Avoid Clichés Like the Plague

I debated whether to post a blog today. I am in Oklahoma, very close to Moore, and lived in Moore until a little over a year ago. I went to grade school at Plaza Towers. I graduated high school from Moore, raised my three kids there, and the three of them graduated from Moore high schools. My friends and family still live there and, of course, this has been an utterly devastating experience. Fortunately, my family all made it through with only minor damage to their property. Others were not so blessed. And while I didn’t know any of them personally, I feel a kinship with them as a fellow human being, and especially as a part of their community. I know the city of Moore so well I could navigate it with my eyes closed, but I do not recognize it now.  However, I decided to go ahead and post this blog, because life goes on. Because we do what we can to get through our days and to fill them with something other than sadness and horror. I hope you will keep the residents of Moore in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

On to clichés…

First off, let me say that it is not a crime, per se, to use clichés in your writing. And once in a while, it is fine to do so. After all, people often speak in clichés. (They also often use dialogue such as, “well…uhm…anyway…so…hmmm…” and we don’t use THAT in our stories…I hope). But in general, it is best to avoid clichés. For one, they come across as lazy writing. Your story will be much more vivid, more entertaining, if you create unique phrases. For another, today’s readers are wise and have been reading for a very long time and they have heard every plot line and phrase known to man (cliché alert) and many of them find clichés jarring. Clichés take a reader out of the story, and that is the last thing you want to do.

I am not just referring to run of the mill (cliché alert) clichés. There are also phrases and/or tropes that I see so often, they should be classified as clichés. As a matter of fact, let me do that now…I hereby dub each of the below phrases and/or tropes a cliché…

Common clichés:

  • Put through a ringer
  • Like pulling teeth
  • Gave her the runaround

Words and phrases used so often they should be clichés:

  • Bolted upright in bed
  • Released a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding
  • Butterflies in her stomach

Tropes I see too often:

  • The heroine has a nightmare and the hero comes to comfort her and they end up making love.
  • A character overhears only part of a conversation and misconstrues the meaning, which causes a series of conflicts that could be resolved if the character had simply asked, “What the $@%& was that all about?”
  • We’ve all heard so much about the TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) heroine that the term itself has become cliché, but there is a specific situation that it is worth mentioning here. Too often, in the suspense submissions I receive, the heroine puts herself in known danger. For example, she is targeted by a stalker and/or serial killer. She is offered protection but refuses, because ‘she can take care of herself.’ Really? Against a serial killer???? And/or she goes into a dark/abandoned/dangerous place knowing a serial killer is on the loose. Authors want their heroines to appear brave and independent, but using this trope just makes them look stupid.  When a heroine does foolish things like this, readers are rooting for her demise. Again, definitely not something you want from readers. It’s different if the character is going into this danger zone to save a child or someone they love. We can definitely relate and root them on. So the rule of thumb is, if you are going to have your character do something that stupid, you’d better give them a very good reason.

I will confess that, in my writing, I have been guilty of the practice of using clichés and maybe even some of the tropes I dislike, but that’s why I have critique partners. And if you guys don’t catch them, that’s on you. 🙂

In summary, just be aware of your phrasing and try to keep it as fresh and unique as possible. Also be aware of contrived or over-done plot devices.

What are some clichés you see over and over? Or phrases that should be clichés that drive you nuts?

About me:

Alicia Dean Tin Man Color

I have edited for The Wild Rose Press since they opened their doors in 2006 (I edit for them under the name Ally Robertson). I have worked most often with Suspense and Paranormal manuscripts, although I have also edited other genres. Additionally, I am a freelance editor for myself and a proofreading editor for Finish the Story. You can learn more here: http://aliciadean.com/editing-services/ And here: http://www.finish-the-story.com/Editing.htm I am a published author as well. My website is: www.AliciaDean.com I love to read, love to write, love to help other authors, and love discovering new stories.

Thank you for stopping by. I would love to answer any questions you  might have.


13 thoughts on “Avoid Clichés Like the Plague

  • These are great examples, Ally. And I think I might be guilty of one or two myself (hanging head in shame). But forewarned is forearmed … er, even if it is a cliche!. 🙂

    • Ah, see how easily clichés come to us? Like taking candy from a baby 😉

      I’m definitely guilty of a few of them. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Sometimes speaking in cliches can be a good thing – if your character is irritating, and you really want him/her to get on your reader’s nerves (cliche alert!). Probably not the best trait for a hero or heroine, though. Fun post, Alicia.

    • So true, Jannine. Right, not the best trait for hero/heroine. Also not good in narrative. 🙂 A cliché here and there is fine. Especially if you note that it’s a cliché. Something like, “The old cliché was true. You can’t go back home’

      However, it is best to be aware of the use, especially the overuse of clichés, and try to reword into something a little more unique and compelling.

      Thanks…glad you enjoyed the post!

  • I just finished a book by a popular author that had the cliche “she released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding” several times. Eye rolling time! Certainly took me out of the story.

  • Well said, Alicia. Now I need to go through my latest to check for all the no no’s! My pet peeve is when the hero is so big and gorgeous that his shoulders fill the doorway. As writers we must think of other ways to express that he’s attractive and that is the trick!

  • So true. Yes, we need to figure out ways to point out more unique features than just being gorgeous. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder and for stopping by.

  • Love the TSTL heroine line. That’s the type of cliché in the plot that drives me nuts. Think about ‘released the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding’. In reality, a heroine doing this would be coughing and sputtering and probably choking. In short making an obnoxious fool of herself. Not very attractive.

  • Great post, Alicia, I have a heroine who TRIES to use clichés but she screws them up making them outrageous and totally off the wall. The hero usually corrects her–lovingly and laughingly. Not offensively. It’s a romantic comedy but now, I’m wondering if it works or if it’s just annoying. She doesn’t do it constantly, just now and then, but how can I know for sure? I like it … but that’s certainly no test because clichés really don’t bother me. 🙂 TSTL heroines do though. I sure hope Rayna isn’t TSTL!

    • 🙂 Well, Lynn, our characters can release breaths and it’s not cliché in of itself, but the ‘breath he/she didn’t know he’d/she’d been holding’ has become very common and a little jarring, but that could just be me. Thanks for stopping by!

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