Clichés: Navigating the Fine Line Between Comfort and Staleness in Storytelling

In the world of storytelling, clichés occupy a curious space—they are simultaneously familiar and comforting, yet often criticized for their lack of originality and depth. Defined as overused expressions or ideas that have lost their impact through repetition, clichés pervade literature, film, and other forms of creative expression. While some view clichés as tired tropes to be avoided at all costs, others argue that they can serve as useful narrative shortcuts or cultural touchstones. Navigating the fine line between embracing clichés for their familiarity and rejecting them for their predictability is a perpetual challenge for creators seeking to craft compelling and original stories.

The Duality of Clichés:

  1. Comfort and Familiarity: Clichés persist in storytelling because they tap into universal themes, emotions, and experiences that resonate with audiences on a fundamental level. From "love conquers all" to "the hero's journey," clichés offer a sense of comfort and reassurance, providing audiences with familiar narrative beats and resolutions. In this way, clichés can serve as narrative shorthand, allowing creators to establish context quickly and efficiently.
  2. Staleness and Predictability: However, the ubiquity of clichés can also lead to their downfall. When used indiscriminately or without nuance, clichés can feel tired, uninspired, and predictable, detracting from the originality and impact of the story. Audiences may become disengaged or even cynical when confronted with clichéd plot twists, characters, or dialogue that offer little in the way of surprise or innovation.

The Role of Clichés in Storytelling:

  1. Subversion and Reinvention: Some creators choose to embrace clichés as a starting point for subversion and reinvention. By acknowledging and then subverting audience expectations, creators can breathe new life into familiar tropes, offering fresh perspectives and unexpected twists that challenge conventional storytelling norms. This approach allows creators to harness the inherent power of clichés while simultaneously subverting them to create something entirely new and unexpected.
  2. Balancing Familiarity and Originality: The key to effectively utilizing clichés lies in striking a balance between familiarity and originality. While clichés can provide a useful framework for storytelling, creators must be mindful of infusing their work with unique characters, settings, and themes that elevate the narrative beyond mere cliché. By combining the familiar with the unexpected, creators can create stories that feel both comforting and innovative, resonating with audiences while also pushing the boundaries of creativity.

Examples of Clichés in Storytelling:

  1. The "Rags to Riches" Story: This classic cliché follows a protagonist from humble beginnings to eventual success and prosperity. While this narrative arc has been used countless times in literature and film, creators like Charles Dickens ("Great Expectations") and J.K. Rowling ("Harry Potter") have found ways to imbue this cliché with fresh perspectives and unique characters, resulting in enduring works of fiction that transcend their clichéd origins.
  2. The "Love Triangle": Another well-worn cliché, the love triangle involves three characters caught in a romantic entanglement. While this trope can feel tired and predictable in the wrong hands, creators like Jane Austen ("Pride and Prejudice") and Kazuo Ishiguro ("Never Let Me Go") have subverted audience expectations by exploring the complexities of love, desire, and identity within the framework of this familiar trope.


Clichés represent a double-edged sword in storytelling, offering both comfort and staleness to audiences depending on their execution. While clichés can provide a useful shorthand for establishing context and resonating with audiences, they must be wielded with care and creativity to avoid descending into predictability and mediocrity. By embracing clichés as a starting point for subversion and reinvention, creators can harness their inherent power while also pushing the boundaries of storytelling to create truly memorable and original works of fiction.