We're going to shift over to a hat that is more about game design today, though definitively in a narrative sense. There's still value here, but I'll understand if you step away and look at some other things instead.
I was testing a game last night - working on a contract that I have to tweak and develop some things for it. The portion that I was working on required characters and players to be already invested in the story and established. This meant that they needed to be introduced to the characters, the world, and brought up to speed on a number of other pieces of plot before getting to the part that I was working on.
As I prepped, I realized that I couldn't just move them to the part of the story that was just mine. They had to get caught up to speed and brought into the world. It was the age old problem of starting the plot as late as possible. The point I was at, I needed to get them into the plot and backstory as quickly as possible.
To solve this, I leaned back on the old stand-by of RPG writing. A close friend or family member has died, and you've inherited the property. It has become a cliche, and a bit overused in some circles.
The difficulty with a great many of these old standbys is that they work. Sometimes they even work too well. That is why their use spreads and changes over time, how they become overly recylced until they become those cliches.
Sometimes, it can make sense to rely upon them. Here, it wasn't that I was using it to be the lynchpin for the entire plot, instead using it to get them to the plot that needs to be addressed. For the purposes of testing, especially, it helps to get to the point that they need to be at.
That's the truth behind a lot of these old cliches and over used bits and bobs. They're overused because they work, because they have some value to assist in your writing and creating. When used intelligently, they're just more tools that you can use. When used intelligently, they add.