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Cliched Characters and Overused Plots Devices

Today we consider character types that have been overused over the years to become cliches and it would be best to avoid them in your own stories. These cliches apply more to television and movies rather than books, but either way, it’s best to beware of them.

  • Girl disguised as a boy

This plot device has been used many times over the years, from the Disney adaptation of the Chinese myth Mulan, to the character of Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. In these cases, the girl has had to disguise herself as a man in order to protect the ones she loves, or to protect herself, and somehow for most of the story, no one realises her real identity. This has been very popular in Asian dramas in the last decade, with three adaptations of basically the same plot line – Hana Kimi (originally Japanese) in which a girl disguises herself as a boy to attend an all boys’ school so she can be close to her athlete idol and encourage him to take up his sport once again. This plot device has been around for a long time, even Shakespeare used it in his play Twelfth Night, which was later adapted into the film She’s the Man starring Amanda Bynes.

  • The friend-zoned best friend

In many young adult romance novels, or romance stories in general or really any story with an element of romance, there is often that one character that the audience will feel sorry for because he/she has been thoroughly and utterly friend-zoned. No matter what they do or how they feel, they cannot get the one they love and this quite often lead to the audience suffering from Second Male Lead Syndrome. This is when the audience roots for love to blossom between the protagonist and the friend-zoned person, but ultimately, they will never get their wish.

The friend-zoned person is often the best friend who is really nice and almost faultless, in fact their niceness is probably their fault. Examples include Jacob Black from Twilight, Simon Lewis from the Mortal Instruments – these guys do everything for the protagonist, only to ever be seen as a good friend. However, they are a person that the girl can never let go. This often leads to a love triangle situation in which there is a fight for the girl between two enemies e.g. Jacob (werewolf) and Edward (vampire); brothers (Damon and Stefan Salvatore); Peeta and Gale – Hunger Games.

To solve this problem, stories have resorted to giving the friend-zoned person a different love interest e.g. Jacob imprints on Bella’s daughter (slightly creepy) – often this can seem forced and very out of the blue. Such a deus ex machina method doesn’t normally sit well with the audience. Other times, the solution has been for the friend-zoned person to lead a lonely existence and this is especially the case in Korean Dramas e.g. Yoon Ji-hoo in the TV series: Boys Over Flowers.

  • The evil jealous ‘popular’ girl

She’s pretty and pretty one-dimensional with only one goal: getting the guy. The audience is left unsure as to whether it’s ever real love as the girl views her target more as a ‘trophy’ guy e.g. Katain in Throne of Glass. It’s a particularly common trope when their are Prince’s in a story.

  • The fool or the idiot friend

This friend is always tripping over and making mistakes. They are getting things wrong and messing things up because of their stupidity but they usually have a kind heart. This is often used as a source of comic relief and also as a scape-goat for why misunderstandings are created. They may also be the side-kick for the protagonist.

  • The girl who is different to everyone else and so everyone falls for her

Often she is completely different to all the other girls in the area and that’ll be why the lead character falls for her. Of course you need an interesting protagonist, but you also need your side characters and secondary characters to be interesting.

  • Separated twins/doppelganger taking place of the poor girl or the rich girl as a replacement

This is where there are two identical looking people, often one comes from a rich background and the other from a poor background. The rich person will go through some struggles that are dangerous and so will make the poor person take her place. The poor person will then fall in love with the other protagonist and the rich person will then want to get rid of the doppelganger. This was the basis of the story line in the TV drama Bride of the Century and Scarlet Heart 2. Doppelgangers have also been extensively used in the book version of the Vampire Diaries (Elena and Katherine) but even more expansively in the TV series.

Have you come across any other cliched characters? Let us know in the comments below.

– Elizabeth


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