How do you avoid clichés?

— Yirssi

A good place to start is this website, which lists some of the most egregious offenders.

Beyond that, I try to look at every scene and ask myself whether it feels movie-like in the bad way. That is, does it feel like the kind of moment that often happens in movies, and only happens in movies? If so, here are some suggestions if you find yourself staring down a cliché:

  1. Invert expectations. Instead of a gruff police captain, make him well-read and witty. Or prone to crying jags. Or pregnant.
  2. Change locations. If you’re staging a car chase in San Francisco, you’re naturally going to run into the jumping-car syndrome. So why not put the action in Napa vineyards, or omit the car chase altogether?
  3. Call it out. You can sometimes take the sting off a cliché (and get a laugh) by letting a character acknowledge it. But tread lightly; too much self-awareness can destroy any reality within the movie.