Clichés sneak up on you and worm their way into your writing. They are such comfortable turns of phrase that they flow so easily onto the page…and that’s fine when you’re writing a first draft.
I know what the trouble is. How do you nail those clichés? After all, a cliché is just an original idea that has been worn out, over-used and jumped on so many times that it has become a gag. It triggers the response “I’ve heard that one before” from people who don’t even know where the idea first sprouted.
Clichés make people roll their eyes, cringe and walk away. In the case of your writing, they stop reading. Anything that keeps potential readers away from your works is – you guessed it – a BIG NO-NO.
There is one thing I come across when I am reading that irks me a little. It is something of a cliché loophole.
An important note: There is no such thing as a cliché loophole. Trying to excuse yourself from using a cliché is never acceptable.
This so-called loophole is what I like to call “Name that Cliché!” It is the act of using a cliché and then mentioning that it is a cliché.
“It was something of a cliché.”
“I know that it was a huge cliché but at that moment…”
These do not subtract from the existence of the cliché. Warning the reader or owning up to cliché usage does not excuse the use of a downtrodden phrase or scenario.
Narrator: Was my life just becoming one massive cliché? Did I have a sign on me somewhere that read: “Browbeaten heroine needs brooding, closed-off love interest and overbearing parents”?
Reader: Ugh. Why should I care?
Calling yourself out on cliché-use does not soften the blow. Ever.
Kiss of death: Using the word “cliché” at any point in your work of fiction.
Clichés are not bad. They are very important writing tools. Of course you should never use a cliché in your writing but let me give you a few reasons why clichés are a good thing.
1. A cliché forces you to think outside the box. When you spot the existence of a cliché in any form, you are encouraged to dig for something original. If your character sprouts a clichéd phrase, then now is the opportunity to come up with your character’s own unique turn of phrase.
2. Clichés are actually a good building foundation for an idea. One of my favourite things about writing is archetypes. They are simple fundamentals for characters and story plots that you can build on. Sometimes when you are stuck for ideas, the only things that come to you are clichés. That just means you have something to mould and work with. If a cliché is thrown at you, go with it and throw something back that is interesting and amazing.
3. You can surprise your reader with the use of clichés without using a cliché. Confused? Clichés mean that people have come to accept something in a certain way. They expect things to be a particular way in a story. You can take a reader’s expectation for a cliché and turn it on its head to add a twist to the story and surprise the reader.
Don’t be afraid of clichés but don’t snuggle with them either. That's a no-no.