Thursday, April 3, 2014

C = Clichés Need to Go


Avoid them like the plague. Considering that I was able to find, in about three seconds, a multitude of Google results for “clichés in writing,” it’s amazing to me that writers continue to use and abuse them (there’s a cliché or two for you in this paragraph alone).

There are those who go for the obvious phrases, like “stick out like a sore thumb,” “like a kid in a candy store,” or “breath of fresh air.” Others are more subtle than that. 

http://authonomy.com/writing-tips/publishers-list-of-phrases-for-writers-to-avoid/ mentions the newer trend of “stock modifiers”—words that are commonly paired together that have become clichés of their own. Someone isn’t moved; he’s visibly moved. Another is woefully unprepared. Yet another is unfailingly polite.


Clichés don’t always have to be set phrases; they can also be storytelling clichés, as discussed on http://litreactor.com/columns/top-10-storytelling-cliches-that-need-to-disappear-forever. There’s an easy way to proceed, which usually turns into a cop-out. Describing your character’s looks by having her look in a mirror? Don't fall into that trap; be unique and don't follow the crowd. Is your character a bad guy? Blame bad parenting or past abuse. I’ll tell you a secret: the scariest bad guys are the ones who have no horrendous incident to blame. They’re just psycho and that’s that.

57 comments:

  1. Can I just express my appreciation for the fact that you started this blog post with a cliche? I love that sort of humor!

    I knew I wasn't going to have time to do the A-Z challenge this year... but I wish I could. Hopefully next year!

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    1. You're pretty busy already with your Nightstand Books Party! You wouldn't want to burn the candle at both ends.

      Yes...sigh...I *am* going to do this to everyone who comments. I can't imagine running out of clichés. :)

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    2. Yeah, the memes were a partial answer to the "I don't know what to blog about... but I'm not up for trying to blog every day in April" question! :) Thanks for popping by to say hi!

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  2. I predict a lot of your comments on this post will contain cliches. Therefore, I'm not going to include one here. :)

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    1. Oh, Silver Fox, you're a good egg. Your consideration puts a lump in my throat.

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    2. Well, I hate being predictable. If I've said that once, I've said it a thousand times.

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  3. I agree as writers we need to try to find original ways to say things. I will say if you are going to use them at least know you are doing it so you can use them in a fun way. All part of building yourself as a writer.

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    1. It's good that you're willing to be so creative. You know what they say...an idle mind is the devil's playground.

      By the way, my own picture came up this morning when I tried to post. I was kind of getting used to your handsome mug up there.

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  4. The odd cliche here and there doesn't bother me, but some people go overboard. Thanks for the reminder to avoid them in my own writing. I occasionally throw one in. :)
    The Doglady's Den

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    1. Better safe than sorry! ;) If you remove most of them, the ones you keep will have the punch you're looking for.

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  5. Yes, to killing those cliches! They're like cooked noodles in your prose.

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    1. Now I'm going to picture cooked noodles every time I edit one, thank you very much. Your prose will be clean as a whistle when I'm done with it.

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  6. I used to be guilty of using cliches. My critique group helped kick me out of that habit!

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    1. Make no bones about it, you have a good group there!

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  7. A successfully hung lantern can sometimes make cliches fresh again. Super hard to pull off, though. :)

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    1. Extremely hard to pull off (see, I can use adverbs again, now that the "A" day is over). Most clichés are, unfortunately, not fresh as a daisy.

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  8. But what if I want my cake and eat it too? (I hate this one by the way—worst phrase ever! The fact that I wrote is making me cringe) Okay...moving on...being creative and choosing our own ways to convey what we mean is great advice. Ask not what known expressions can do for you, but what you can do for them. (kill them.)

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    1. Worst cliché ever, I agree. Who the heck wants cake if they can't eat it? Most clichés make my hair stand on end, anyway.

      I hope you people are appreciative of the effort I'm putting into these horribly clichéd answers. I'm exhausted.

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  9. Writing coach Margie Lawson teaches against cliches in her workshops and it's amazing when she has us bring in a writing sample. We think we don't have cliches and yet, there they are on the page. She will challenge anyone on any cliche and it's made me a better writer to root them out in my own work. She's a big fan of taking an existing cliche and spinning it into something new. If you can upend it and make it your own.

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    1. No pain, no gain, when it comes to ruthlessly cutting clichés. Once you start to notice them, though, you can't stop.

