Even if an expression is true –when it has been overused, it loses impact.
Clichés lose value over time because they lack commitment to circumstance. They do not make distinctive or memorable contributions to story or character development – often they can feel like short cuts.
Avoid clichés by offering specific, detailed phrasing:
- Instead of: “He was lying, of course, it was written all over his face,” ask yourself how would this character behave when they lied?
- Try: “He was lying of course, I could tell by the film of sweat on his upper lip. Also, he always cleared his throat when he was nervous.”
The second version offers more specificity—by using detailed evidence
- Instead of “She looked down her nose at the clerks in the office” Ask how is this demonstrated? Who is she? What is important to her? What is she hiding? Who is she trying to impress?
- Try: Cassie’s earrings were real gold, not the Walmart kind with black scratch marks. She liked to say she was allergic to fake, and this was why she brought her own Cross pen to work. Plastic made her itch.
Reliance on clichés puts us at risk for sounding generic or uninspired
· be specific and targeted
· evoke clear, relevant images
· research, brainstorm, freewrite to find what’s missing
· think about what you’re trying to say
· ask yourself “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how”
Clichés flatten descriptions or characters by serving as vague, interchangeable placeholders.
If you want to break this rule, consider this: when the use of a cliché is deliberate and strategic, it can emphasize, surprise, even deepen or shake up the reader’s perspective – a well placed cliché can offer a way to implement irony or humor.
Writing Prompt: Rewrite the following without cliche, using specific detail:
- Instead of: “For Glen, walking into the student teacher conference felt like the calm before the storm” Ask what does calm look or feel or sound like? What has provoked the storm? What is fearful about a ‘storm’? Consequences?