Clichés are clichés for a reason. Does that mean every character should be one? Of course not. More and more often people are complaining about clichés. They don’t want cliché characters, they want original characters. They want characters that break the mold. Give your readers these characters. But don’t ignore all clichés. Ignore the sexist, demeaning clichés, and let small clichés slide.
In life there is always going to be someone that has some kind of cliché trait. To not have that in a book can sometimes, to myself at least, come off as unrealistic. Clichés have to be handled carefully, though. Many of them are offensive, and they need to be done away with: Because she’s blonde, she’s ditzy or dumb. Because he’s a jock, he’s all brawn and no brain. Because she sleeps around, she has low self-esteem. These are all examples of clichés that need to go. These are insulting jokes that got stereotyped onto a set of people.
Seven times out of ten the phrase ‘well it came from somewhere’ applies to clichés. Jocks tend to be buff and more confident and smart people tend to like to read. These aren’t harmful clichés. They’re not always true, everyone is different, but if you write a book where every jock is not athletic and has no confidence or no one in your book reads? It’s going to be weird.
You have to find a balance. Don’t shove a character into a stereotype. Give them one or two traits that are cliché, have some characters who completely break the mold, if it fits the story have a character that’s a cliché from head to toe. Write what works, but don’t spend all your time trying to avoid the cliché and thinking it’s something awful, when it’s not. Cliché traits and characters can be a very useful tool when it comes to storytelling.
There’s nothing wrong with a smart person who likes to read, or one who doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with a socially awkward genius, or one who thrives on the company of others. Some clichés aren’t bad. Don’t let the few bad ones ruin perfectly normal ones that allow readers to connect with a character.