My school is doing a romance writing competition and there is no cliche allowed. But that is the only way I know how to write romance. I mean, I haven't read a single book that hasn't had a bit of cliche. How are you supposed to make a romance novel without it having cliche parts?

  • Perhaps you are reading pulp fiction romances. Try reading great literature romances instead. Maybe some Jane Austen? Feb 1 '17 at 5:08
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    Ask for a definition of romance and a list of clichés. A "romance" can be anything from an ancient Greek "Hellenistic romance", a medieval "chivalric romance", a story about love relationships in general, or a contemporary genre (which is fundamentally based on clichés). So ask to clarify what the competition is actually about.
    – user5645
    Feb 1 '17 at 5:45
  • Does the romance have to be successful? A tale of unrequited love is a lot closer to reality than the typical whirlwind romances you typically read about. Feb 1 '17 at 9:25
  • @aparente001 to be fair, though, Austen coined a lot of the clichés, so that wouldn't necessarily help. Feb 1 '17 at 11:02
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    Can you explain what you mean by "no cliches allowed"? Is that a literal rule? Does the text of the contest rules give any explanation whatsoever?
    – Standback
    Feb 1 '17 at 13:45

A good way to avoid cliche in romance is to choose unusual characters as participants in the romance.

  • The love poetry shared between a pair of nuclear physicists could be very romantic without being at all cliche.
  • Escaped prisoners on the run from the Law might fall in love during a high tension cat-and-mouse pursuit, leading to frenzied encounters peppered with the risk of capture and betrayal.
  • There is no rule that says that romance needs to involve humans. Try writing a canine or feline (or god-forbid, a mixed canine feline) relationship.

Breaking from traditional two person pairings and three person love-triangles can also be useful for avoiding cliche. A happy quintet would be ripe with odd geometries and opportunities for entertaining miscommunication.

Simply stated, if you don't want it to be cliche, make it strange.

  • You answer is really good. A few of the best romances I ever read were the ones that subverted my expectations in ways somewhat similar to the ones you described, with unusual pairings. You got my upvote!
    – T. Sar
    Feb 1 '17 at 18:52

Given that you haven't given us a lot of the givens...

Not every romance is cliché. There are formulas, to be sure (c.f. Harlequin, Nicholas Sparks, Lifetime), but just because the tropes are heavily used doesn't mean you have to use them, or that they have to feel worn.

So: Pick up the nearest romance book and start making a list of the clichés. I don't have one to hand, so I'm just going to start riffing off the top of my head. These won't all necessarily be in the same story:

  • Man and woman
  • Meet cute
  • Love at first sight
  • Hate at first sight
  • Mistaken identity
  • Pretend relationship for the benefit of a third party
  • Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back
  • Physical Mary Sue characteristics (heart-shaped face, vividly colored eyes, perfect physique [particularly without any effort like constant dieting or exercise], flowing/tousled hair)
  • Person A is normally eloquent and intelligent but gets stupidly tongue-tied in the presence of Love Interest Person B
  • Sassy Black/Gay Best Friend

You get the idea. So write down everything you can see in this romance in your hand.

Then make an effort to write something which avoids as many of those as possible. Make it a same-sex slow burn. Have no jealous exes or disapproving parents. Create normal, rounded friends. Describe ordinary-looking people. And so on. Brokeback Mountain is a heartbreakingly beautiful romance which I wouldn't describe as clichéd, even if it has "love at first sight" and "disapproving society" because it's fresh and uniquely done.

If you're worried about clichés, don't write them.


That's a bit of a tough assignment, because there is no precise definition of a cliche. But you may find the advice of George Orwell in his essay "Politics and the English Language" useful. It's not about writing romance, obviously, but it is about avoiding cliche. Lazy writers, Orwell contends, write by stringing together familiar phrases that are rattling around in their heads. Often the result is opaque and frequently it is illogical as well. A good writer thinks through what they say, gets a clear picture in their mind, and then writes down what they see in their head in plain language. Thus they are describing things fully seen, not regurgitating word soup.



My suggestion would be, write the romance first, pick out as many phrases from it as you can, and search them up. If you receive many results, especially from excerpts or in a list of clichés, then it probably is a cliché.

The definition of cliché can be loose. One person may think it a cliché, while another doesn't. Most metaphors and similes are considered clichés, so you may want to avoid them, unless you came up with them yourself and cannot find a search result for them.

A plot form can also be a cliché. If you can't find an original plot idea, you are perfectly allowed to take a clichéd one, then twist it. Reinventing can be just as fun as inventing.

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