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Thread: Cliche' ?

  1. #1
    Busy Lizzy

    Cliche' ?

    Although I like to read Wolfe's critiques of queries posted in this forum (and have myself profited from his helpful advice, thanks Wolfe!), I must admit that I've got my problems with his use of the label "cliche'".

    What makes expressions that are normal and useful in our everyday language tabu?

    If expressions or words are used so frequently that you get a deja vue from them, I would say that's OK for me. Why should we kill ourselves in trying to avoid them? (And trying to find some type of inadequate replacement?)

    Just wondering.

    Busy Lizzy

  2. #2
    Kate Humphrey

    Re: Cliche' ?

    The suggestion is always to avoid cliches. The reason for this is because, as writers, a lot of people would prefer that you use words that really mean what you want them to mean instead of resorting to old used phrases. It's true that the words that you provide yourself are usually more true to what you are trying to describe. Of course, if it really says what you mean, I suppose you can use it, but a lot of phrases are really worn out, and would do better with novel descriptions. KAte

  3. #3
    Simon Says

    Re: Cliche' ?

    One thing you can do with cliches that works to your advantage is to spin them in some clever way (i.e. change a word or two to alter the meaning in an unexpected way.)

    Of course there's a fine line between clever - and groan inducing at times, so proceed with caution.

  4. #4
    Atlantic Beach

    Re: Cliche' ?

    Sometimes a cliche in one culture is fresh in another. When a friend and her spouse split, the English relatives asked if she had "another man in the cupboard."

    The phrase "walk a mile in someone else's mocassins" is trite while if I were in his "combat boots" is not too bad.

    I don't like "her biological clock" but it's a shortcut to the time limit a woman has to procreate. Maybe it could be applicable to a man as well, but elderly daddies might disagree.

  5. #5
    Arden Wolfe

    Re: Cliche' ?

    Thank you Busy.

    Every cliché began fresh and unique. But when a phrase becomes commonplace it loses its value—thus the cliché. Authors who use them get called hacks. We expect writers to use their creativity when they express feeling through words. When used, a cliché shows readers a writer lacked imagination.

    Clichés leech the energy from prose like parasites in the body. Readers skip these ‘known’ phrases and word-craft loses strength and meaning. Emotions and actions fail when paired with clichés because—again—readers skip them. If the audience starts skipping passages, they lose interest. Every word must count.

    Clichés use broad and familiar strokes to paint their meaning. So broad, the expression gets lost.

    It was raining cats and dogs.

    What feeling did you get? Tell me how hard it rained. Tell me what the sky looked like, the sound, the feeling, the taste. See how the phrase lacks specifics?

    The sky’s soldiers opened their eyes. Tears speared the earth, cold and bitter in defeat. The thunder cannoned lightning’s banner, ozone thick on the palate, wind howling Death’s arrival to the battlefield.

    What feeling did you get this time? Did you see, smell, hear, feel, and taste it? What scene did I describe without telling you about the prior one? Also, notice how I connect the unknown previous scene with this one? See how the weather became a character for the story? A cliché cannot do this in areas critical such as the beginning or ending. It cannot raise the senses. It cannot elicit emotion. See the difference?

    Yes, I used more words. Again, clichés paint broad strokes. A talented writer wants to give specifics. Not too specific, mind, but enough to lead the reader to emotions.

    Clichés defeat writing’s strength: emotion. A cliché steals emotions and images critical to prose.

    Finally, agents and editors look for clichés in your writing. To them, clichés signal an amateur and laziness. That combination generates rejections. Don’t use them if you want to see your work published.

    Hope this helped. As always, just my humble opinion.


  6. #6
    Simon Says

    Re: Cliche' ?

    "It's raining cats and more cats, and I mean big cats - the kind that can rip a dog - not to mention a water buffalo - to shreds and then dine on the carcass."

    Do you get a sense of how hard it's raining?

    Do you think that twisting the cliche made the point as well, or better, than any number of ways I could have chosen to have the character get the point across that it's raining really hard?"

    Do you know that we are preconditioned to react in certain ways when we hear cliches because we are expecting them to go down in a certain way, and that twisting them can actually elicit emotion because they contain an element of surprise?

    Do you know it takes effort and creativity to spin a cliche? In fact it's quite difficult to do.

    I don't recommend doing it a lot - but a well placed twist on a cliche can add flavor to your writing.

    Twist away, good people of WN.


  7. #7
    Joe Zeff

    Re: Cliche' ?

    Another example of twisting a cliche: "He was the type of man who'd shoot first and think of questions he should have asked later."

  8. #8
    Arden Wolfe

    Re: Cliche' ?

    Dressing up a cliché is like pouring perfume on dog mess. It’s still sh*t.

    Quit pushing buttons, Simon. I don’t appreciate your agenda. Please get over it. I have and I suggest you do the same.


  9. #9
    Simon Says

    Re: Cliche' ?

    I have no agenda, Arden.

    I like to twist cliches - I write a lot of comedy and it's a device that works well in comedy. But I discovered that by, you know. reading a lot of comedy and writing a lot of comedy not reading books about the rules of writing comedy which may or may not contain the notion of twisting a cliche.

    Just because someone sees things differently from you, doesn't mean they are wrong or are trying to prove you wrong.

    And just because something is the prevailing wisdom or the literary rules or what agents say they want - doesn't mean that a writer can't take liberties.

    Many of the best writers take liberties, and they succeed not in spite of the rule breaking, but in part because of it.

    The issue with cliches and writing has less to do with particular phrases than with particular hackneyed story elements, plot devices, situations that we've seen ad infinitim.

    I'm not championing the use of cliches but your passionate take on all that is wrong with the use of them and all the horrible things that will befall a writer for even owning a book with a cliche in it is, pardon the cliche, is a bit over the top.

  10. #10
    L Bea

    Re: Cliche' ?


    I don't necessarily think cliches should be dismissed, though their use definitely needs to be appropriate.

    Sometimes, it's the right thing to say. It's something the reader can relate to. "Mom used to say that." Or they know exactly the tone of voice in which one would say it. They've experienced it.

    It's a fine line. Writing can get lazy. Cliches can be the symptom of that. Use strong words. Paint a vivid picture.

    Damn! No umbrella. I ran to the car anyway. It was raining cats and dogs! I couldn't get the key to unlock the door. I was beyond wet at this point. My jeans stuck to my legs and my hair that I'd spent all that time blow-drying was plastered to my face.


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