Monday, July 26, 2010

The Rebellious Writer—Killing Clichés

Who wants to be ordinary? Especially when it comes to writing novels, we should seek the thrill of creating unique characters, original phrases or dazzling descriptions. We need to become killers of cliché. Because if we don’t slay the cliché our work becomes same old. Same old. And it holds no appeal.

I’m guilty of being a bandit writer. Slap up a Wanted poster with my face on it. I’m okay with that. In fact, sometimes I’m such a word outlaw that my descriptions get a little carried away in my first drafts. I try things. I’m unafraid. Some work. Some are laughable. I delete the ones that don’t. But ah, the imaginative ones that leap off the page…isn’t that what fresh writing is all about? Isn’t that where Voice is born?

Sometimes it’s difficult to discern whether a phrase is cliché or not. If you are in debate, it’s likely you’ve lassoed a cliché. Now what are you going to do about it?

Good questions to ask yourself when you are poised with sword in hand, prepared to slash the over-populated breed:

Have I heard this before?
Is this original?
Is any part of this overly familiar?
Am I bored when I read this?
Does this add to my work in any way?
Am I moving the story along or is this same old… same old?
Does this help paint a picture for my reader?

How do you feel about clichés when you write or when you read? Are they easy to spot? Do you find enjoyment out of being a bandit writer, challenging the status quo and killing off clichés?

*photos by flickr
**It's good to be back from vacation. I had a wonderful visit with family.


  1. It came as no surprise that you are a word outlaw! I can just sense that you push the edges of creativity with your words and writing! I don't always force myself to do that often enough. I think there is something to be said for using the familiar in our writing. It may be too tiring for our readers to have to wade through writing that avoids anything that is comfortable and familiar. Not saying we should use cliches. But I think we do need to find a balance that doesn't take the reader from our stories. Love your list of questions!

  2. Um--you know from our class that I am now looking through my book for all of them! And they are there, she said with a clenched jaw and pounding heart.

  3. I think they can be used but maybe tweaked a little, ya know??? :O)

  4. Join my posse, girl! We'll take the west!
    Yes. I just finished an acclaimed book LITTERED with cliches.

    The one exception is dialogue. I think cliches work in tight, well-constructed dialogue.

    Go round 'em up, girl!

  5. You clever woman, you! I thought last night, "Someone needs to write a post about cliche's."

    My first ms. was replete with the little buggers, but I worked hard at keeping them out of my second ms. Sometimes, it's tougher than nails--OOPS!!!--to create an original phrase.

    Thanks for your help, Wendy.

    P.S. Did I just see a 300 on your followers!!!! Whoo-hoo to you!!! High ten from Paris, IL. Have your DH take you out to supper for that!!!!

  6. Those are great questions to ask! I'm not a fan of cliche and work very hard to make sure my writing feels/sounds fresh. It's not easy!!

    I'm glad you're back! I was missing you, my friend!

  7. My first draft is full of cliches, but by the time I get to my rewrite I try to be ruthless about cutting them.

  8. I don't always spot my cliches. My critique group, however, is all over them when they appear, thank goodness.

  9. I agree with Jody on this one. I try to avoid cliches and I love the challenge of writing fresh. But I find that books that overwrite to avoid them just become distracting. It's a delicate balance.

  10. Cliches can be a problem, but I usually only see them as a problem in amateur writers. They can stick out in unpolished writing and really drag it down. That said, I've read some amazing books that use cliches and they don't bother me because they work. Like Sarah says, it can be a delicate balance.

  11. Your creativity and boldness come as NO surprise! :) I love your thought-provoking blog and your turn of phrase.

    I love to come up with the unusual, quirky, or funny, but I sometimes fear that I'm going overboard.

  12. Your writing is so original, cliches don't seem to be much of a problem. I try to expand my writing and leave them out but sometimes when I get caught up in a scene and I just have to get it out, cliches pop up. Then I have to go back and weed through them. Always a learning process :)

  13. Why, Wendy Miller, you mad cap! :P (Tombstone is my husband's favorite movie!)

    I'm with Cindy, I go with cliche when it comes to mind, then tweak on the re-write.

  14. I don't like cliches, and I am surprised to pick up new books that are riddled with them. If writing a retro novel, though, I think they can be good to remind people of what was once cliche is now sometimes obscure. Great topic! I always enjoy your blog, Wendy.

  15. Cliches come easy a pie to me. And then I jerk to a stop and have to "think." :)

  16. Good checklist. I am not crazy about cliches, but spot them in my writing sometimes. I work to limit or keep them out. Thanks for the food for thought:)

  17. LOVE your tips! One of my favorite parts of editing is killing cliches! I don't mind if they go in the first draft, that way I'll know where I would like something better said.

