Cliches – Four Rules About Them

A cliché is like a bad apple.

How can an author tell if his work is cliché-ridden, with the obvious phrases and also the lesser known culprits? There are a number of websites that list them, I liked this one.

In the following paragraph, I have included several of the more blatant offenders, and some others maybe a bit more obscure, but just as annoying.

For all intents and purposes, clichés should be avoided at all cost. Your readers weren’t born yesterday and by and large, most readers know the score, and clichés won’t pass the sniff test. It’s the same old, same old. Been there, done that. You’ll bore them to tears. If you must use a cliché, take the plunge and mix it up. Twists and turns on clichés can be your ticket to success. Let this be your wakeup call. Overuse of clichés is a very real concern. You don’t want readers thinking it’s the same old story, a broken record. Instead, think outside the box. Time and time again, art imitates life. What’s not to like, about understated elegance? To my way of thinking, it’s a perfect storm. Your readers will get your drift, but your writing will be fresh as a daisy. It’s easier said than done, I know, but hang in there!

Wow. That was painful. I count 28.

For all intents and purposes, at all cost, born yesterday, by and large, know the score, pass the sniff test, same old same old, been there done that, bore them to tears, take the plunge, mix it up, twists and turns, ticket to success, wakeup call, a very real concern, same old story, broken record, think outside the box, time and time again, art imitates life, what’s not to like, understated elegance, to my way of thinking, a perfect storm, get your drift, fresh as a daisy, easier said than done, hang in there.

Did I miss any?

There is software available which allows you to insert your book text and it will count the number of clichés and overused phrases it finds. This paragraph would have probably exceeded its capacity, an “out of bounds index” or “too many inputs” or “an unknown error has occurred”. I especially like that last one.

Rule for cliché use (according to me):

1. If you must use a cliché, change it around, make it a little different. Recently I used the phrase “that shoe is on the wrong foot”. I hoped the reader would realize that the cliché I was imitating was “if the shoe were on the other foot”, which means if the situation were reversed. In this context, during an argument between a wife and her husband, she means to say, “You’ve got it wrong. The situation is reversed.”

2. Recognize that it is a cliché and make a reference to it. In one case, when a person of dubious authority refers to a bunch of other people as “losers”, one of the other people says, “Isn’t that the pot and the kettle thing? Being called a loser by her?” The speaker knows it is a cliché and refers to that, thus implying that he is above saying something trite.

3. Sometimes it seems good to use clichés in dialogue. People use them, it’s the way we normally speak. In a moment of anger, when a woman is being accused of not being committed enough (and this is after forty bad years), she says, “When does it become okay to throw in the towel? On my death bed?” I think it is appropriate to use this here. She was angry, it expresses what she felt at the moment. If I had avoided it, I’m not sure it would have been as effective.

4. If there is any doubt whether to use a cliché or not, don’t.

I’d like to leave you with this thought:

With clichés, when push comes to shove, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, because at the end of the day you are never quite sure whether to go with the flow or take the ball and run with it.


1 thought on “Cliches – Four Rules About Them

  1. Pingback: The Cliché Finder « Lynn Schneider Books

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