How can a writer avoid cliches when describing characters?

I’ve been asked a writer question: How to describe characters and avoid cliches?

That’s a rather common question, usually by newish writers because writers with a lot of experience know that almost all fictional characters are either cliches or archetypes of real people.

Every writer wishes to avoid cliches. Every writer hopes to have their character be seen as an archetype.

So what’s a character that’s a cliche? A character that readers quickly recognize as a specific type of person in a few descriptive sentences.

And what’s a character that’s an archetype? A character that readers quickly recognize as a specific type of person in a few descriptive sentences.

The only difference between the two is in the quality of writing.

A well written character description will elicit that feeling of recognition by readers that brings out a feeling of knowing that kind of person well. And they go on to read more because the character is so well drawn that it comes to life and brings the story to life. That’s an archetype.

A poorly written character description will elicit a feeling of recognition by readers that brings out a feeling of knowing that person well but, instead of liking the character and the description, they are bored and perhaps disgusted by the flat, monochromatic person being portrayed and are taken out of the story.

So, you writers out there, your work is cut out for you. Archetype or cliche? It’s up to you.

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