C is for Cliche

cisforclicheC is for Cliché

I’m presuming most of you already know to look out for those phrases that make everyone roll their eyeballs (is that one there?) but are you watching for it in your story? I ask this because only recently did I realize I’d committed a major writing faux pas.

I had a mirror scene.

I can hear you gasping. I know. I thought it was a legitimate way for the reader to take a peek at my main character, but now that I know what a “mirror scene” is, I will avoid it like a yawn-inducing plague. (Avoid using ‘avoiding the plague’ unless you’re writing about a plague.)

And, because I know to look for ye ol’ dreaded mirror scene (did you know ‘ye’ is actually short for ‘the’ and not ‘you’? I just learned that), I am on the prowl for other story clichés. I am no editor or agent, but I’m guessing a few well-placed story clichés are acceptable, but for the most part, if your reader can guess what happens next, why would they bother reading it?  And if they’re not reading it, why bother writing it?

There are some readers that adore it. Someone in my marriage, not me, happens to relish it. He (just gave it away didn’t I?) wants to know that things will work out. The hero will score with babe, overcome the obstacles, and vanquish the villains. And he wants to know these things WILL happen through a set of traditional queues. I can’t stand that type of story. I outgrew that in junior high. Surprise me! I think most readers are like me, or I should say, I hope my readers will be like me and expect surprise. Go on, darling, wow me!

I looked for something online that would give me (and you) a handy way of finding these types of scenes, but I couldn’t find much. So here are my best guesses.

1. Run your MS by your critique group. Don’t have one? You need to find one, ASAP (that’s a bonus tip). It’s not good enough to have a friend read it over, because even a friend in the biz isn’t going to be your most objective critic. It’s like a doctor treating a family member. Don’t do it. Find someone(s) whose work you respect and swap an MS. It’s good to have critique partners who write other genres to help you balance out your work, but you need someone who writes the same genre that you do, too. You need someone else’s eye to see the predictable stuff.

2. Read your MS into a voice recorder and listen to it. Sometimes the ear can pick things up that your eye would never catch.

3. Ask yourself, “is this the strongest/best way to say this?” Sometimes it will be a cliché, but because it’ll be rare in your MS, it’ll stand out, in a good way.

Do you have any tips for catching these little boogers? Are you cliché-aware? Have you found any good resources that helped you sift the clichés from your work?


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7 thoughts on “C is for Cliche

  1. Tom Threadgill

    You need to think outside the box! Ugh. I hate that cliche more than any other, I think. That’s one reason I plot as little as possible. Leave room for twists and turns! Thanks for sharing, D.L.!

  2. April Gardner

    This week, I read a great definition of a cliche–Cliche’s impede clear perception, feeling, or thought. Cliches are verbal molds into which we force experience. Instead of shaping reality for ourselves, we accept it, and pass it on, precast…. They ought not to be confused with “dead metaphors” that are no longer cliches…and make no pretense to newness; they have dried and hardened into a useful expression for a common idea: the key to the problem, the heart of the matter, etc.
    That’s taken from The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing and makes so much sense! The trick is to differentiate between a cliche and a dead metaphor. Not always easy!

    1. dldiener Post author

      Wow, that’s great April! Thanks for that. Will need to chew on that one. 🙂

  3. Karla Akins

    A word to the wise: start with a clean slate. Writing is a tough row to hoe, and you may find yourself beating your head against the wall. Bite the bullet, blow off some steam and take the bull by the horns. It’ll cost you some blood sweat and tears but by hook or by crook, in a nutshell, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to your publication dreams.

    1. dldiener Post author

      23 more letters, but I don’t think it’ll be an exhaustive list of the things I gravitate towards with my pen that don’t need to be in my novel. Look what you’ve started here, Mrs. Wysong!


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