What is a cliché? Some of the words that may pop into some people's heads when they hear the word cliché are "overdone", "boring" or "redundant". When the word cliché pops up they may think "the story plot is overdone and overused". Or they may be thinking, "how boring, it has been done before". Or they may be thinking "the story is so redundant it is predictable". Some people want to hear that they are writing clichés because that means they can remove all of them while others fear hearing them.
However, there is nothing wrong with writing a cliché. The fact is, it is impossible to write a story without using a cliché, or as it is otherwise know... a trope. This is why the site Telivision Tropes was formed. The site is about appreciating the cliché for what it is and figuring out what works best and what doesn't work for each cliché. It has honestly become a very useful tool for writers and I do suggest using it. That said, it is time to talk about the three misconceptions I've mentioned.
When something becomes a cliché, that does mean it is used a lot. It isn't always overdone or overused either. For example, the whole magical girl phenomenon is popular in Japan and they are still turning out original material. A cliché becomes overdone and redundant when the majority of the work simply isn't trying to surpass what it already there. Some of the overdone cliches in fanfiction include...
1. High School AUs
2. Girl Falls Into Fandom
3. Sailor Earth
4. Gender Bending
5. Love Triangles
The High School AU is used typically by younger writers who are writing what they know and placing the canon characters in what they know. For Japanese Anime, you'll see a lot of High School AUs that do not use the Japanese schooling system, but what ever schooling system that the writer is used to. The writer also shoves the characters into stereotypes, forcing certain characters to be the cheerleader, emo, jock or nerd types. They also don't pay attention to relationships between the canon characters and shove characters with major age gaps in the same grade level and make them the same age.
An alternative to the High School AU is the College AU. This is also typically written by younger writers, but is written because they are writing about things they think they know and hope to be true. Keg parties tend to be popular, as are other stereotypes that they have heard about in the news. They have male and female students boarding together their first year and even a first year boarding with a teacher. Taboo relationships aren't frowned upon either and the teacher/student relationship is likely to show up among these young writers because the idea seems romantic to them.
Young writers also wonder what it would be like to fall into the fandoms they know and love, and thus we end up with the Girl Falls Into Fandomcliché. Fandom Falls Into Real World occurs when the young writer wonders what it would be like if the canon characters of their favorite fandoms would show up. These stories tend to be filled with random stuff and hyper activity on the part of the writers stand in. The stories also lack a train of thought and there are very few, if any completed stories for this cliché.
For those who don't know what Sailor Earth is, this is where the writer adds a new member of the group. There are actually nine planets so there should be ten sailor scouts instead of just nine in Sailor Moon, thus the name. There are nine walkers in the Lord of the Rings, so the Tenth Walker is no problem. In Bleach, the writer may add a Fourteenth Division or a false Zero Squad.
Gender Bending is a cliché I personally like but rarely if ever see done well. A lot of the over use comes from young writers who think that such and such a character would look good together, but because they are both male/female, so something needs to be done because slash/yaoi/yuri is yucky. Or it is an excuse for a female character to write her pairing and still be able to write one side as her femine self insert without being called out for taking away the canon characters masculinity.
And then there is the Love Triangle. This occurs a lot of the time because a young writer's romance story is going nowhere anywhere fast and there is no action and tension because the reason for writing the story happens to be based around the idea of writing a romance. Many young writers will vilify the male characters and any female character that stands in their choice of female characters way. On the flip side the chosen female character can get away with any behavior that the other two can't and if they happen to be in a love triangle with two guys the preferred male will triumph over the vilified other male.
These cliche's all tend to be overused, but what about the boring ones? Some cliches no matter how badly they are written tend to be enjoyable, like the Mary Sue Classic. Others end up boring the reader to tears because... well, the stories don't hold their interest. Some of it has to do with an age gap between the younger writers. Other times it has to deal with the bored writer knowing the real world isn't done that way. Or, the writer has seen the story just way, way too many times. Some of the clichés people feel are boring are...
1. High School AU
2. Crack Fic
3. Girl Falling Into Fandom
4. Self Inserts
5. Black Hole Sues
The High School AU is going to honestly bore adults to tears because they have lived through high school and don't want a basic story if they are going to be reading about high school again. Those in college or who have been to college don't want to read Colledge AUs that are obviously written by younger writers who don't know how the system works. And they really don't want to read about a character who takes an impossible number of classes.