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  10. Silver Fox makes a good point, not enough comment writers think outside the box. I like the way our C blogs sort of cover the same ground today. My favorite favorite use of cliche's, jargon and idioms is when the speaker/writer gets it wrong. Like when something is a mute point or cut and tied...it really makes my head spin when that happens

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    1. I wish more people's points were mute as well as moot. It would save me a lot of aggravation. When you see cliché abuse, Raymond, you just need to nip it in the bud. NOT the butt. No butt nipping allowed.

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  11. Cliches are too easy to use. It takes time to think up something new. I've done the "mirror" description myself. Thanks for the reminder, Lynda. Excellent blog.

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  12. Thanks for the great reminders! I shun cliches whenever possible, but I think there are times when a well placed cliche in writing can help; whether it's to find common ground among the readers or to illustrate just how run-of-the-mill something is. But like anything else, it needs to be used sparingly and with well thought out purpose.

    Great post!! :)

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    1. A well-placed cliché is nothing to sneeze at, Ava. The trick, I suppose, is to not have too much of a good thing.

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  13. Thanks for the cliche links. If I think I'm using one, I'll reword the sentence, but I bet I use some without realizing it.

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    1. Sometimes a cliché will just hit you out of the blue. Other times, they're as plain as the nose on your face.

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  14. I totally agree. Not only that, but you have to watch your writing for your own brand of cliches - phrases or descriptions you use too much. (Everyone I crit for seems to love red nails and always puts them on villainous women! LOL)

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    1. S.K. Anthony and I laugh about this frequently. Ever since Twilight, there's always a clearing...like romantic or special things can't happen anywhere else. But rules are made to be broken—give those crazy villain-gals pastel pink nails and still have them kick some butt.

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  15. One for all. all for one! The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, are movie clinches okay?

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    1. I'm all for the movie clichés. Part of the crew, part of the ship, after all.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, Spacerguy!

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  16. I don't know which was more entertaining - your post or your responses to comments. I think you could be my new BFF.
    Visiting from A to Z ~

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    1. Thank you, Wendy-the-new-BFF! I'm glad someone has noticed my efforts. I didn't want my answers to be the same ol' song and dance.

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  17. It was a dark and stormy night... ;-)

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    1. Oooh and eeek! I've got shivers down my spine and now I'm scared stiff!

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    1. Well, when the going gets tough, I guess the tough would have to get going. When push comes to shove, they'll just have to work around them.

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    1. You hit the nail on the head, Sarah.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment!

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  20. Half my daily speech is in cliches! I just know they slip into my writing and I never notice them. I am as addicted to them as a trucker is to swears. But I will be on the look out and try to get rid of them.

    As a former social worker, I'd say the most reliable way to make a sociopath is to over-indulge a child- give them zero responsibility and a sense of entitlement.

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    1. I think we're raising a generation of sociopaths even as we speak, Elizabeth.

      Breaking your cliché habit is as easy as 1-2-3: Just put your nose to the grindstone and focus on the prize! (I'm hurting my brain with all these and will be thankful when it's letter "D" day...)

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  21. Ooh! I love that--the psychos who are just psycho... Writing in a time period makes using phrased cliches pretty much impossible. I had an entire edit early on just cutting out all the modern phrasing, or double checking the etymology to be sure they were acceptable. Whew! I tell you what though, I will never be able to use cliches without pausing again.

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    1. Oh, the specific time period writing is rough on clichés, isn't it? Good thing you edit for those, because that's a huge complaint for readers of historical stuff. As they say, you'll know it when you see it.

      And yes, the psychos who have nothing to blame it on are the most scary of all.

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  22. Wonderful reminder and something that seems to come up often in my critique group meeting.

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    1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to cliché removal, Rhonda. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  23. I like the point you make about the cliché story lines. I think that's the hardest to avoid and the most boring thing you can do to your story. Great A to Z post.

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    1. You certainly don't want to bore them to death. Rumor has it that death = no book sales. ;)

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  24. I noticed those adverbs in your examples.

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    1. Well, "A" day was finished, so I took the liberty of ignoring my own advice. Do as I say, not as I do, and all that stuff. RIght?

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  25. I think that the cliches can just slip into the writing without you realizing it... but that's no excuse anyway...

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    1. If you catch them sneaking through the back door, just give them the boot. ;)

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  26. As someone who's painfully confident, I tend to kick the puss out of cliches, and go my own boulevard. Though sometimes I feel myself the only sane person surrounded by oxymorons.

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    1. Don't get all bent out of shape, Martyn. Oxymorons are better than the regular kind of morons, right? Right?

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