Janet Sumner Johnson
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Conquering Clichés, Part 1

Jan 07, 2011 Uncategorized 25 comments

It was a dark and stormy night. My heart pounded as I prepared to write this post. I got butterflies in my stomach, and suddenly I felt cold as ice. . . .

Clichés: Ever-lurking. Ready to spring themselves into your manuscript. Sneaking in with those fiery-tempered red-heads and ditzy cheerleaders. All those overused ideas and expressions that we roll our eyes at in others’ work, but fail to see in our own. (Okay, I may be speaking for myself here).

The first time I saw “cliché” marked on my manuscript by one of my critique partners, I was chilled to the bone. “What?! My work is original! I wrote it with my own hand!” Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with it.

Since then, my eyes have been opened, and I’ve improved by leaps and bounds. Trust me, the grass IS greener on the other side. It’s worth the effort to conquer the cliché (and that doesn’t always mean you can’t use them). 😉

So the thing about clichés is that there are multitudes of them. In fact, there are so many ways to be cliché, they’ve had to categorize them. Furthermore, there’s even a cliché dictionary! I bet you didn’t know that.

I know I’m leaving your hanging, just when it started to get interesting, but I am a woman of few words, and this post is getting long.

So to close (with the promise to continue this discussion next time), what is your favorite/most detested cliché?

P.S. Can you find all the clichés in this post? I’ll mail a candybar to whoever gets it right first (on their first guess). 😀


25 Responses to “Conquering Clichés, Part 1”

  1. The worse thing about cliches is when you don't realize you've written one until someone points it out, then you get paranoid about the rest of your 70 K manuscript.

    My wip has a quarterback/cheerleader boyfriend/girlfriend cliche to it, but hopefully I've but enough spin to it (other than the part where they break up in the first chapter) so it isn't one. Fortunately the mc isn't either of them. 😀

  2. Tracy says:

    I counted 11 cliches.

    Most of the time, we'll miss the occasional cliche in someone else's writing…but when they start popping up with the frequency they did, it's kinda hard to miss. Unless, it happens to be our own writing, because we miss all kinds of junk in there.

    Consider me hanging. I wants to hear more about that cliche dictionary.

  3. I'm writing a children's chapter book about a science fair and I keep putting vampires in love in it. Is that a cliche?

  4. Joanne says:

    I find that when a cliche slips into my manuscript, it's usually a case of me being lazy and not putting the required thought into the passage. Without a doubt, it always reads better when I edit the cliche out and say clearly what needs to be said.

  5. The ditzy, slutty cheerleader. I detest that. And of course the cheerleader is a blond and has huge boobs and is a snot so there's no mistaking the fact that she's pure evil.

  6. janet says:

    It's more than 11!


  7. Melissa says:

    There's a cliche dictionary??? That's crazy!

    I have a cliche in my own writing – a hot-headed redhead. But I refuse to change it! I love her! Anyways. So I guess I'm fine with that one 😛

  8. Susan Fields says:

    I counted 13 cliches. I know I'm not supposed to use them, but sometimes they just say what I need to say so perfectly, which is I guess how they got to be cliches in the first place. I have to take them out of my writing all the time, but I'm sure I still miss a bunch.

    Thanks for coming by my blog – it's great to meet a new friend!

  9. Lydia K says:

    I get tired of seeing hearts pounding and mouths go dry when something scary happens in a book. We need to be more imaginative!

  10. Any novel without clichés isn't true to life. We speak in clichés, put them in our journals, read old books which formed them in the first place, and we sometimes live them – normally with a laugh or tear as we realized it. If you have characters who never say, hear, or encounter clichés, then you have dehumanized them. However, too many and it comes off poorly. And what is unused, unique, and brilliantly phrased in one place, may already be a cliché in speech in another.

    I counted 12 absolute cliches and 3 more possibles (I don't know if you would count them in your cirle or not). I will put my guess at your counting method in at 14.

  11. Lynn says:

    I was criticized for using 'bit lip' and now whenever I read that in a published piece I cringe! But, realistically, a cliche here and there isn't so bad. They can help the reader identify with the character.

