Roses have thorns
The sky is blue
All I want to say
Is that I love you.

What is, exactly, a cliché? If a cliché is an idea, sentence or pun, commonly known because it got repeated to the point of exhaustion: How many times do I have to say it to become a cliché?

I’ve read many times that the sky is blue, but I also read it was grey: all colours of the rainbowpitch-black in a new moon and mysterious in a full moon; romantic in sunset and promising with each new sunrise. What if I describe the sky, instead? I’ve heard the clouds look like cotton, fluffy pillows, candy floss

To identify a cliché, ask someone who isn’t a creative writer (or a writer that isn’t creative — they’re out there!), to describe love. Well, love cannot be described♡♡♡♡ If you’re confident you’re not that kind of writer, give it a go and write a romantic paragraph in a stream-of-conscientiousness. The easiest way to write without editing your thoughts is to limit your time: set an alarm to 10 minutes and write.

Clichés come easy when you don’t think about them; it’s natural to realize your first draft is packed with them. They are little pieces of information, previously recorded in our brain cells, that represent a universal and usually undoubted truth. Before a cliché rises (or should that be ‘falls’?) to the title of cliché, it sounds like genius!

If you pay attention to the kind of clichés people are using more often within a social group, you’ll be grasping the mental frame and beliefs of its social brain. Zoom out, look for the clichés used in different eras, and you’ll learn about humankind’s social evolution.

The problem is, the same way you aren’t thinking about clichés while writing, so isn’t everyone else who’s reading them. They are blank patches intertwined with your prose or, if you insist on using them, little black holes. Or cheese!

Depending on context, a piece of information, metaphor or simile, can be a cliché or not. I sigh with boredom every time I read about another child who looked like an angel, was really smart for his age, had big blue eyes and long eyelashes. But if you say that about a frog, I’m all ears!

Forget about the profound meaning a particular cliché you love once had. They will be read as fast and nonexistent as the standard speech-tag ‘he said’. (Good speech-tags are meant to be invisible.) If you don’t know what to write instead, there are two solutions.

1) Go crazy. Make the weirdest connections possible until one fits with your thoughts and isn’t that far gone that nobody else understands it but you. 2) If you’re describing a place, a person or a feeling, select the bits of information that are the most original of all. Do you know the sayingMy life would make a great novel! ? What makes that place, person or feeling so memorable and different from what everyone else already saw, knew or experienced?

We talk with clichés because we can convey meaning without having to explain much. Actually, it’s true, the sky was blue today; it didn’t even rain. For Ireland it means it was a very nice November day. Which is worlds apart from Australia.

One of the first things I’ve heard when I arrived here, was: “It’s always raining but it’s how we have 41 shades of green!” It sounded lovely, until I heard it again, and again, and again… So there’s a place in your novel suitable for clichés: dialogue. Your most annoying character may talk in them, the rest will use them sparingly.

“I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.” — Diane Sawyer

In any other paragraphs, think about a cliché as if it was the Bogeyman and run for your life! (And that’s another cliché, by the way).

*All underlined expressions, under the specific contexts they are in, are clichés.


9 thoughts on “Clichés

  1. Nice one V, my problem is that when I actually get the time to write I tend to speed it all down as fast as possible and clichés, as you well know, do tend to creep into my work.
    I’d love to have the patience to say, “Today Reggie, it’s quality that counts, not how many words you can get down” but I never do; relying mostly on the story to keep the reader occupied, (with varying success rates).

    • But Reg, you are doing everything right. When we are writing our first draft is not time to think: it’s time to write the story. Full stop.

      “it’s natural to realize your first draft is packed with them”

      We all write cliches. It’s only while reviewing the draft, in the edition process (when we check for grammar and spelling), that we substitute cliches with more original expressions.

      You are a good writer Reg. Really.

      • You’re right, of course, but my problem in life is that I have the attention span of an orange and lose interest once the story’s down.
        I really will have to grow up and be more structured in my approach to writing, lol.

        • That’s interesting. From what I read in several books about novel writing, it’s the first draft – fleshing the story out – that’s always difficult and often the less enjoyable part of the process. I haven’t heard of a writer (apart from you, now) that doesn’t enjoy the process of editing, turning what they’ve wrote into something even better, dwelling on the best words and feeling proud and excited when they finally find them, but also, moving scenes around, adding to the story (that’s editing as well).

          I don’t know why you feel that way. Usually I hate doing things that I’m not good at, so if this is your case it will pass and you’ll start to enjoy it the more you learn about editing.

          Remember: “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” – Samuel Johnson

          There are self-published novels out there – will not specify which – that I’ve read and could grasp that the authors had something good underneath it all, if they had work at it a little harder after the first draft. I’m not talking about your draft; but reading others that assume they are genius enough to write a publishable book first hand… got me thinking.

          It’s good to just write without thinking if you are only writing for yourself, but if you want people to understand your story completely, isn’t it a bit odd to assume we all think and read stories the same way, therefore assuming that our first draft doesn’t need editing?

          Again, I’m not talking about your manuscript. I haven’t read it yet. But this is a sensible subject that got me thinking. Aren’t some writers arrogant or just naive, when they write from start to finish, don’t get an agent, don’t bother to study the craft and improve their novel, and go ahead and self-publish the damn thing thinking the rest of the publishing world is just unfair when they haven’t even tried to learn what stands for a good novel?

          It’s like trying to do a website, without studying what I’ve studied (my case, web and graphic design), not trying to learn by themselves either, and just building a crappy web page and trying to convince companies that they should hire them as web designers!

          Oh well… maybe I’ll write a post about it someday… but it’s a sensitive subject…

  2. Unfortunately, I’m still confused what makes a clichés (how do you type that e? I just copy-pasted). :( :(

    By the way, those blockquoted sentences are harder to read as they become almost invisible. :(

  3. You’re right of course, it defintely is a form of arrogance to expect the publishing world to conform to my standards but I suppose it mirrors my attitude and commitment to writing at the moment.
    Shoddy, lol.
    Ah well, like I wrote earlier, perhaps one day I’ll grow up ;-)

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