October 19th, 2011 / 11:28 am
Craft Notes

A Little Bit More on Cliché

Here’s the plot: a woman sees this guy and falls in love. The trouble is, her father is feuding with the fellow’s father.

Sound familiar?

It is, of course, a subplot in The Tempest: the courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda. (That Shakespeare, always busy repeating himself!)

The Tempest is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, possibly my most favorite play ever. (How clichéd!) Like so many others, I consider it pinnacle of art. But its artistry doesn’t preclude its having been rooted in pretty familiar stuff. If you want to be the obligatory HTMLGIANT reductionist (how clichéd!), just copy and paste the following into the comments section: “At heart, it’s really just a revenge story.”

And if you want to stage or film an adaptation, you have a multitude of ways of producing something either more or less familiar:


…or much more unexpected:

Still, the starting place is the same: a rather hackneyed situation.

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  1. Pfontaine


      You wrote, “a woman sees this guy and falls in love. The trouble is, her father is
      feuding with the fellow’s father” as the subplot to The Tempest, but if you swap the genders it’s also the plot to Romeo and Juliet! Cliché as a kind of shorthand that allows other kinds of creativity (if that is, in fact, what you’re saying or advocating) is an idea I agree with and support. One of the best lines I’ve read recently is from DFW’s Infinite Jest, a twist on an old cliché: “The truth will set you free, but only after it’s through with you.” A simple example, but supports the idea of how useful cliché can be in creating something new and interesting.

      Tangentially, have you made a permanent switch over to HTMLGiant from BigOther?


  2. deadgod

      Every pattern isn’t a “cliche” every time it emerges. 

      Again:  is there no difference between ‘familiar’ and ‘overfamiliar’? or between handling an archetypal story element or technique and handling a type in an oppressively routine way?  Is there not even such a thing as “cliche”?

  3. Trey

      I love Prospero’s Books. The opening credits scene kills me, kills me.

  4. jtc

      agreed. and what does any of this have to do with Drive?

  5. L.

      Agree with this. Also, super general ideas or plots aren’t really “cliches.” there may be people that think “oh this is just a revenge story, how cliche” or “this is just a story about the human existence, how cliche” but those people are just stupid. 

  6. Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

      Reading Selby Jr. the narrator often uses cliche phrasing, but it was their thought, and people do use cliche phrases in thought; it seemed okay. But part of me thought, if this had been a young writer now, they would delete the cliche phrase on editing. What is right? In minimalism, a cliche phrase or feeling could be left out, and the writer could figure the reader would assume the normal human reaction of the character. Often just because a sentence/feeling/story may seem cliche doesn’t mean it should be disregarded as written by someone who never went past intro to creative writing, or that the story has no merit.

      Your cliche plot of Shakespeare reminded me of old Looney Toons where they had feuding southern and northern families fighting each other, and sometimes a Romeo and Juliet doomed love between the feuding families. Seems being human has so many universalities that if the story a writer is writing is true to them–then even it’s cliche to a certain extent, it can still be great. If Shakespeare always thought while writing, “wait isn’t that a cliche?” We would be fucked and w/o a lot of his best work.

  7. Brendan

      These are called cliches. In contemporary internet society there is such a thing.

  8. Brendan

      Agreed. Says drive.

  9. Brendan

      Totally agreed. People are all stupid, otherwise they would be immortals.

  10. Brendan


  11. deadgod

      The conversation – or a part of it – about Drive turned on the question of whether the genre elements of the movie were handled in way that transformed the movie from familiar to strange, that made it a transformatively disclosive experience to watch.  –or is the movie, in its genre parts, hackneyed, trite, mere sensation?  –or something in between:  entertaining, if commonplace (my view)?

      So:  “cliche”.

  12. Anonymous
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