You love your favourites for a reason; they’ve struck a chord with you and you want more. While authors worry that their ideas have all been done before, readers look forward to reading more books about worlds, and themes that they love. There’s nothing wrong with overlapping stories and protagonists. They’re popular for a reason, right?
Popularity can go one of two ways; the route of becoming a classic or a cliché. An idea so good that it spawns many different variations is set to become a classic we can enjoy for centuries – thank you, Mary Shelley. But not all these ideas are quite so wonderful and while they become popular, some ideas snowball into a full-on cliché.
Used often enough, nothing is immune becoming a cliché. Including all these well-known, if terrible, clichés we just don’t want to see anymore:
The Gay Best Friend
LGBTQ representation, finally! Or at least, that’s what we all thought ten years ago. Now, when this character appears, we roll our eyes. At one point, you couldn’t read a female protagonist without her having a gay best friend there to give her fashion advice, and take her out for mimosas when her man leaves her.
These characters always fall into the same several categories: fashion-conscious, borderline alcoholic and flamboyant. Nobody’s going to die if a gay character has an introverted personality and an affinity for knitting. Let’s see some real diversity, people!
The Love Triangle
Twilight, what have you done? Well, maybe it’s not fair to pin this all on Twilight. The Young Adult genre has a lot to answer for here, particularly in dystopian novels. Front and centre, we have our female protagonists and they don’t have gay best friends, but what they do have is much, much worse: two very similar looking, always handsome and always over-protective love interests who enjoy punching each other’s faces in to win her affections.
Cue seven books of our hapless female protagonist jumping from one boy to the other until either one of them dies or gives up because he thinks it’s in her best interests. These scenarios have become so predictable that it’s become mandatory to have a quick flick through and make sure you don’t already know the whole book before you even read it.
The Clumsy Female Protagonist Who’s an Epic Fighter
Female protagonists strike again. Don’t get me wrong, having so many women taking the lead role in novels is fantastic, but this cliché is getting well out of hand. Usually thrown into an adventure she didn’t ask for, the lady on the cover is forced to learn combat skills. Problem is, she’s really clumsy. So clumsy, that while learning these epic fighting skills, she will often fall into the arms of her attractive (and seriously ripped) male tutor. What a coincidence.
That’s not to say that this representation of women isn’t somewhat accurate (you’re looking at a black belt in Taekwondo with two left feet over here), but this trope has been notoriously overused. We need more variation in the women who take the helm in our novels, or our daughters will fall over anything they can find just to find a boyfriend. May all our female leads become sure-footed, Viking inspired and no longer smacked in the face with rock-hard abs.
The Alpha Male
The coveted alpha male position. Nobody argues they are in charge. They command respect with a single look, and exude an unshakable confidence. They don’t give a da-yum what anyone else thinks. OK, I’m making this look far too good.
Alpha males in novels have a bad habit of not just being all of the above, but a bad example of how a human being should act. Leaders are leaders, but the stereotype of alpha males in books includes over-the-top aggression and cold detachment towards anyone and everyone. Whether they are on his side or not.
This cliché isn’t just overused, boring and lacking in personality, but provides expectations of qualities in men that we just don’t want to see in real life. Maybe it works in a zombie-riddled dystopia, but we don’t want that junk in our undead-free present day.
Originality isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be either, but one thing is for sure, these clichés have had their fun. Let’s embrace a little diversity and break away from the popular tropes of the last ten years, because some of them are worse than month-old yogurt left out in the sun. Rant over!