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Avoiding Cliches

Updated on December 8, 2012

It was more than a dark and stormy night

When Edward Bulwer-Lytton first penned his now infamous line " It was a dark and stormy night" he had no idea that it would become something to avoid like the plague. Although Lytton does go on to describe Georgian era London, lazy writers do not take the time to develop their descriptions.The solution here is to think of what you are writing about and what that would involve. In the case of a stormy night you may have wind, rain, thunder and lightning. The next step is skipping the lights and camera and going straight to the action, What actions are being done? Is the rain coming down in torrents or is it more like a soft sprinkle? Is the wind a gentle breeze or a violent gust? Ask yourself the same questions about your scene and write down the answer.

Did curiosity kill your cat?

The Oxford dictionary describes a cliche as a hackneyed phrase or idea. While that is true, it seems too black and white. My definition would be more like this; if you can repeat a line from memory then it is a cliche so don't use it. Sure curiosity may have killed a few cats but it doesn't have to kill yours, use an original phrase to describe impending doom.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that

Everywhere you turn you can't move without stepping in a cliche, but just how many times can you throw the baby out with the bathwater. All may be fun in love and war, and money may be the root of all evil but what we want as readers is fresh original content. Instead of using a worn out phrase like; " A fool and his money are soon parted" use action verbs to show how this fool has lost his money. Remember the old rule; show don't tell..

If you love them set them free

As much as we love those old worn out phrases ( A dark and stormy night is 182 years old) we must kick them to the curb, try and try again, never lose hope, go for the gold... you see what I'm doing here. It is very hard work avoiding cliches, so many are ingrained in our everyday lives, but the more we can cut the richer and more rewarding our writing will be.


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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers.

      As some of the comments say, there may be times when a cliché is best and is used by a writer intentionally. I expect that more often, as you say, using clichés indicates lazy, sloppy writing. Clichés are also used in propaganda. Look at the essays and speeches of political commentators and see how often they use clichés. They depend on many of their readers and listeners being lazy, sloppy, uncritical thinkers.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Agreed--clichés are so ingrained into our language and speech patterns that they flow from the tongue and pen full-blown, (omigosh--was THAT a cliché??!!) without thought.

      They do have their place, one example would be in dialogue, if that character had a habit of so speaking.

      I don't mind them if they are not over-used, and there are times when nothing else quite serves the purpose as a trusty old cliché. (See--I could have said 'hits the mark,' then 'tried and true,' but I refrained.)

      Some clichés are funny--but not encouraged in certain platforms (probably such as Hub Pages, here), that would include an ungraceful fall being described as, "Going ass over teakettle." But if you've never heard that, perhaps you are not from New England, as my mother was, so I heard that one all my life.

      I also enjoy puns.... ;-)

      Voted up and across!

    • rtburroughs2 profile image

      Robert Burroughs 4 years ago

      Thank you for reading. I guess it is not such a dark and stormy night after all.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I gave you all the votes on this one. I love language, so I loved this. I am bad at times about using cliches, just because I can't think of other words sometimes. :-) Neat hub. Sharing with followers!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago from Texas

      I don't think omitting Clichés makes one a better writer if used in good context. I like Clichés.

      If curiosity kills the cat, does satisfaction bring it back.

      Not trying to be funny or a smart A*s. I do really love Clichés.

      Voting you up and interesting.