Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 28, 2010

Clichés and How to Avoid Writing Them

Clichés are the metaphors and turns of phrase that have become tired through overuse.

You can be near the cliché, you can dance around it, you can run right up to it and almost embrace it. 

But at the last second you must turn away.  You must give it a twist.

Defy that inner voice that says, “Oh, well, no one will notice” – they will.

Give them the same thing…only different!

Even plots and characters can  be clichéd. Have you read a story where twins fool people into thinking they’re the same person? Or the family that has lost all their money and is about to lose their farm? If you want to use one of these old plotlines, it’s important to find a new spin. The same goes for clichéd characters, like the catty cheerleader or the airhead model. Use these stereotypes only if you can give them a twist.

But to know how to avoid the cliché, to know what tradition you are pushing forward, begins with knowing that tradition.  So you need to read and read some more. You need to read other writer’s books and discover what they did that worked.  You need to read with a critical eye to discover why it didn’t work, too.  If you want to write middle grade book, then read middle grade books.  You, also, need to read about writing middle grade books. 

1. You need to know the clichés, to give us the same thing… only different. 

2. You need to know what genre you’re writing, in order to invent a new twist.

3. You need to know the rules before you can break them.

We use clichés all the time when we talk, but there is less excuse for clichés in writing.  Why? A writer has more time to seek the right word and to avoid triteness. If, however, you decide a cliché is the best way to convey your meaning, then go ahead and use it. Don’t apologize for it by adding phrases like “if you’ll pardon the expression,” or “as the old saying goes.”

Here is a link that lists clichés http://www.suspense.net/whitefish/cliche.htm

Hope this gets you thinking as you revise your manuscripts.

Kathy

In every aspect of creation – from the idea, to the way characters speak, to the scenes themselves – putting a fresh spin on it is what you need to do.


Responses

  1. Great link– the cliches are pretty funny, and very much in use. Looking at the cliches actually makes it easier to come up with a different way to express those thoughts. Thanks!
    Jeanne

    Like

    • Jeanne,

      That’s what you are supposed to do. Use the same idea, but write it a different way.

      Kathy

      Like

  2. Boy, Kathy, you read me like a glove. Oh wait, that wasn’t even a cliche, it was two cliches combined!

    Thank you for that list. I printed it and am keeping it next to my computer so while I am omitting unnecessary words I can be sure I double-delete the cliches.

    Like

    • Nanci,

      Don’t you feel like a juggler sometimes, with all the things you need to remember?

      Kathy

      Like

  3. Hi Kathy,

    I love getting your e-mails. Out of all the blogs and writing sites I check out, yours I read every day.

    Can you recommend any good writing books specifically geared toward Picture Book writers. I have read quite a few writing books and many that cover children’s writing across the genres.. but I’m really hunkering for a juicy workshop like book that mainly focuses on picture books. Any suggestions?

    Thanks,
    Stacy

    Like

    • Stacy,

      Let me do some research on that. I have a ton of books, but I haven’t purchased any on picture books in a few years. So there maybe be something better. I guess you don’t live close enough to join us for our picture book intensive. I know that would really help. We do get people from all over the country come, but you may not be able to make it to New Jersey. Where are you located?

      Kathy

      Like

      • Kathy,

        I live in Chicago and do attend local classes, workshops and conferences whenever I can so that definitely helps. I’m also in a wonderful critique group.

        Wish I could make it to N.J.,sounds like a wonderful conference line-up. Money is tight (oops… a cliche’) let’s see instead I could say… I’ve only got a teaspoon of frosting to spread on the whole darn cake.

        Sometimes I think the best teachers are the published Picture Books that are already on the shelves. Thanks for any book suggestions you come up with.

        Stacy

        Like

      • Stacy,

        That’s great that you live in Chicago. I am sure there are lots of opportunities to learn and improve your writing in your area. And you are fortunate to have a critique group that you like. I am asking around to get a consensus about the best books. I will get back to you on that.

        Here’s hoping your teaspoon of frosting whips up into a bowl of frosting soon.

        Kathy

        Like

      • Thanks : )

        Stacy

        Like

      • Stacy,

        My pleasure.

        Kathy

        Like

  4. […] who’s the “worn-out cliche” police, anyway?  You’ll have to pry cliches from my cold dead hands.  No one is listening to the […]

    Like

    • I love cliches. It’s the editors who don’t. I guess they are looking for the writer who will give them the next new cliche.

      Kathy

      Like


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