We hear them so frequently that we’re often oblivious to their presence. But if we want our writing to make an impact in this day and age, in the final analysis, we must think outside the box and avoid clichés like the plague or our writing will be behind the eight ball!
What are clichés?
Once original, clichés are now overused expressions. They are overly familiar. Commonplace. Stale. If you have any doubts, complete the following phrases:
- Faster than a speeding _________
- Dead as a _________
- Flat as a ________
You probably identified “faster than a speeding bullet,” “dead as a doornail,” and “flat as a pancake” without much thought. That’s because clichés are predictable.
But there’s another type of cliché writers need to guard against. In writing, a person or character whose behavior is predictable is also a cliché. For example:
- Having your character look in a mirror to provide a description
- Beginning chapter 1 with an alarm clock waking your protagonist from a dream
The result is that readers subconsciously think they’ve heard this before and lose interest.
Why do we use clichés?
Writing is hard work. Clichés make our job easier because someone else has already done the work. Why are clichés popular? They paint vivid pictures with just a few words.
But clichés are the domain of lazy writers. Editors tell us to “write tight.” So we reach for a cliché rather than do the work of creating original descriptions.
How to avoid clichés:
- Recognize them.
Train yourself to identify clichés in your conversations, in the books and magazines you read, and in the movies you watch.
- Identify them in your manuscript.
Be diligent – and ruthless – in kicking clichés out of your manuscript.
- Use the power of the cliché to your advantage.
Replace it with an original or unexpected association. For example, “avoid him like the plague” can become “avoid him like a telemarketer at dinnertime.”
Review your manuscripts and do a clean sweep of clichés! 😊