Sunday, May 16, 2010

Overused and Underdone

What makes a cliche? Is there a point in time, a certain mile marker when a word or phrase can wear the label "cliche"? And who decides? Obviously, those who write have learned that they must avoid them, that editors cringe at the sight of them, and it's a quick trip to the trash can or reject pile if you don't toss them out of your final draft.

It's difficult though. They are like a particular song that gets stuck in your head. You want to clear your mind of it, but it just keeps playing and playing and playing. You think of nothing else. Cliches are there in our minds, concrete walls that block our creative construction. And it probably doesn't matter when we write our first draft. That, after all, is when we keep the story moving; it's our main purpose. But then when it's time to get rid of them, replacing them with some original lines of our own ... not so easy. Do it anyway! It's worth the hard work and effort.

A couple of tips:

Deciding if a cliche is really a cliche - try checking out websites like,
Cliche Site or West Egg . They might help you make a decision. Another way is to have someone else hear you say the first half of the phrase, and then see if he can finish it. Cliches usually pop up in a person's mind immediately.

To anti-cliche - take a cliche and try replacing words to work it into something original. For instance, "when all's said and done" could become "when nothing is left to do or say", or something like that. The point is to leave them out, even if the language you replace them with isn't clever and witty. Cliches are just that much worse.

Not everyone will agree on what is cliche. And some will be unavoidable - by choice or not. However, original writing is what to strive for. Who knows? One day your unique weave of words may even become a cliche!


Sarah said...

I try to avoid them, but like you mentioned here :), it's difficult.

teacherwriter said...

I'd rank it in the top five headaches when I'm revising. :-) Thanks, Sarah