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Avoid Clichés in Writing

Updated on July 24, 2013
Eliminate cliches from your writing.
Eliminate cliches from your writing.

Editors and publishers seek active, fresh manuscripts. Trite, stereotypic expressions are often part of conversation but can sabotage your hopes of acceptance. Cliché sentences and phrases express popular or common thoughts and ideas but with overuse have lost their originality and ingenuity. The term cliché even reaches beyond individual phrases or sentences to character development. Tired, over-used character types and trite plots can also be considered cliché and sink your manuscript.

Identify Clichés in Your Writing

Clichés are part of everyday dialog. Because of this, it’s easy for them to sneak into our writing. Once you’ve written a first draft, it’s important to scrutinize the comparisons and images you use. Go through your manuscript using a highlighter or red pen to underline potential clichés. If you’re not sure if your phrase is a cliché, but it is predictable, underline it anyway. Find a way to reword. Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find the perfect words.

Clichés were once fresh, original and made an impact. A lasting impact that carries into today’s language. If you find the right words, your new phrase could become a cliché in the future.

List of Cliches

When you read through your work looking for clichés, it helps to read the piece aloud. Listen for phrases and metaphors that sound too familiar. One way to rework the text is to ask yourself what you really mean. This technique helps to say what you mean in a fresh, unique way.

To help you learn to recognize a cliché I’ve included the following list. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it will help to familiarize you with a variety of clichés and can also serve as a checklist of sorts in the future. This is just the "A" list. For a more complete list, visit my website

  • A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
  • Abandon ship
  • About face
  • Above board
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder
  • Absolute power corrupts absolutely
  • Add insult to injury
  • Ace in the hole
  • Achilles heel
  • Acid test
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • After my own heart
  • Against the grain
  • Ah, to be young and foolish
  • Airing dirty laundry
  • Al fresco
  • All bets are off
  • All dressed up and nowhere to go
  • All ears
  • All for one, and one for all
  • All hands on deck
  • All hands to the pump
  • All heck (hell) breaks loose
  • All in a day's work
  • All in due time
  • All over the map
  • All talk and no action
  • All that glitters is not gold
  • All that jazz
  • All the bits and pieces
  • All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of yesterday.
  • All things grow with love
  • All thumbs
  • All wet
  • All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy
  • All's fair in love and war
  • All's well that ends well
  • Already got one paw on the chicken coop
  • Altitude is determined by attitude
  • Always a bridesmaid, never the bride
  • Always look on the bright side
  • Am I my brother's keeper?
  • American as apple pie.
  • Am I talking to a brick wall
  • An angel belongs in the garden
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away
  • An apple never falls far from the tree
  • An arm and a leg
  • An axe to grind
  • An idle mind is the devil's playground
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
  • Another day another dollar
  • Another nail in the coffin
  • Ants in his pants
  • Any friend of yours is a friend of mine
  • Any port in a storm
  • Anyhoo
  • Anything goes
  • Apple of his eye
  • Are you a man or a mouse?
  • Armed to the teeth
  • Around the horn
  • As all get out
  • As beautiful as the day is long
  • As clear as mud
  • As cold as ice
  • As common as dirt
  • As delicate as a flower
  • As dense as aLondonfog
  • As far as the eye can see
  • As fresh as a daisy
  • As good as gold
  • As hot as hell
  • As honest as the day is long
  • As if
  • As luck would have it
  • As much use as a yard of pump water
  • As plain as the nose on your face
  • As poor as dirt
  • As pure as snow
  • As sensitive as a flower
  • As slow as molasses
  • As snug as a bug in a rug
  • As solid as the ground we stand on
  • As tender as a mother's heart
  • As the crow flies
  • As useful as tits on a bull
  • As welcome as a skunk at a lawn party
  • As white as snow
  • As ye sow, so shall ye reap
  • Ashes to ashes dust to dust
  • Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies
  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country
  • Asleep at the wheel
  • Ass backwards
  • At the bottom of the pecking order
  • At the crack of dawn
  • At the drop of a hat
  • At the eleventh hour
  • At the end of my rope
  • At the end of the day
  • At the last minute
  • At wits' end
  • Atta boy
  • Atta girl

The List Evolves

The list of cliches evolves as new phrases or words create a new trend. The problem is that many writers aren't even aware that they are using cliches. Educating yourself helps you spot those cliches, avoid them, and challenges you to find a fresh way to say what you want to convey.


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    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 6 years ago from Georgia

      You do wonder how anything original will be left to say in the long run. Thanks for reading and taking a moment to comment frugal!

    • frugalfamily profile image

      Brenda Trott, M.Ed 6 years ago from Houston, TX

      Thanks for the list. I love using the thesaurus but I have to admit I enjoy using cliches. There is something familiar about them. Maybe that's why I'm not making the big bucks yet!

    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 6 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for reading and the vote up! I find it helps to take a look at a list like this from time to time to help me see the cliches I tend to think are my own words!

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 6 years ago from USA

      Great hub, but I'm blushing to think how many times I've used something on the No-No list. Thanks for a call to action to tighten up my writing and be more original. Voted up.

    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 6 years ago from Georgia

      Exactly, Cyndi! Thanks for reading and taking a moment to comment!

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 6 years ago from Georgia

      Good list. You're so right. The overuse of cliches can diminish the importance of your writing, unless it is used sparingly and suits the character suing it or it is used and the writer acknowledges that it is a cliche.

    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 6 years ago from Georgia

      Glad you found it helpful rambansal. I like to use lists as an easy reminder. :)

    • rambansal profile image

      Ram Bansal 6 years ago from India

      very useful guidelines for a better writing.. thanks for sharing..

    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 6 years ago from Georgia

      Hi no mac, there is a place for cliche with a limit. They work in dialog, because we use them when we speak. They can also work in humor or for emphasis in specific cases. But for the most part, it is best to avoid them.

    • profile image

      no mac salad 6 years ago

      Wow, just by looking at the "A list", I think I'm heading in the wrong direction. I'll follow your advice here, thanks for sharing.

    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 6 years ago from Georgia

      Great Mickelarr. We get so comfortable with these cliches that we think they are an original thought at times! Appreciate the comment.

    • profile image

      mickelarr 6 years ago

      Thank you, I enjoyed this. You have me thinking now about now sneaky those listed expressions can be.

    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 6 years ago from Georgia

      It's a reminder we all need, wanzul. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

    • wanzulfikri profile image

      wanzulfikri 6 years ago from Malaysia

      I am also guilty of writing cliche. Thank you for reminding me of how important it is to be unique.