How many times have you read a book and thought: ‘Now, where have I read this before?’ That is one of the first indications that you’ve entered into cliché territory. The word ‘cliché’ can be pretty vague with people often wondering what exactly it could mean. What are clichés in writing and why are they considered so harmful? This article will not only explore what they are, but also how to avoid using them in your writing.
In layman’s terms, clichés are phrases and expressions that have been so grossly overused with time that they’ve become largely meaningless. How many times have you read ‘in a nutshell’ and thought: not this again! That’s exactly what a cliché does. It tends to annoy the reader to the point that they simply overlook or ignore the clichés in the writing, or worse, put down the book altogether.
Examples Of Clichés In Writing
There are many examples of clichés, such as ‘one bird in hand is better than the two in the bush’, ‘a chip off the old block’, or ‘laughter is the best medicine’. They might have been in vogue many years ago, but due to overuse, they’ve become tedious. However, clichés can also be found in descriptions and overall themes.
The Delicate Heroine And The Strong-Jawed Hero
These descriptions are found in so many books that they’ve effectively become clichés. The ‘delicate as a daisy’ heroine who falls in love with the dark, handsome and athletic hero. While this may have once been very popular, and still has a lot of fans, most readers want to steer clear of this storyline. They’re more interested in three dimensional characters. Even when using this specific storyline, you can easily turn this cliché into an original concept and explore why the heroine is delicate and good-natured. What happened in her life that made her like that? How do the trials and tribulations of life awaken a darker side to her character? Now, we have something the reader would be more interested in reading. Similarly, the dark and handsome man could have a back story which allows us to envision him as a three-dimensional character.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an excellent example of a story that defies all sort of clichés. It is a bold and original idea which is why it took off so well upon publication. Readers simply couldn’t get enough of Amy and Nick Dunne precisely because they were so unexpected.
Using Dreams Or The Weather To Start A Book
Starting off a book with a dream may sound like a brilliant idea, but it is not the most inventive. It has been used many times in the past to the point that readers quite simply skim through this to get to the actual content. Similarly, using the weather as a prop is also an example of a cliché. If the weather is somehow pushing the plot forward, then that is acceptable, but using it just for the sake of it is unoriginal and meaningless. Similarly, if the dream sequence is doing something to help the story along, then it makes sense, but including it just to increase the word count would not be a wise idea.
Using Well-Worn Plot Lines That Readers Have Become Well Versed To
How much do you look forward to reading about a love triangle? Not much, right? It is such an overused trope that most readers simply sigh when they encounter two people who’ve fallen in love with the same person. In the past, this storyline has worked really well, but precisely because of that, it has become a bit of a cliché now. People want to read something different, something that takes them out of their comfort zone. If you add the demands of technology and social media with people not having enough time, it is more important than ever for stories to be fresh and fast-paced. If there’s a twist to the old love triangle, then that may be worth exploring, but it is quite obvious that we’ve outgrown the traditional love triangle.
How To Avoid Clichés In Writing
It may not be possible to completely avoid all the types of cliché in your writing, but you can definitely weed out most of them if you try. First of all, it is very important to edit and proofread your work. That in itself helps in highlighting any clichés that you may have used. The key is to put some time between writing and editing. Once you’re done writing your book or story, put it in a drawer and forget about it for a few weeks or a month. Afterwards, when you look at it with a fresh set of eyes, the clichés will jump right at you. It will be much easier to catch them.
While editing your work, pay close attention to sentences or passages that bore you or sound rehearsed. Chances are that those are clichés. For example, if you have used the weather to initiate conversation between two characters, try making the weather an important factor in the plot, or maybe change the thread of the conversation entirely. Changing the overall tone of the sentence or completely rephrasing it can also help in eliminating clichés.
Another way to avoid clichés is to think outside the box. Even if you’re writing a stereotypical plot that veers into cliché territory like a love triangle, adding original ideas can help make it stand out. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer might feature a traditional love triangle, but the reason it became such a huge hit is that Meyer added the vampire and werewolf element to help the plot stand out. In addition to that, there were other more complex plot strings that helped the series rise above the competition.
Why Should We Avoid Clichés?
The reason for avoiding is simple: readers don’t want to read them. Not only do they make the writing seem clunky and boring, but they can also transform a perfectly fresh idea into a stale mess. Often our brains simply skim this kind of writing as it sounds repetitive or rehashed.
Also, clichés are not good for a writer’s reputation. Using too many of these phrases and descriptions can cause you to be accused of being lazy or sloppy. Even if the novel is exploring a fresh idea that hasn’t been attempted in the past, the use of clichés can ruin its overall effect which is the last thing a writer could want.
Another reason to avoid clichés is that they can make the writing look shallow especially where it shouldn’t. Imagine for a moment that you’re writing a very tense scene between the two protagonists in your novel which will serve as a climax of sorts, and at the opportune moment, one of the characters ends up saying, ‘what goes around comes around.’
Not only would this deflate the entire scene, but it might actually make the reader abandon the book altogether because of course they’d expect something deeper from the character considering it’s the climax.
Are Clichés Necessarily A Bad Thing?
I think the general consensus will remain that clichés in writing should be avoided. They make the writing seem dull, sloppy and uninspiring. They squeeze the life out of an interesting plot. However, in some cases, it may not be a bad thing to include a cliché or two especially when it looks like readers might be looking for something familiar.
Think of it like when editors ask writers to use fewer adjectives and adverbs, or to use them when it is absolutely necessary. The same could apply for clichés. Sometimes, it could be imperative to use a familiar phrase, or indeed, to repeat something for greater impact. Readers might enjoy the familiarity and that could help them immerse themselves in the book more.
Looking at the above points, it is pretty obvious that clichés can dampen or completely ruin the impact of good writing. They include phrases, similes, metaphors or descriptions that have lost their meaning over time and are just easily overlooked and ignored by readers. Using too many clichés in writing can make writers look lazy and unoriginal.
It is important to avoid clichés by thoroughly editing and proofreading any work you produce and being more aware of what you are writing. Obviously, nobody plans on writing clichés… they have a knack for finding their way into a piece of writing. The key is to keep an eye out. The more clichés that are eliminated, the better and less clunky the writing will be.
While in some cases it may be pertinent to include a cliché or two for familiarity or effect, for the most part, clichés should be avoided to make your writing stand out. Readers today are looking for fresh, authentic voices with plots that shock and enthral them in equal measure. There is no room for clichés anymore.
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