Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Too Cliché, or Not Too Cliché… That Is the Question

Clichés. They're so common that finding them is easy as shooting fish in a barrel. In fact, because we're so used to clichés, people take to using them like a fish takes to water. However, I want to caution you against them. Avoid clichés like the plague. Don't touch one with a ten-foot pole! After all, amateur writers use them most often, and since birds of a feather flock together, you won't be able to pull the wool over any editor's eyes if you use them, too. 

So, what exactly is a cliché?  In essence, any time someone begins a phrase, and the listener (or reader) knows exactly how the phrase is going to end, that’s a cliché. A cliché is almost like a joke that is as old as the hills. The punch line of an overused joke is light as a feather. Likewise, the original clever wording of a cliché no longer rings like a bell. Its oomph is simply gone with the wind.

“Oh, I would never use clichés,” you might think. Well, don’t be too quick to blow your own horn about it. (And if you make that claim, I’ll have a bone to pick with you.) These expressions try to creep into the pages of even seasoned authors. In order to spot them in your manuscripts, you will need the eyes of an eagle and must be sharp as a tack. You’ll need to keep your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone!

However, don’t be discouraged. After all, every cloud has a silver lining. If you’re willing to go the extra mile in exterminating these lazy expressions, you won’t need to run around like a chicken with its head cut off when it’s time to revise your manuscript for submission. In fact, right off the top of my head, I can think of several reasons why a personal war on clichés will make you happy as a clam. For starters, cliché-ridden stories are automatically dead as a door nail in the eyes of a literary agent or editor. (Any wannabe writer who disagrees is simply barking up the wrong tree.) Clichés make a manuscript ugly as sin, but if your stories don’t have any, then your manuscripts will be clean as a whistle, which will certainly be a load off your mind. So, looking before you leap will make you appear as wise as Solomon in the publishing world.

“Oh, let sleeping dogs lie,” some might blurt. “Don’t open a can of worms,” others suggest. However, I suspect those who say such things have already been caught red-handed. They are guilty of this very crime, and here I am, rubbing salt into the wounds of writers who have a chip on their shoulder.

“It’s a nice rule, but rules are made to be broken! You’re just beating a dead horse.” Yeah, right. The ones who complain this way might believe they march to the beat of a different drummer (with a superior tune). That’ll be the day. It’s high time they wake up and smell the coffee instead of resting on their laurels. If they truly believe that, then they have a few loose screws and simply are not playing with a full deck. Instead, what they truly need to do is bite the bullet and take the bull by the horns in an effort to jump on the bandwagon to improve their writing skills. Yes, yes, I realize this decision will keep them busy as a bee. It might even make them feel as though they have bitten off more than they can chew on this wild goose chase we call writing for publication.

However, look on the bright side. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. But, good things come to those who wait. So even though time is money, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Take that first step and resolve to eradicate the clichés lurking in your writing. No more Mister Nice Guy, because nice guys finish last.


  1. I like to see them in dialogue at times, because that's how folks really talk, not always, but a sprinkle here or there lends some authenticity to dial.

    1. Linda, I agree that dialogue is an acceptable place to use them. Real people do speak with them. In Back to the Future, Biff used to mix up his cliches, which provided a fun touch.

  2. Very funny, Rick. Did you hear about the guy who couldn't understand why people thought Shakespeare was such a great writer? He's so full of cliches!

    1. LeAnne, I didn't hear about him, but I suspect it was much ado about nothing. :)

      Thanks for stopping by.