  12. curlypow says:

    Love the post Janet. How many cliches, 12 by my count. Thanks for dropping by and commenting on the Paperback Princesses – thought I'd return the favour.

  13. Yes, I've had that comment on my work as well. Just a little reminder that writing is work. When it comes out too easily, then it's probably a little tired. But cliches in dialogue are fair game! Agree with Garrett.
    I'll say pretty much the whole post is. You've done a great job threading them in. Fun post.

  14. Cliches… I think we all fall victim to the cliche demon at some time or another, don't we? Loved you post! 🙂

  15. I got thirteen…but that's just a number…

    Great post…RGW is right we do use them in our dialogue and our thoughts.

    Happy New Year, Janet!

  16. If I win, send the candybar to Lenny….He needs to gain weight and I need to lose it.

  17. I have had a problem with cliches in the past and still do, I'm sure! I'm working on it, though. 🙂


  18. Christopher says:

    The Death of R. Cliche

    Now to be perfectly honest with you everything happens for a reason and what happened to Richard Cliche was a case of he who laughs last, laughs best. Unfortunately for Dick the fat lady was about to sing. What happened to Richard was as tragic as what the Islamic terrorists did on September 11th to kick off the War on Terror. Sometimes, of course, thats just the way the cookie crumbles. Now whether its your place or mine what goes around comes around and karma is what did 'ol Dick in. He would overuse the many forms of his family name. He stuck to his cliches like white on rice and when people got tired of it he'd simply reply it's not me, it's you. While the rest of them got sick of these tired phrases Richard hung onto them by the skin of his teeth. His cliches were the apple of his eye and his belief in them was good enough to die for. He tried and tried to think of new bits of wisdom because its been said that all good things come to those who wait. To Dick that seemed the best laid plan because it is better to be safe than sorry. But he lost friends and alienated everyone. He made his bed and now he must lie in it. Soon an angry mob formed with knives that were clean as a whistle. They came after Rich and he tried to calm them saying that you should "do unto others as you'd have done to you" but the crowd had been there, done that and weren't going to beat around the bush any longer. They thought they'd kill two birds with one stone by getting rid of Dick and with him all of the overused phrases he represented. Richard tried to give them his possessions as a bribe but they kicked his gift horse in the mouth. The beating of 'ol Dick was a near death experience. But the mob, they just didn't know what they had until it was gone. The longer he sat paralyzed, refusing to speak the more they missed him because absence makes the heart grow founder. Had he died he would have been out of site, out of mind. They'd come and visit, they would beg Richard to say some of his famous cliches. But he was hurt. He just didn't care. He was paralyzed and did not pity them in the least because a stiff dick has no conscience.

    something I wrote a few years ago that this reminded me of

  19. Beth says:

    I don't know if I have best/worst cliches, but I have a list of words that I use way too often!

  20. WritingNut says:

    Ahhh.. great timing for this… I think I have quite a few cliches in my MS. Editing is going to be FUN… 😀

  21. I use a document checker that searches for cliches (among other things). Its amazing how often we use them even though trying to avoid them.

  22. Saumya says:

    My WIP is with some great critique partners as we speak, so they'll probably unearth a lot of cliches! I do have writers as two of my MCs but tried to make them optimistic and cheerful instead of brooding and "tortured." Great post!

  23. Saumya says:

    P.S. I had no idea that I wasn't following you! This entire time I always thought I was and I realized it was because I always got to your blog via comment threads.

  24. I'm getting ready for revisions. I hope to catch my clichés. I think a few are okay since we see them in real life, but I don't want my writing to become stale and predictable with them.

  25. Amie Kaufman says:

    I'm with Stina, there's nothing worse than those moments when you spot one cliche, and begin to worry about where its friends are hiding.

    Best fun I ever had with cliches was at a trivia night, where there was an extra point for the table with the best continuation of the phrase 'it was a dark and stormy night…'.

    My sister won hands down and to public applause with her effort, which, uh, caused a blush here and there. Sometimes turning the cliche on its head is the answer!

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