Just between you and me, I was about to call it a day, but at the last minute I decided there’s no time like the present to write a post about clichés. I thought this would be a piece of cake, a slam dunk, a no brainer. However, the more I bat the idea around, the more I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. Now I’m grasping at straws, but hope springs eternal so keep your fingers crossed that I can get all the bits and pieces of this topic in order and not have to go back to the drawing board.
I could go on forever, but I’m sure you’ve heard all this before—after all, that’s what it means to be a cliché.
Cliché: overused expression: a phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse (Encarta dictionary)
As writers, our job is to choose words that will effectively convey the image we have in our mind to our readers’ minds. There may be occasions when a cliché is the best way to say what we mean, and sometimes using one can help make the dialog more realistic. If we use them too often, though, our writing will be boring and ineffective. We need to avoid clichés and develop our own writing voice.
We also need to be aware of plot clichés. For example, there’s the mystery where “the butler did it;” the villain who delays killing the hero so he can brag about how much smarter he is, why he did whatever it was, etc., giving the hero time to escape; and the ugly duckling that turns into the beautiful swan story. When people have seen a plot device so often that they can anticipate what will happen next, they may not care enough about the story to keep reading. We’ll increase our chance of success as writers if our stories include a unique twist, memorable characters, and a distinctive voice.
To help you identify them in your writing, here are some links to sites listing clichés:
http://clichesite.com/categories.asp lists of clichés
http://www.westegg.com/cliche/ lists of clichés
http://www.writing-world.com/romance/cliches.shtml clichés in romance novels
http://www.amethyst-angel.com/cliche.html Clichés in fantasy stories
Edit March 2, 2012: Today on his blog, Agent Nathan Bransford wrote a helpful post on plot clichés vs archetypes. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03/archetype-vs-cliche.html
What clichés drive you stark raving mad? What’s your favorite cliché?