Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Does this cliché make me look fat?

People are so clever. They've thought of a million ways to describe things using an analogy, or a few interesting words. Problem is, the sayings are so clever, they get overused.

Thus, the cliché is born.

The term cliché comes from the French word "clicher" or "to stereotype". It's actually a term that originates from the printing press technique of making a plate of a commonly used phrase. It would save time instead of resetting the same letters over and over. Apparently, the sound of the matrix hitting the molten metal in casting the printing plates make a sound that the word cliché came from.

Neat, eh?

Here's a fun website where you can punch in a word and find a list of clichés that go with the word.

And one handy trick in trying to avoid a cliché? If you start the phrase and anyone can finish it for you, it's probably a cliché.


1. It's raining _____ and ______
2. Rags to______
3. Throw the baby out with ______

I've found I tend to use them in my writing when describing something, and then go back during revisions and replace them with something original from my own brain.

But there are other clichés lurking in our writing that have nothing to do with a few words.

Maybe you've heard of these:
The mean high school cheerleader
The dangerous and dark 'n handsome love interest
The quiet and shy but intelligent girl who's more beautiful than at first glance

Do you have clichés lurking in your writing?


Vicki Rocho said...

I'm going to have fun with that website, thanks!

I do use some cliches as 'place holders' when writing. I know they're there, I intend to change them, but I use them so I can keep moving rather than torment myself for hours on what I SHOULD say instead.

Jai Joshi said...

I agree with your post.

The only time it's acceptable to use a cliche is in dialogue and even then only if the character is the type to use them and it says something about them. Otherwise find some other way of describing things.


Christina Lee said...

Good one! I do the use and switch too! It's hard though!

DL Hammons said...

The really cool thing, and something every writer secretly strives to do, is write an original phrase that someday becomes a cliche. :)

Aubrie said...

If I have to use a cliche, I try to put a new spin on it. Like: it's raining pens and paper!

Piedmont Writer said...

I tend to use the cheesy cliches most and then change them to something else. I mean, I'm sure we all do it, we're writers after all and can't be brilliant all the time.

And thanks for the definition. That's something I did not know.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Ack! Yes, I do.
I sometimes forget there's more to a bad cliche than an overused phrase.

Stephanie Thornton said...

That sounds like a fun website!

As for my writing, I try to avoid cliches like the plague. ;)

Joanne said...

I try not to use cliches, and love Aubrie's idea, to put a new spin on them. Very effective use of them!

B.E. Sanderson said...

LOL, I drop cliches all over the place. As a reader, they don't even notice them - unless they stick out like a sore thumb. ;o)

When I write, they end up throughout my work but like you, I clean them up in the edit phase. Sometimes, though, I leave them because they just fit. And really, why reinvent the wheel?

Clara said...

I have a French womanizer! Há, I think I win. But, to counter that clichè, a character comes to him and tells him in the face he is the biggest cliche in human history (and naturally, their relationship doesnt start very well). So I think that him being a cliche gave me the oppty to explore his love-hate relationship with this character. Weeee!

storyqueen said...

I am sure I have some....kind of afraid to look for them!

Great post.


Kenda said...

Yes, too often cliches find their way into my WIP. But I'm actually glad to see them--they become red flags telling me to dig a little deeper! Great post. Loved learning about the origin of the word cliche :-)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

It's funny. I've recently turned in my first-round edits. There were several places where I'd thought I'd been very clever, but my editor said, "I'm sure you could re-frame this into something much fresher."

Unknown to me, cliches must lurk in the corners of my mind.!

Matthew Rush said...

Cliches suck because they do make writing weaker, but if we try TOO hard to avoid them altogether we can end up coming up with off the wall analogies/metaphors/similes that won't connect with very many readers.

IMHO, like in most things, the key is BALANCE.

Stephanie McGee said...

I'm sure I've got cliches in there. I know I start with one but my narrator's voice comes out and changes it right after. It'll actually probably become my logline. I'm sure that there are others in the narrative throughout. When it comes to ones that have been used in dialogue, I don't worry as much because people speak in cliches, adages, and idioms. If I tried too hard to avoid every cliche no matter the situation, I think things could come off as very forced, especially in dialogue.

