from different places and combining existing elements to make something new. The more varied your influences, the more original your writing will be. I find inspiration in everything from museum artifacts to music to nature. Just because you’re writing in a certain genre doesn’t mean you should take inspiration only from stories in that genre. Some of the best stories are the result of cross-genre influences, disparate elements coming together to make something fresh.


Sometimes, using cliches can be a deliberate choice. Some characters might be likely to use cliches in their speech, which should be reflected in the way you write their dialogue. And sometimes using a cliched phrase can be a simpler, clearer alternative to coming up with a new way of saying something. But for larger story elements, adding even a small spin to the expected can improve both quality and reader enjoyment.


It's easy to write clichés without knowing it, or to simply write something predictable.

Instead of taking the easy route, ask your imagination to do just a little more work. Think about whether there's anything you can add or subtract to make a part of your story more interesting. Iterate until you come up with something less expected, and more satisfying.

You shouldn't sacrifice coherency and believability for the sake of surprising the reader, but I've found that taking just a moment to consider other options, other directions, can add that extra spark of originality I often look for.

If you want to watch the video versions of these blog posts, head over to my YouTube channel here, and subscribe for more videos on writing and publishing.

– Grayson Taylor

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