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Do You Need to Avoid Clichés?

How Cliché is Using Clichés in Your Writing?

Are you using too many cliches in your writing? Do you need to avoid cliches?

This one’s a tough nut to crack.

Avoiding cliches is like avoiding headaches. We’d all love to, but there’s no way we’ll ever completely avoid them.

With hundreds of cliches, they’re as thick as pea soup, and therefore, often the first ideas which come to mind.

Clichés are simply too ingrained into our patterns of speech and thought.

We have Shakespeare to thank for the many common sayings and clichés in our every day speech as well—so while they can’t be avoided — we can try to be a little more creative.

A few (from hundreds of) common examples:

  • frightened to death
  • don’t get your knickers in a twist
  • scared out of my wits
  • weak as a kitten
  • without a care in the world
  • ugly as sin
  • the time of my life
  • head over heels in love
  • a diamond in the rough
  • all that glitters isn’t gold
  • the calm before the storm
  • nerves of steel
  • the speed of light
  • time heals all wounds
  • read between the lines
  • all’s fair in love and war
  • gut-wrenching pain

And don’t think a cliches is just a turn of phrase.

Characters themselves can often be cliches.

The first story I ever published began with the tired and worn-out cliche of the hard-boiled detective nursing a hangover.

Everyone has to start somewhere.

What’s good for the goose… oops! There I go again!

Can you avoid cliches in fiction writing?

And, besides characters, you should also beware of cliched openings.

It was a dark and stormy night.”

This wonderfully overworked opening (still often used today in various iterations) was first trotted out in 1830, by English author Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who’s name is not only synonymous with cheesy openings, but also, ironically, coined the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

There’s even an annual contest named after him that’s been going on since 1982 where writers are challenged to “write an atrocious opening sentence to the worst novel never written.”

Check out the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest—“Where www means wretched writers welcome!

Indeed, some entire stories are clichés.

Think of the silent drifter who wanders into a struggling town, battles evil, performs heroic deeds, and ends up saving the town. All the women of the town throw themselves at his feet. But in the end, the hero refuses their advances, and rides off into the distance without accepting any rewards for his good deeds.

There are only a finite number of story lines. Even ancient storytellers sitting around the campfire probably struggled to avoid clichés.

In a very real sense, life itself is a cliché. We are born, and then we get sick and die. And if we are lucky, we might embark on some hero’s adventure beyond the ordinary, and in the process, learn something new, or bring back something valuable.

But when writing fiction, we should at least do our best to avoid lines and phrases we immediately recognize as clichés.

Because cliches come so readily to mind, they often slip right past the gate-keeper.

So how then, to avoid them?

Easy. In a word – proofread.

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