As I sit here sick as a dog from allergies I started thinking about cliché phrases in writing. Clichés are phrases and words that have become so overused they are generally thought of as Cliché. Everyone used them mindlessly because they are commonly heard and read everywhere. It is generally a good idea to avoid them like the plague in writing unless they are used purposefully or for effect. I know I use them but avoid them like the plague in the narrative, I will, however, put them into dialogue if it suits the character or situation perfectly.
They are easy as pie to use and I find them in my writing time and time again. Researching what the most common ones are is a wake-up call. Sometimes a cliché feels tongue in cheek when it’s possibly the kiss of death for the sentence.
What it boils down to is you don’t want your readers to be bored to tears when they read. It goes without saying that a writer wants their writing to be leaps and bounds above the rest, which is easier said than done.
Sometimes when I research it’s all greek to me. You could say all the information out there is as clear as mud. It takes effort and trial and error before I understand and get better at it.
I have read, heard and been told that cliché filled writing is lazy or poor in quality. Literary agents, editors, and publishers might even reject writing that is a broken record of overused phrases.
What to do about them? Since most clichés are easy to spot if I take the time to learn the basic ones and try to catch them. Many clichés are listed on various sites and if I use the ‘search’ or ‘find’ feature or my word processor you can likely find many of them manually, by entering them in and searching them out. This can be time-consuming but worth the effort. I can also have someone familiar with clichés look for them or hire an editor to help spot them.
Once I find them, I remove them and write something more original.
Here are some common cliché examples and what I might do to fix them.
Dale is a chip off the old block.
Dale’s father would be proud to know he raised his son to be just like him.
Mark is afraid of his own shadow.
Mark startled easily for no reason.
“My mom would say, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.”
“My mom would be nagging about losing eyes right now.”
beggars can’t be choosers.
Desperation forced his choice.
The bigger they are the harder they fall.
Once his head gets too big for his body, it will hit the ground hard.
Burning the candle at both ends.
He has no time for rest or relaxation.
Fan the flames. (Add fuel to the fire)
“Yeah Dale, that won’t piss him off more at all.” Amber rolled her eyes.
“You’re as cute as a …“(Anything tiny, button, puppy etc.)
I would say to find a better way to describe someone or something. Don’t’ use this one.
“That dress on you reminds me of how sweet you were as a baby.”
Eat your heart out.
“This is something you’ve always wanted and now it’s mine.”
“Duce I call a spade a spade.”
“Dude, if you lie, then you’re a liar.”
“It’s the calm before the storm.”
She glanced at the door, her peace shattered by the harsh knock of the first guest.
“What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”
“Since when do you have nothing to say?”
Fair weather friend
She only comes around when its convenient for her.
The wine stain on her shoe was the Icing on the cake.
Not only did she spill the wine, it fell on her brand new white suede shoe.
The apple jogged my memory.
“The apple! I remember now.”
“He really gets my goat.”
“I want to punch his face every time I see it.”
“She’s knocked up. I heard it through the grapevine.”
“Everyone think’s Ambers knocked up.”
“Dude it’s sink or swim.”
“Dude stop standing there like a creep and go ask her out.”
“Try to think outside of the box Amber.”
“Sometimes it’s better to try something you would not normally think of Amber.”
“That was a wake-up call.”
The small puncture on her thumb filled with blood. “Dammit! I need to pay attention.” She set the sharp knife down.
“She let the cat out of the bag.”
“She found out about the baby and now everyone knows.”
“Well, Dale I guess I should make the best of a bad situation.”
“Ugh, Dale it’s raining again. Let’s go splash in puddles.”
“No pain, no gain.”
“Man my legs hurt, but those squats will make my ass look great.”
“It’s on the tip of my tongue.”
“I know what I want to say, I just can’t…”
“There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”
“I bet if we went to the bar that at least one of the many guys there would hit on you.”
Quick as a… (Anything fast like a bunny, wink or lightning.)
Like ‘cute as a..’ this one is bet avoided.
The slap was too fast to see. OR The blur of her hand barely registered before I felt the pain.
Keep his eye on the prize
He would do anything to get that promotion and nothing will distract him.
“Something she said rings a bell.”
“Something about what she said made me think.
“I was scared to death.”
“I shook so hard as I hid from him that my body hurt from the tremors.”
“All day I work like a dog for nothing.”
“By the end of the day, I’m exhausted and for nothing.”
Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
“I wouldn’t recommend spending the bonus until you have it.”
There are a lot more out there. They can be found listed pretty much anywhere if you search for them. I know I have plenty hidden in my work, some I put there on purpose, but only in dialogue. I think I may be revisiting my book with the ‘find’ feature and see if I have any of them hiding in there. I don’t personally think that all clichés are bad or shouldn’t be used, but I think it’s important to assess the value of the ones I’m using.
My advice about Cliché phrases.
Let’s cut to the chase, they’re bound to happen. It’s not the end of the world if you use them. Don’t flip your lid because finding them can be a blessing in disguise as they give you a chance to go the extra mile to fix them and improve your writing and make it good as gold.
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
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