Rena said...

I guess I'm the odd ball because I love cliches. I don't use them in my writing so much, but I love hearing them and learning how they originated. Thanks for the link.

BTW -- You are the winner for the bath toys from Beth's book tour of IN MY BATH. If you don't follow her blog, you can send me an address and I'll get it to her right away. Congratulations!

Elle Strauss said...

Thanks for the trivia on the origin of cliche and the printing press. Interesting.

Carol Kilgore said...

I bookmarked the cliche link. Like you, I use them in first draft and later replace. I try not to use cliched characters, but I probably have a few creep in.

Amparo Ortiz said...

Honey, I am the Cliche Queen.

*shakes fist in the air*

I'm trying to make my manuscripts as non-cliche as possible, but I think that's all my brain can come up with. And may I say how much I LOVE your informative posts? This was too cool for school.

See? Cliche!

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I probably do, I have it a few times in dialogue but it's kind of a bookmark in my work so I know to go back and change the wording but have the same concept. And in dialogue I don't mind one or two now and again but I avoid cliche's like the plague (hehehe I know I know, that was intended).
I'm sure there are some lurkers but I do try to make myself fully aware of them so I can correct it in the second draft if I don't get to it in the first.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Great post! They're cheeky little things aren't they? They lurk, but nor for long. I make sure I run 'em over and re-mould :o)

But sometimes you just gotta give them a break. That's why I've invented a character who likes to use them, so that they can get their fifteen minutes of fame! hehe

Just like Evelyn Waugh said, ‘to be oversensitive about clichés is
like being oversensitive about table manners. :o)

Mayowa said...

Oh yeah cliches are sneaky little things.

I run into mucho problems because i tend to bastardize cliches (the whole foreigner thing) and I end up saying things like "I am going to smooch off you" instead of "mooch of you".

Same thing happens with my writing and it result in some horrifyingly funny phrases.

Talli Roland said...

I love your header!

I am cliche hound. I use them all the time in first drafts! I am always on my guard when editing - and sigh! It does get tiring removing them!

lbdiamond said...

What if your character uses nothing but cliches in his/her dialogue?! ;)-

Alexis Hallum said...

I find cliches "lurking" in my writing all the time. Sometimes replacing them helps me come up with some really creative stuff.
Great post!:)

JEM said...

And an even more insidious cliche: the cliches we create for ourselves. Like the strong, smart female lead who takes charge is a strong role in my books. The partner-in-crime pointed it out the other day, and he's right. But creating new and different characters is SO HARD. SO. SO. HARD.

j.m. neeb said...

My college poetry professor once told us that part of the reasons cliches are what they are is because they do work. Now, he said to make sure they are used rather sparingly, but not to fear using them.

That being said, I do like to take cliches and turn them around a bit. I think that makes for interesting writing.

Sandy Shin said...

I tend to pepper my first draft with cliches, because if I pause and think of a fresh analogy for each instance, I'd never finish it.

"If you start the phrase and anyone can finish it for you, it's probably a cliché."

That's a great way to put it!

Giles Hash said...

As a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid cliches like the plague. (See what I did there?)

Anyway, cliches are bad... most of the time, but in certain situations, they can add good background for a story. They should NEVER be used as a foreground, though. In my opinion. As for metaphors and similes, I try to avoid them just so that I don't use tired cliches.

Karen Lange said...

Good post. I try to avoid cliches when writing, but they sneak in there sometimes anyway. It takes a bit of creativity to get rid of them. I will surely think of you the next time I do so. Thanks for the link!
Happy Wednesday,
Karen :)

Terri Tiffany said...

So guilty!!! I have my CPs point them out to me all the time and so now I am really trying hard to watch for them.

Taryn Tyler said...

I sometimes find myself inventing my own cliches. I think of a new way to describe something and it works so then without thinking about it I type it again the next time I describe an object and don't catch myself until the fourth or fifth time I try to use it and think but that's a cliche, wait, no its not . . . but where have a heard it before. Oh. Yeah. Right. and then I have to decide how many time3s I can allow myself to use it and which places most need it and . . .
I apologize for rambling. My mind seems to have run away from me . . . again (I was going to say run away with me again but that's a cliche. :)

Samantha Bennett said...