As for Crack Fic, I actually love the genre but it has honestly become an excuse for bad writing. Crack fic does not mean badly written stuff, it means random stuff that people wouldn't expect to see happen. There are two types of Crack Fic. The first works with Crack Theory and Crack Pairings and makes them possible. The second works with pushing the readers willing suspense of disbelief for humor purposes, but the well written stuff is still planned out.
A lot of people are tired to reading stories where some random girl falls into the fandom and they run around causing random trouble for the canon characters. They are particularly tired of reading these stories and seeing these girls way to easily accepted into the fold and/or not receiving due punishment for the crimes they commit, even if said crime's punishment is being put into timeout. The characters also tend to be annoying to the point they just aren't enjoyable unless you are a younger reader.
The Self Insert is also a problem. Should you really be sharing with the entire world about how you want to get in the pants of every single canon character you fancy? Should you really be sharing with the entire world that you are more deserving then the other female characters? And should you be sharing with the entire world that you think your parents punishing you for not keeping up good grades like you promised?
And of course there is the Black Hole Sue. This can be coupled with the False Pro Feminist in the fact one of the ways the writer bends the canon world to them is to either vilify all male characters as stuck up, egotistical pigs or have the female character be in need of a knight in shining armor despite being the most powerful being in the universe. Of course, we then have Haruhi Suzumiya Syndrome where the reason the character is a Black Hole Sue is because she has the power to control everything. Which is rarely if ever done well.
Moving on from what is boring, some people complain about stories being to predictable. I'm going to say, there is nothing wrong with having predictability in a story at all. In fact, some clichés happen to have certain rules that are expected to be followed, which is where some of the predictability comes from. This isn't to say that predictability is always a good thing though, it is about knowing the difference. Some of the most predictable cliches are...
1. Person With a Mysterious Past
3. Love Triangles
5. Not a Mary Sue
If a Person With a Mysterious Past is written by a young writer, chances are you'll see their story listed under the Mystery genre despite the fact it doesn't belong there. You'll also see with this cliché the excuse that everything will be explained later on and/or there is a reason for not revealing the mysterious past right away. Nine times out of ten what they say will be explained never will be and there is no real reason for the mysterious past other then to make the character cool. One out of five times goes so far as to not explain what the mysterious past actually is.
The Anti-Sue is created because a writer is afraid of writing a Mary Sue, so they give their character a lot of flaws. For example, she has freckles and glasses despite the fact some people find this attractive. She is clumsy, but it only serves for her to end up in the arms of her true love and it never shows up otherwise. Or she is humble about her appearance, which is in fact not a flaw but a positive trait. It is mistaken for a flaw because she isn't the most pretty girl in the school, which also isn't a flaw. Rarely does one find a true Anti-Sue.
When the first chapter of a Love Triangle be-cries the fact that subject B is cheating on A with C despite the fact A and B were never together and it states that B and C are actually dating, even married you know that subject A will end up getting the man most of the time despite the fact she is in fact the one who is in the wrong. This is also believe it or not a major turn off and will make people who actually take time to think about what they are reading to root for person C to be with person B.
Saying how Smut is predictable is rather simple. The stories are about having sex and unless there is an actual plot line to the story you know it is going to be about sex. Of course, if there is a sex scene in the first chapter and none in the next ten you also know that the only reason the sex was included was because the person was trying to get an audience, not because they were actually planning on writing a story that focus on Smut.
And then there is the Not a Mary Sue. Very rarely you find one that is actually true, but people typically only put the warning into their summary if they are afraid of being called out for writing a Mary Sue. This is typically written by people who know very little about the Mary Sue concept but know that it isn't good writing. This can also overlap with the Anti-Sue.
I'll end this by saying pretty much every single cliché that I have mentioned can actually be done well. Each one is seen in many, many fandoms, so they are not very fandom specific. Those are going to be the subsequent essays. Each essay I am planning on covering a cliché for a particular fandom that I know well and then I will cover some of the options to make it unique if I feel it is at all possible.