Writing Advice

Heroes Fortnight: Hero Cliches

Every single story in the world falls victim to tropes. The reasons tropes exist are because these structures work and are commonly used,  but there is a point where ‘tropes’ because ‘cliches’. The TV tropes website define a cliche as ‘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.’ So let us talk about cliches for your heroes that are not worth your time.

Mary Sues

Maybe this is more of a trope than a cliche as thankfully it has fallen into disrepute. A Mary Sue, or Marty Stu, is an all powerful protagonist who is completely flawless. She has power over everything because she is ‘oh so special’ and find ease defeating all the villains. A Mary Sue is lacking in any flaws and all the characters love her. They are often considered to be author self-inserts and the biggest example of a Mary Sue is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way from Harry Potter fanfiction ‘My Immortal’ (though the fanfiction has since been taken down there is a mocking webseries based off the series). There are three really simple ways to never have a Mary Sue characters: don’t have all your characters fall in love with her, don’t give her all the powers in the world and most importantly, give her flaws. Examples of Mary Sues/Marty Stus in fiction include Thomas from the Maze Runner, America Singer from the Selection and though not ‘all powerful’ Bella Swan from the Twilight series is one of the more obvious examples of a Mary Sue is recent fiction.

An a similar note for the Marty Stus out there – in my brother’s words: why are they all superbuff and smart? Ordinary guys aren’t like that, and they are enforcing completely unrealistic expectations for the readers. Why can’t the skinny get the girl for once?

Orphan Farm Boy

This is a trope that originated from one of the most famous films in existence, Star Wars. There are a lot of stories where the main character is an orphan or missing at least one parent and very few that maintain a family dynamic and are often raised by an aunt and/or uncle.  The MC lives a simple life in a rural area, untouched by war and violence, then an inciting incident happens that pulls the MC away from his life and reveals he’s someone more.  Examples of this include Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, Eragon from the Inheritance Cycle, Merlin from the BBC series.

Brooding Rebel

Most often one side of a love triangle. Usually a womaniser who only the virginal main character can ‘tame’. He starts off as the bad boy, the one who doesn’t obey the rules and seems to disregard everything and everyone apart from himself. But there’s a heart and a conscience deep underneath, and behind his tough exterior there’s a person that no one has bothered to get to know. Everyone has misunderstood him his whole life, and now that he has found her, he softens up and opens up to show who he truly is and they fall in love and live happily ever after. A typically predictable love plot and it is often difficult to understand what the love interest sees in him.

Hero Gets the Unattainable Love Interest

Hero (male) usually falls in love with someone out of their league. In the end it’s revealed she loved him all along or his heroic act (which probably involved saving her life) makes her fall in love with him. This is unsatisfying – does she love him just because she feels like she owes him for saving her life? That’s not love. That’s being a fool and it’s unfair on both of them.

Untrained MC Becomes Awesome Fast

Suddenly becomes uber powerful and surpasses their trainer. If they’re male and the trainer is female they usually end up beating her and then she falls in love with them (rather than being resentful that they stole her destiny as the ‘chosen one’.) Eg. Bulletproof Monk, the Lego Movie. Your character needs to stumble and fall before they get stronger. It’s not believable if they get everything straight away – just look at Aang from Avatar the Last Airbender and how he struggled with mastering fire bending. More importantly this plot line is usually sexist (male MC and female trainer) and it begs the question, why wasn’t the trained the ‘chosen one’ when they’re evidently more experienced and how has the MC managed to surpass them?

Crossdressing Girl

A girl will usually crossdress as a boy because there is something she wants to do that the society dictates a girl can’t, so she will pretend to be a boy o fulfill that. It’s more than likely that she is ‘not like other girls’ and negatively views her sex as having the wrong motivations. Examples of this include Alanna Trebond in the Song of the Lioness Quartet and Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. However there are some books that have approached this with a twist: Alanna deals with the problems that pretending to be a boy for years would create. This includes her changing body and emotional feelings. It’s not just a case of her dressing up but as she grows she realises she wants to be a girl and wear beautiful dresses and decides to explore that. She stops believeing that being a girl is a bad thing. In A Darker Shade of Magic, Lila doesn’t dress in boys clothes so people think she’s a boy, she does it because she genuinely prefers male clothes.

Generally we would suggest that you stay clear of these cliches. Most of which are quite overused and can be frustrating for a reader to see another story about, though this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are forbidden. Characters mentioned in this article, though part of a cliche are all incredibly popular. The success of your story is also about how you develop the character’s identity out of their origin. However, if you do use any, we suggest you approach them with a ‘twist’ like the examples given in the ‘crossdressing girl’ subcategory. It’s important that your character is unique to be memorable.

Elizabeth and Nadia


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