If you like to write fiction you have almost certainly come across the big no-no that is cliché. A cliché is something that has been used so often and so thoughtlessly, that it has become stale, totally lacking in originality, and simply not creative enough to grace the pages of your prose.
Here are some clichés: her lips were ruby red; his chiseled features; at the drop of a hat; dead as a doornail; dropping like flies; love is blind; play it by ear; plenty of other fish in the sea; pushing up daisies and so on forever.
Be creative – make up your own replacements which will only become clichés because people will be so in awe of your wonderful turn of phrase, that they’ll start using your words so much they in turn become clichés. So, her lips could be tomato sauce red or pillar box red or as scarlet as her morals. Let’s face it if the hero has ‘chiseled features’ it makes it sound as though he should part of Mount Rushmore, not flaunting his good looks in your story. Dead as a doornail – why a doornail? Why not a two inch nail or dead as a garden spade or dead as a broken light bulb? Try it – you’ll find that once the ideas start to flow, more will come.
Some phrases now classed as clichés can lighten a piece of prose, but only if used sparingly, and of course if your character is recognized by the fact that he is one big cliché himself and always talks in clichés, then there is a place for them.
But so often we use them without thinking and don’t even know we’re doing it. Not to mention (there’s a cliché…) that their meanings sound a bit strange if we’re not getting into the origin of them – for example - pay though the nose??? I dread to think how that one arose ...
It’s not just words and phrases - it’s also characters you need to look out for. Sometimes it’s useful to have the odd clichéd, or stereotyped character so that the reader can recognize the ‘type’ immediately. But usually you wouldn’t want that.
There can also be clichéd actions and situations. For example, one of the ones that really irritates me and has to be in every single book I’ve ever read (that might be a small exaggeration..) is the one where “he was solidly built, but still light on his feet” or “she was very chubby but still danced across the room as light as air” or “despite his immense girth, he ran nimbly around the croquet lawn”. Eek! Every book I read this person is there – this person who is large for some reason but able to move quickly. You keep an eye out for this one – it’s everywhere!
So next time you’re reading fiction be on the alert for clichés – see how many are used and how many different types there are. You’ll be amazed, but more importantly, once you start to observe them in others’ writing, you’ll be that much more conscious of them in your own – and either deliberately keep them in, or chuck ‘em out, or make up new ones yourself so they’re not clichés at all!