'Is It Dead?' Keep Your Script Alive by Avoiding These Screenwriting Clichés
Let me be the first to say that clichés aren’t inherently bad. They play an important role in filmmaking and screenwriting as a sort of shorthand expression that is easier to convey than the larger, more complex idea it represents. However, clichés can also be a crutch; I’m sure all of us are guilty of leaning too heavily on a
tried and true tired and trite line of dialog or action. This infographic presented by the New York International Latino Film Festival highlights several movie clichés that you might want to avoid, or get really, really good at selling to your audience to keep your story from arriving DOA in the hands of a reader.
Again, using clichés in your storytelling isn’t necessarily a bad thing — director Omar Naim once told me and some fellow student filmmakers that, “Saying ‘I love you’ is cliché, but the quickest way to say ‘I love you’ is by saying ‘I love you.” In a previous post, we talked about using bad writing as a placeholder for the good writing that’ll follow it. Clichés are often in or are these placeholders, at least for me. As I build the structure of my story, it’s often held up by weak storytelling devices, like predictable action, character cut-outs, and unrealistic dialog.
We’ve all seen the clichés in the infographic below, and continue to see them in movies today (no bad 80s action flick flashbacks necessary). I’m sure in its heyday, the clichéd phrase “Is he dead,” was met with the audience replying, “Oh jeez – is he dead? I don’t know. Better take a closer look.” Nowadays, the audience (me) will just be screaming at the screen, “Of course he’s not dead, you idiot! No! Why are you checking? He’s just gonna — see! Now you’re dead, you fool!”
It’s an entertaining take on an issue that screenwriters might actually want to check themselves on, because although it might be helpful for quickly fleshing out an idea, using too many clichés might be the thing keeping your screenplay out of the hands of a script reader.
How do you avoid using clichés in your writing? What’s your favorite movie cliché? (Mine is the “good guy leaving the bad guy cuffed, but unattended, only to return to find he has *gasp* escaped” cliché.)