Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Utilizing & Subverting Clichés

Artist Unknown
Clichés have a bad reputation. Many see their use as the epitome of creative laziness that should be criticized whenever one rears its ugly head. However, I believe clichés can be a useful tool is handled well.

Clichés offer us concepts that are easy to understand and relate to. Its the reason why they're clichés in the first place. However, the trick is to actually use the cliché as a starting point to build something more interesting and unique instead of a replacement for actual storytelling.

For example, we could utilize the classic "dragon kidnaps the princess" cliché for a future adventure. However, we'll try to expand upon it to make a more interesting story. The most obvious way to do this would be to ask why the dragon kidnapped the princess in the first place. Was it because he enjoys the taste of royal flesh? Does he want a slave? Or is he actually in love with her? It could be any of those, or none of them.

You can also subvert the cliché to create something different. Using the previous example, you could subvert the story and say the dragon actually didn't kidnap the princess at all. Actually, the princess fell in love with the dragon while it was in a human form and she ran away with it. The king just thinks she was kidnapped. You could also change the princess into a prince or maybe the PCs are hired by a gold dragon to save one of her wyrmlings who was kidnapped by the king of a nearby kingdom, but some magical barrier surrounding said kingdom keeps the dragon from intervening directly.

However, you should be cautious when subverting a cliché because it can become a new kind of cliché all together. Thankfully, the trick to handling a subversion is almost exactly the same to using a cliché. Just use it as a starting point to something more.

Using clichés isn't the problem. Using them badly is.