One of the hardest critiques I've ever heard about my writing was the phrase "stock characters." Eeee!!! I had to sit down and, bit by bit, reshape my characters.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Cliches can get you every time. Sometimes I'll put one in so I know when I rewrite to replace too. I like to take my time coming up with good ones.

I have one that has been SOOO overused Drawn like a moth to a flame.

Ed Pilolla said...

what's interesting is that many people actually speak in cliches. so in capturing authentic dialogue, sometimes, depending upon the character, cliches are appropriate. it's a rare person who can speak consistently without using a cliche. of course, as you note, when we write, we don't want to use them. even internal dialogue should be clean of them, but then again, people think in terms of cliches. like me!:)

Saumya said...

I had a tortured artist, but I made him an eternal optimist and somewhat of a practical guy. Haha, hopefully that makes him less of a cliche!

Lynn said...

Lydia, you're one smart cookie! This post was cooler than a cucumber. Now I'm hot to trot to check my MS for chiches. But surely my writing is as sweet as a stack of pancakes, and neat as a pin. But thanks for the heads up!

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Cliches do lurk in our minds and find their way in print. Guess when I use them, I think at least people will know what I mean!!Ha ha!

notesfromnadir said...

Thank you for this posting as I'm anti-cliche! I'm so glad you provided that link, it's bookmarked, thanks, so that I know what to avoid.

Janna Qualman said...

That IS neat!

And I'm with you. Cliches are great place-holders in writing, until you go back through with a fresh eye.

Theresa Milstein said...

After reading another writer-blogger complain about "dreamless sleep" in two books, one being The Graveyard Book (I left a comment to make fun of the phrase. I mean, who actually has a dreamless sleep?), I found one in my manuscript. I immediately changed it.

I try to kill my cliches.

WritingNut said...

I try not to use them, but I really love the dangerous and dark 'n handsome love interest! ;)

I'm with Aubrie though too -- if I do use them, I will try to put a new spin on them.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks for the website, Lydia. I personally hate the overused cliches. Though I tend to write few or maybe many in the first drafts, but during revisions I either delete them or replace them with something original or unique.

Liza said...

I caught myself using a cliche yesterday and left it in. I'll get rid of it during revisions, but I had to get the thought down.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I stay as far away from cliches as truth from a politician.

Oops. Couldn't resist.

You always come up with insightful, helpful posts, Lydia. Thanks.

I've found that using cliches as place holders can turn ugly when you forget where you've placed them all.

Have a healing, productive weekend, Roland

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

God, sometimes I think my life is a cliche!

30 year-old woman not fully-satisfied with her life chucks it all to go after her dreams!

And my writing is riddled with cliche...the first draft anyway.

Sarah Enni said...

I did not know any of that history behind the word Cliche! I got so much smarter today, thanks Lydia!

I am the worst with cliches, especially in the first draft. But I go back and replace things, like you do. For the first draft I just need SOMETHING on paper, and I don't always feel like I have the time to search my brain for something original (might lose my train of thought!).

Southpaw said...

Ooo, I liked Aubrie's idea too.

Mary McDonald said...

I hate when I write a cliche. I hope I don't have and character cliches. Would I be able to see my own? Hmm...great post, but now I'm worried! ;-)

Dawn Simon said...

Great post! I look for cliches in my manuscripts, too. You make an excellent point about the characters, and trite characters are more difficult to fix.

Cool about the word's origin!

Krispy said...

Great link! Cliches are bad but definitely it's harder to fix cliche characters. I like when a seemingly cliche character is actually not and the whole thing gets flipped on its head - but even that's becoming a kind of cliche too, isn't it?!

Robyn Campbell said...

Ultra super post. I tried to comment on the top post, but it wouldn't let me. First off, Lydia I love your titles in my contest. Good luck.

Also, I have tried to steer away from cliches and the usual character. I have tried to make them memorable. And totally different.

Nice link too. Thanks!

Palindrome said...

I think I'm pretty good at breaking out of cliches. Such a great thing to keep in mind though, especially when I'm going through the first draft! eeek!

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