This post originally appeared here.
Ever been dinged in a contest or in a critique for using a cliché? I sure have. What is a cliché? Here are a few general definitions I found.
- A cliché is an analogy characterized by its overuse. It may be true (‘Fat as a pig’), no longer true (‘work like a dog’) or inscrutable (‘right as rain’), but it has been overused to the point that its sole function is to mark its user as a lazy thinker.
- Being predictable and unimaginative; falling into a groove of human boredom; an old tired trend.
- Something that has been overdone to the point where it is now predictable. A fad that has either died or is dying out.
- Something that is lame and unimaginative, and, more importantly, has been done many times before.
Look carefully at these definitions. They are very applicable to our writing. I know you all have heard of the writing oracles Some One, They Say, and They Said. Their teachings and sayings have often been quoted to me in an effort to prevent me from using dreaded clichés. I shall be referring to their words of wisdom here.
I think, to a degree, clichés are unavoidable. I suggest we take clichés, bend and twist them and use them to our advantage. Fresh writing or cliché busting.
The actor, John Krasinski and Amazon took a lot of heat for casting him as CIA Analyst Jack Ryan in a Prime Original. Krasinski’s bulk of work had been in comedies. Critics said he was horribly miscast. He’d ruin the series. Well, huge cliché buster and surprise. He was brilliant.
In the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, the Cannibal, Lector, a brilliant physiologist, kills and eats part of his victims. Ewww! Think of all the Hollywood tough guys the director could have picked to play Lector. Each and every one evil, and diabolical. He chose Anthony Hopkins, a five-foot- six, middle aged, English Shakespearian actor whose only screen roles to date had been portrayals of gentle men. The performance Hopkins gives is chilling. Big cliché buster.
On more than one occasion, the oracle They Say has made it very clear we should not open a book, or a chapter, with our characters in bed. It’s cliché. They Say is also against opening with descriptions of the weather. It was a dark and stormy night. It was a bright sunny day.
Simple, and for me, cliché busters. Some One is against using cliché sayings. Think of the GIECO auto insurance commercials. They take cliché sayings bend and twist them and make them fun.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Really?
The little pig went wee, wee, wee all the way home.
Can a woodchuck chuck wood? In this commercial, we learn they can.
The Drill Sergeant Therapist.
These are cliché busters.
Take a look at the following clichés. Can you twist them to something new?
All’s well that ends well.
An oldie but goodie.
Pick of the litter.
Pay backs are hell.
I know it like the back of my hand.
Slept like a baby.
I’ll take the last one.
A detective asks his partner. “How did you sleep?”
His partner replies, “Like a baby. I woke up every two hours.”
They Said makes it clear we must stay away from stereotype cliché situations. Say my WIP is about a middle-aged Italian widow who loves to cook. She has two grown sons and she is constantly talking to them about marriage. What is the first image you conger up? A short plump woman standing in her kitchen stirring spaghetti sauce with a wooden spoon and lecturing her sons they need to get married and give her grandchildren.
Try this. A hot Italian cougar with her own TV cooking show who is desperate to get her sons to break up with the boring women they are considering marrying, sell their book store, and travel the world for fun and adventure. Cliché buster.
I do agree with They Say about descriptions having become predictable. Just once (yes I used just) I’d like the description of the handsome Lord in a historical to be a bit off.
Lord Brilliantly Handsome stormed into the room. His cravat appeared to be on backwards, his waistcoat was on inside out, his breeches buttoned askance and dear me, his boots were on the wrong feet. Where had his Lordship been and what had he been doing that led him to such disarray?
Or, the beautiful heroine has a penchant for wearing so many ribbons in her hair you can barely see said hair.
Oh come on, you know you’d like to see it happen. 🙂
Bottom line is, listen to our writing oracles. Avoid being a lazy thinker. Don’t use the same overused, predictable, unimaginative, boring clichéd openings, character descriptions, settings, and situations. Spin them, twist them, make them your own to thrill and amaze the rest of us.
Go through your WIP.
Can you identify a cliché you could rewrite?
Rita grew up on Florida’s east coast. She married a Marine and feels fortunate to have lived many places and traveled to the states and countries she didn’t live. She writes about extraordinary women and the men they love weaving her experiences into contemporary fiction and suspense thrillers.