Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Second Cliche

For my second blog post, I'm going to take about cliches and the developed character. I won't go so far as to say well-developed characters; that would require a much more in-depth analysis. Cliches work better when the characters are developed. When a show or a piece of fiction has two-dimensional or underdeveloped characters, the cliches will stand out.

Before I can get into the interaction of a cliche with a developed character, I need to talk about what a cliche is. A cliche is a basic story concept that has been used so frequently that my eyes have started bleeding. It's easy to think of examples with little or no effort. Looking around my apartment, I can find lots of examples. Eureka, while a great show, uses the "smart geeky boy who can't talk to girls", the "protagonist in a land where everyone gets the world around him but him", and "father can't talk to his child" cliche. The DVD boxset of Jeeves & Wooster has the "the butler is smarter than who he works for" cliche. To demonstrate the common place of cliches, look at Terra Nova. The show is rife with examples of the same, "father can't talk to his child" cliche that is found in Eureka.

Side Note: If you want the official terms for these cliches, you are welcome to head over to TV Tropes. I must confess I don't browse the site very much.

The difference between the good use of a cliche and a bad can be attributed to many factors. For me, the biggest difference is character. A well-written character is going to pull the reader or viewer to the character's reaction and away from the formula being used. Sheriff Jack Carter and his daughter Zoe conflict with each other on a regular basis in Eureka. This, at the most basic level, is no different than Jim Shannon's conflict with his son Joshua on Terra Nova.

Zoe is a troublemaker with no direction. She's taken up a life of petty crime and her father has just hunted her down at the start of the show. Her issues stem from the parental situations in which her dad, a US Marshal, and her mom are divorced. Carter is embarrassed that, as a law enforcement agent, he's transporting his own daughter as a fugitive. In Terrible Nova, Jim and his family have violated a world's law limiting families to four. His family has five. Jim punches out an enforcement agent and is sent to jail for breaking the family count act. For some reason, this puts Josh at odds with his dad. This rationale is never explained well. In later episodes, Terrible Nova plays out the relationship between Josh and Jim. It makes things better, but the detachment from the show from the initial, obvious cliche use never fully healed.

Take my story from the last blog post. It wasn't particularly good. The characters were flat. In order to soften the effect that the cliches have on the story, I need to develop the characters more. I broke out Rory's Story Cubes and rolled the dice. I'm not making a full story this time, so cherry picked five dice to create a some ideas for character development. Here is the new draft of the story.

There was once a happy couple that lived in a house. Thomas had decided to do something special for Kelly to show his appreciation. After counting his pennies, he realized he didn't have enough to buy the set of dolls that Kelly had loved. Frustrated, he went out looking for a way to earn some extra money. He spoke with a neighbor and was able to make the rest of the money he needed by working in the neighbor's garden.
He gave Kelly the present that night. After spending a moment to ponder the package, Kelly unwrapped a pair of dolls. The night was suddenly interrupted by a dragon from out of town. It landed on the guard's tower and setup camp in the parapet. The appearance of the dragon created a bit of drama for the family. After a heated conversation with his wife, Thomas decided to go to investigate. From the top of the tower, he saw the dragon hanging out on a parapet below. Thomas took a giant ball and tried to drop it on the dragon's head. In retrospect, the act was a bit of a reach. The ball missed. He decided it had been a case of bad judgement to try and slay the dragon. He was upset, but after dancing a jig at home, he felt much better.

The story still has the same cliches. They are still obvious to the casual reader. Only now, Thomas is better developed. You can almost see why he might want to go out and defeat this dragon. He was, after all, having a special night at home when the dragon appeared. This development and motivation could make some readers see his character and focus more on him and his desire to show Kelly his appreciation. Unfortunately, this development is limited to one section of the text. It will take many rolls of the dice to fix this story up.


  1. Jeeves and Wooster, in the P.G.Wodehouse stories, probably ORIGINATED the cliche! Show some respect!

  2. Of course, Laurie and Fry are kind of a reprise of Laurel and Hardy.

  3. Actually, I fully acknowledge that it is the origin of that cliche. The only reason I didn't point it out is that I didn't want to go to length explain that the book the show is based upon is the origin of the cliche.