An important objective for writers, so I’m told by those who are good at it, is to avoid clichés in one’s writing. Clichés are used by a lot of us in normal discourse because they provide a verbal shorthand when we are engaging in conversation. If our goal is to avoid confrontation when we want to express a strong opinion, for example, using a cliché can be just the ticket.
In writing, though, especially if we aspire to be original, clichés are to be avoided.
Clichés may be defined as: phrases or opinions that are overused and betray a lack of original thought; trite or stereotyped phrases or expressions; or expressions that have become overused to the point of losing their original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time they were considered meaningful.
As a means to improve my own writing, I have been attempting to purge it of clichés. The best judge of my success will be my readers, of course, but here are some of the efforts I’ve made:
- I’ve cleaned all the writing off the wall;
- I’ve wiped up the spilt milk;
- I’ve placed my eggs in two different containers in the fridge;
- I’ve removed all the covers from my books;
- I now make sure I’m reading on the lines;
- I make sure my knickers are neatly folded; and
- I don’t own a grindstone.
Thanks to my efforts, the characters I write about in my books no longer sleep on the wrong side of the bed, they’ve stopped circling back or leaning in, and I’ve made sure there is no thorn in their sides, no mote in their eyes. They know that at the end of the day, it gets dark, but it’s not necessarily darkest just before the dawn.
Although many of my characters do drink, I make sure they never end up three sheets to the wind, nor do I allow them to put new wine into old bottles. They know nothing smells like a rose, regardless of its name, although that conclusion was not something they would have jumped to without me.
In fact, because of me, they never jump at all—not down your throat, not in with both feet, not onto the bandwagon, and not with a hop and a skip. Nor do they ever jump the gun, because that might give away the ending of the story. Being my heroes, I never let them throw in a towel, grind an axe, bend over backwards, or get down and dirty.
I’ve worked hard to ensure my characters are neither brave enough nor stupid enough to grab a bull by its horns, burn a candle at both ends, bite a bullet, burn a bridge, or endure trial by fire. Those things can bring a load of hurt!
Instead, thanks to me, they are far more likely to avoid dealing with loose cannons, rocking anyone’s boat, barking up someone’s tree, sneezing at nothing, or opening a can of worms. They are not lazy by any means, but they certainly would never work like a dog, attempt to leave no stone unturned, or go an extra mile (or even the whole nine yards).
In my books, I make sure the heroic characters are unafraid of their own shadows. They are smart enough not to wait for cows to come home, they do not turn over random stones, they avoid yanking anyone else’s chain, they never get down and dirty, and they avoid anything resembling a plague.
So as you can see, dear reader—and it doesn’t go without saying—I have worked my fingers…well, not to the bone, I guess, to rid my writing of clichés. For what it’s worth, push no longer comes to shove for me, nor do I ever consider going back to some mythical drawing-board. Whenever I’m seized by an annoying urge to employ a cliché, I try to nip the urge…umm, somewhere other than in the bud, so to speak. And in my proofreading, rather than attempting to weed them out, I simply expunge them.
In fairness to myself, I must point out that the struggle to eliminate clichés is a never-ending one. I’ve discovered that being original in my writing is much more fun than being banal or hackneyed, but it’s ever so much harder.
So in closing, let me just quote this piece of doggerel from an online commentator, a sentiment to which I heartily subscribe—
For what it’s worth,
At the end of the day,
It is what it is:
A cliché’s a cliché.