As I write this I’m laying in my bed in a hotel a little off Wall Street and a couple of blocks from the 9/11 Memorial in New York. I’ve spent the days of my holiday taking in so many details of what this incredible city has to offer and the nights recovering from the miles of walking in up to thirty degree heat. Jo and I have never been here before, though had planned to at some point, and so many people have said that New York is a place not to be missed, so we went for it.
New York feels very much like a twin to London. The pace of life, the diverse mix of cultures, the array of architecture and even the traffic all make you have a very familiar sensation of knowing despite never having been there before.
But the biggest sensation of knowing came from the multitude of film references littering the city. Without there being any kind of effort of hunting the places out, I was able to find any number of places which I’d seen before in any number of films. Ghostbusters, Godzilla (the Matthew Broderick one), King Kong to name three all have action which takes place in The Big Apple. All of the locations that people all over the world are familiar with but some will never get the chance to see them ‘in the flesh’.
But everyone knows what the Statue of Liberty looks like. Everybody knows what the Empire State building looks like. The population of the planet can picture in their minds what all kinds of places and things in this city looks like because they always turn up on our screens. Without trying, just the mere mention of New York in a story will be all that’s needed for people reading the story to understand so very much as to mean that chunks of narrative could be avoided just down to familiarity.
So should all future stories based in or around New York have the location changed because it’s been done before so very many times? Of course not. Familiarity allows a storyteller to create a kind of mood in the reader. When we’re familiar with a place or a type of character, so much of the heavy lifting has already been done in the development. We just have to read along.
And this brings me to the point of this post.
Cliches are so often held up as being the tools of the lazy but in truth, they can be a vitally important part of a story. A character can fit a cliché perfectly just to have the importance of growth from that point highlighted but they can also be used as a tool of misdirection. If we see a character who fits into a set box, we’re made to think a certain way about them, but the rug can then be pulled from under our feet at a later point. It’s all down to the timing of delivery.
We all want to read new and exciting stories and a cliché can be a very dangerous thing to the believability of a story but they also have their uses. The cliché characters are only cliches because we see them all of the time. Surely the characters are just a view of what we all see in the real world?