Shelley Widhalm

Avoiding Cliches like the Plague

In 52 Writing Topics, Cliches, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

Bottom line, using clichés in writing makes readers’ eyes glaze over.

At the end of the day, writers want to turn the page, not get all bent out of shape over trite words and phases.

A cliché is an expression that lacks originality and impact because of frequent and prolonged use. The expression that is overused becomes meaningless and, unlike a metaphor or simile, requires no mental effort.

Clichés, in fact, can be a metaphor or turn of phrase that, at one time, was clever. Think pretty as a picture, smart as a whip and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Over time, these phrases become blasé chatter.

In writing fiction, clichés should be avoided, except when they are used deliberately as sarcasm or to reveal character.

A few clichés that do not say anything, except point to unoriginal thinking, include: because I can, it’s the way it is, live and let live, let’s get to the bottom of this and give it up.

Literally, give up the clichés.

How about: he left his mark, it made her blood boil, he was in a pinch, she’s cold as ice, he let the cat out of the bag, and curiosity killed the cat (after it was let out of the bag? so, does this cat now have eight lives?)

Here’s a nice pearl of wisdom:

Avoid saying something like “she felt …” in place of showing the reader the character’s emotions or response to a situation. Don’t say, she witnessed, observed, wanted … These all are vague words that tell, instead of show, as do clichés.

Even the writer’s mantra, “show, don’t tell,” is a cliché, except writers need to engage in that type of writing to maintain readers’ interest.

As you write, question any comparison or image you use and check if the words sound familiar. Clichés can sneak in when you try to be descriptive. Ask if the word or phrase has been used in conversation, books you’ve read or in advertising.

After invoking your personal cliché fighting task force, be creative in how you assemble words to capture moments, thoughts, actions and expression. Clichés are never too much of a good thing, and that’s final.

See Zoey’s take on clichés at Zoey’s Paw, http://zoeyspaw.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/smart-dogs-dont-do-cliches/

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