Nathan Bransford had a post recently on Archetype vs. Cliche. I would also throw the word stereotype in there. Also trope and motif.
If writers can claim that they're working with archetypes, that's a good thing because it implies that somehow they're working with the original pattern. Stereotypes, no. I often read that some author's work indicates her knowledge of the tropes of her genre. But if you're using the tropes of your genre, aren't you running the risk of using cliches?
I think what we're talking here is connotation. Some words connote better things than others. Archetype and trope connote something good. Stereotype and cliche connote something bad. I like motif, myself. Motif, as it turns out, is good. Very, very good. You've heard it from me.
But is the author saying she works with motif and maybe archetype enough? Doesn't someone else have to say it, versus saying that you work with stereotype and cliche? Who makes the decision? Do writers get to say to reviewers and readers, "You've got that all wrong! This is not a stereotypical schoolyard bully story. It's archetypical!" Or "No, no, no. I was using the evil mom motif that turns up frequently in children's literature. My character is part of that archetypical pattern!"
I suspect that one person's archetype is another person's stereotype. Tomato/tomahto.
Archetypes can become clichés, but that shift is usually out of an author’s hands, for two reasons.
First, it’s rather subjective. Readers have different experiences, tastes, temperaments. One person might enjoy the umpteenth princess in danger story while another might max out at one. Sometimes clichés exist without people noticing them, or wishing to acknowledge them.
Second, clichés are the products of a culture—lots of audiences digesting lots of storytellers. An individual work can’t create a cliché. An individual author’s creation will be judged against the backdrop of lots of other people’s work, and he has no control over what lots of other people choose to write.
Well that's frustrating.
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