Stronger, Better Writing: How Not to Use Cliches in Your Writing
They say you should avoid using clichés like a plague. Oops, that sounds like a cliché in itself. So let’s say we should avoid them like ….? You can fill in the blanks, but chances are someone has already used it before. So, what’s new? Can you come up with fresh imagery and metaphors? Maybe difficult, but you can if you sit under an inspiration tree and allow the tree to whisper great mental pictures that will knock your socks off. Again—another cliché. Can’t help it, it’s almost build into the speech/thought process like a ready made template that offers convenience and comfort.
We’re all guilty of using clichés and as I said, I don’t blame you. Clichés are like the well-worn pajamas that you love to put on each night. It’s is soothing and will not ruffle your brain. You don’t have to think, you know exactly what it means. It doesn’t demand, just begs to be used and we gravitate towards them out of compulsion, after all, we’re creatures of habit.
If you’re guilty as I am—take comfort—it’s the bane of writers. Here are some examples and the likely culprit:
The experienced person aka showoff: Been there, done that
The condescending placate: It’s not you, it’s me.
Our mothers sending us on a guilt trip: This is going to hurt you more than it hurt me and Money doesn’t grow on trees and I wasn’t born yesterday and ….on and on…
The Holier than thou: No one ever said that life was fair
Women complaining to women: All men are the same
The Smart One: It’s not rocket science…
The professor/salesperson/politician etc: The bottom line is….
The die-hard: Never say never
The kid in us: I didn’t do it.
The computer addict: LOL, JK, BRB…..
The eloquent writer will frown at such slack --after all, clichés is so overused they have become tired and trite. They are the spawning of a lazy mind and readers are not impressed. Writers from Jonathan Swift to George Orwell had ranted about the using clichés as clutches. This is what George Orwell said, "[Political] prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house."
If you are diagnosed with a severe case of clichesitis, what do you do?
1. Think fresh. We prefer freshly made food to stale ones, so that goes for the business of wordsmithery. Right, like coin a new word that you can’t find in the dictionary but readers get it from intelligent guessing like for instance---wordsmithery.
2. Combine words to make a smorgasbord of words to add a new twist. Examples abound like Blooks (web-books) from Blogs and Books and the totally annoying “chillax.” You can get creative and give yourself a new title, “Word Inventor.”
3. Replace common words with foreign-sounding ones, to give it flair all its own. Just make sure, it fits into the nature of the writing. If I’m writing a story set in China, I may use a Chinese word to add color and layer.
4. Put a spin on an old cliché by playing word permutation or adding a new dimension to it. Example: Instead of “true and tried,” you may say “true and ripe.”
5. Look for energetic, invigorating and exciting phrases to replace the “ho-hum.” The trick is to sharpen your power of observation and open up your senses to the world around you. By painting a word picture using your own combination of carefully chosen words, your writing will stand out as being delightfully different.
6. Go for extreme metaphors. In his book, Spun & Bite, Arthur Plotnik (also wrote The Elements of Editing) urges us to go extreme. Employ killer megaphors with surprising images of imposing size, force or notoriety to augment your current vocabulary. And that’s just one of the tricks, for more, read his book.
Your new inspirational phrase may be the new flash in the sea of words today. Tomorrow, it joins the rank of the old and aged. The lame clichés today were the stars of yesterday, so what say we that we go easy on clichés? If you overuse them in your writing, your reader is not challenged or stimulated. But if you try to use strong and unusual phrases only, your writing may come across as artificial. An occasional slip into the comfort zone of clichés may be alright after all.
Let Grammar Girl Show you How to Avoid Cliches