  18. I loathe cliches. And yes, they do sometimes pop up in my work. If I spot them I am quick to kill them. That is what second drafts are for.

  19. Jody, I agree with balance and the appeal of comfort and familiar. Great point.

    Terri, How cool that Camy posted about cliches today. Fun to be in sync like that.

    Diane, Tweaked...hmmm. If I spot 'em, I can 'em. Come up with something fresh. That's just me. They had it comin'.

    Wow, Patti, What a great thought. Cliches in dialogue could almost be essential for certain characters. Very interesting. Thinking on this and nodding my head in agreement. Saddle up and let's head West!

    Jeanette, I tapped into your thoughts. I do that often. Don't mind me. ;) And 300! How about that! Pretty exciting. I made salmon tonight and pretended I was eating out. Does that count?

    Katie, I missed you too. Thanks for the book suggestion and from reading your work I can tell you put such thought into each sentence. It's fresh!

    Julie, That second draft really is murder isn't it? ;)

    Amy, I love having a critique group for that reason and so many others.

    Sarah, I'm with you. There can be an awkward forced thing happening when you dodge cliches too much. I say write crazy fast and without thinking during draft one. If they come, they come. You can always kill them off in draft two.

    Michelle, It gets annoying for me when you begin to expect a cliche to surface from a work. That says something and not the kind of something you want to say.

    Erica, Thank you. I can't wait to meet you! I'm unafraid to go overboard in draft one. I can always tone it down. So I let it fly in the first draft. Let it fly.

    Cindy, Thanks. That means a lot coming from someone who I know has read a lot of my work. It truly is a learning process. Tackle this over here to see that adverb problem is hanging out over there.

    Beth, I can honestly say that's the first time I've been called mad cap. I rather liked it. Yes, yes I did.

    Thanks, Kathy. I like that point, somethings that once were cliche were obscure. Thinking on that.

    Karen, You are too much fun. I have a feeling we would laugh well together.

    Karen, Food. I'm craving chocolate...oh, you said food for thought. Glad I could provide that. Could you provide the chocolate? We have none in the house.

    T.Anne, Thanks about the tips and you make a point. Finding the cliches in draft one helps you know which areas need to be reworded.

    Tabitha, From what I've read of your blog I think this is not an area you struggle with. You have a unique voice.

    We enjoyed a gorgeous day here. Breezy and sunny. My favorite. I'm in editing central. Cracking down on two manuscripts and one sheets...etc. Also getting so much from a self-editing class with Camy Tang.

    Going to sleep well.

    Here's to hoping you sleep well too.
    ~ Wendy

  20. Hi Wendy -

    Congrats on reaching 300 Followers!

    I use cliches when I talk, but avoid them when working on my novels. Perhaps it's because I don't like reading them. Now, if I could erase them from my speech patterns, I'd be...oops! I almost said, "a happy camper."

    Susan :)

  21. One of my favorite books, Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, opens up either in the Prologue or the first chapter with an overused phrase, but it didn't bother me because it fit with what she was saying. With that being said, I personally try to stay away from any kind of cliche, and if what I write even remotely sounds cliche, I nix it and try to go at the sentence/description/etc. from another angle.

  22. Somehow clichés always have a way of sneaking into my rough drafts. On the first round of edits, I usually miss them because I’m so focused on getting the story on the page. My husband, however, has a keen eye for pointing out those little weak spots, and if he is reading along I’ll flag it so I can go back and rework the copy later.

  23. My husband is often the one who tells me something I've written is a cliche.

    Personally, I believe we all tend to think in cliches without realizing it.

    I want you to check out my Monday post. I just know you'll like it.:-)

    How are you these days?

  24. Wendy:
    I have been guilty, handcuff me. Someone pointed out cliches or almost cliches in my writing that I didn't realize I had used.

  25. This is a challenge and sneaky fun of writing historical fiction. I'm careful to use only words and idioms characteristic of the culture. Which means they may be cliché, but they'll be 3,000 year old clichés that aren't cliché now. :D

  26. Hi. I just found your post through Cassandra's blog.
    I totally get what you mean about the bandit writing. I do it privately all the time but get scared while writing for someone else to see in case it's so far off it makes absolutely no sense. I don't in anyway class myself as a "writer" anyway, but when I do let my words out by pen i find ones come that I would never normally speak..ever. It's amazing actually. And I'm positive that my writing is also riddled with cliché's. Gugh!!
    great post. I look forward to reading along further :)

  27. great questions. As a newbie, I've been working hard on avoiding cliches.


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