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Keep Those Clichés Coming

*Guest post by: Jenna Victoria

It’s common knowledge that clichés should be the last thing on our minds when we put pen to paper. We are told to send each and every cliché in our manuscripts off to oblivion. Using trite phrases is second nature to us, though. We fall back on them like well worn shoes. They say what we mean to say. They fit like a glove.

Those tried and true sentences flow like honey when we attempt to provide our readers with a bird’s eye view of our story world or insight into who’s who in our cast of characters.

Cliché is a common denominator as we breath life into the personality of our characters, turning them into cardboard cutouts or caricatures. Alice has blonde hair (caught back with a blue ribbon) and is sweet and unassuming. Rosalita, a flamboyant spitfire, has ebony curls that tumble down her back, and eyes that flash when she’s angry. Gareth is a dark-eyed, dark-haired loner with a haunted expression and a gaze that sears into our very souls. Naturally.

Even our villains and their motivations can fall under the umbrella of cliché: the owner of big, bad company greedily covering up environmental issues, or an unrepentant mercenary hired to kill the heroine or the hero, or their family. Don’t forget the wild-eyed, crazy religious zealot who keeps his wife or daughter on a short leash or under lock and key.

Readers encountering clichés or careworn plots or stereotypes will get irritated and think, “Can’t they write something original?” and put down the rest of the book without finishing. That’s bad.

Even worse, the use of cliché is what stands in the way of an agent or editor seeing your own personal voice – because you’re hiding that voice behind the turn of a well-worn phrase or an oft-used metaphor.

So, why title this blog post, Keep Those Cliché’s Coming?  Here are four reasons to consider.

  1. Cliché’s give breathing room to writers.
  • Give yourself permission to write clichés in the first round.  Use them as placeholders, to put a good-enough description in place as you move forward to finish the next chapter, and the next. If you dither over how to describe something, throw in a cliché and call it a day. A rolling stone gathers no moss, after all.
  • Then, when the book is completed in rough draft, you can go back to page one and start hunting, changing each instance of ho-hum into a fresh example of brilliance.
  • Let the cliché serve as fuel for similar, but less hackneyed phrases. I recently took an online class called the Rule of Six for Plotting with author Shirley Jump, and learned that the first five ideas (or thoughts) we have as plot ideas or descriptions are the overused ones, or low hanging fruit. Write down those five cliché’s that comes to mind – and then think deeper. How else can you say the same thing?  Once we get to the sixth idea, it’s usually something original.
  • If your hero compliments the heroine by saying, “Your eyes shine brighter than the moon,” that’s a cliché. However, if you add the words, “on steroids” – they give it new life. What can you add to the end of a cliché to make it fresh for your fictional situation?
  • The phrase “Your eyes shine brighter than the moon. On steroids” above, gets even more of a punch if your hero (or the heroine!) is a body builder. The statement turns into something believable, and becomes an inside joke that the reader “gets”.
  1. Cliché’s are springboards.
  1. Dead cliché’s can “get a life” if you add to them
  1. Give cliché’s genuine details about a character’s life- and they become infinitely more interesting. Relate a cliché to your character’s family, or profession, or superstitions and it soars above the rest.

Of course, when all is said and done, clichés do detract from your writing ability, and not add to it. Take this blog post as an example. How many clichés could you identify? More than a baker’s dozen, I wager. I guarantee your eyes glossed over each one.  Not the reaction a writer wants from a reader.

Ultimately, the very best way to use a cliché is in avoidance. Tell the story that only you can tell – a story that uses words that no-one else on earth has ever written in that exact same way.

And you’ll see. The world will become your (literary) oyster.

Jenna Victoria is an aspiring inspirational romantic suspense author who is working on a three-part series set in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. She serves as President of Faith, Hope and Love, Romance Writer of America’s online inspirational chapter, and is a member of ACFW, LIRW, and My Book Therapy.


About Jess Keller

I'm an author, speaker and chocolate eater who's chasing hard after my dreams.

2 responses »

  1. I’ve done the “add to” technique. It was tough but a lot of fun to come up with cliches that would have meaning to a contractor. Love the post!

  2. Great post!! I like your idea of using a cliche and then giving it a twist


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