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 Avoid clichés like the plague.


A cliché is a phrase, motif, trope, or other element within an artistic work that has become common enough to be seen as predictable, tired, overused, and generally unfavorable. Such items tend to break Willing Suspension of Disbelief by calling attention to the lack of creativity on the part of the creator.

This is very subjective and dependent on the consumer's culture and knowledge level: Some American buying their very first issue of a Japanese Manga might find it new and exciting, but in the home country of Japan, the same manga may be considered old and tired. A person playing their first Role Playing Game might not realize the Mysterious Waif is far from original. Even then, just through Popcultural Osmosis or a sort of "sixth sense", people not familiar with the cliché might be able to spot it as such.

Generally, when does a trope become a cliché?

  • The higher the amount of poor implementation of the trope is compared to the a good implementation, the more likely it will become a cliché. In milder cases, the usage of a trope feels like filling the checkbox. In worst cases, the usage of the trope is actively detrimental to the work.
  • The more common and specific the trope is, the more likely it will become a cliché.
  • The less essential the trope is to the genre it's used in, the more likely it will become a cliché.
  • The more enforced the trope is against audience's wishes, the more likely it can become a cliché.

In spite of the negative stigma, many clichés are fully accepted by the audience so long as they are specifically pointed out. Even then, it doesn't change the fact that it's present; just because a detective comments on how bad mystery novels have the butler revealed as the murderer doesn't change the fact that, well, The Butler Did It.

There are also circumstances under which clichés are expected. To quote Crash Davis from Bull Durham:


 You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down...


Even without Lampshade Hanging, the Lowest Common Denominator will still lap up works considered heavily cliché for the same reason as something formulaic works: because of its familiarity. Many people seek brainless entertainment as its own reward and introducing elements requiring deep thought usually just alienates the average person. The sheer number of Police Procedurals, Medical Dramas, and Romance Novels with summaries that are practically interchangeable exist because people buy them anyway. A lot of Executive Meddling aims to make a work more cliché simply as a way of appealing to broader audiences.

The term cliché is also sometimes used to refer to a verbal meme. This usage is almost exclusively reserved for old folk sayings. Expressions such as "the early bird gets the worm" and "raining cats and dogs" are examples.

The name cliché dates back to older printing presses. When each letter had to be individually set, a common phrase would often be cast as a single block piece called a cliché. Such ease of use ended up with authors over-utilizing them to save on costs. The term came to mean the readily available phrase itself before broadening to include any overused element.

See also: