Wordsmith Wednesday–Avoiding Cliche


Image by Sterlic via Flickr

One of the venial sins of writers is overuse of cliché. A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work that has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. (Wikipedia)

I found a website that lists commonly used clichés: http://suspense.net/whitefish/cliche.htm
It doesn’t hurt to review them to see how many have become a part of your bag of tricks. It’s easy to revert to clichés because, for the most part, they make a point. They are so common we don’t even notice them in everyday usage.

There are times when a cliché may be appropriate. If you are writing dialogue, you want your characters to sound natural. That’s why it’s okay to use contractions, slang, fragments and the like. In everyday conversation, cliché is expected.

I’ve thrown in a couple of phrases in this post that are blatant clichés, and a few that are on the way to becoming overused. See if you recognize them. What I’d like to challenge you to do in response to this brief post is to take a short poem or a paragraph of prose that you have written and examine it for cliché. Perhaps you’d like to share your findings in the comment section. Is there another, unique way you can make your point? Alrighty then…let’s get it on!


10 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Avoiding Cliche

  1. […] Wordsmith Wednesday – Avoiding Cliche (liv2write2day.wordpress.com) […]


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  3. I’ve used clichés many times before even thinking about it, seems to be just that much a part of normal vernacular for how that happens. I get it mostly, a related entry I recently posted on the topic is kind of about how foriegn readers may not. It is more from a technical communications standpoint but I really liked the humerous way the author that I referenced strung the words together. I’ll check out your references too I hope it’s funny I could always use a laugh!


  4. siggiofmaine says:

    Cliche’s a dollar a baker’s dozen in my writing…but loved the web site you had in your post…
    very useful. Will try to do better and be more creative. Thanks for the heads up. ☺.
    ☮ ♥ Siggi in Downeast Maine

    PS…would like to add an photo to the icon when I post…how do I do that?


  5. The overuse of cliche, in a story, will only work if it suits the character. Generally this means that the character is a caricature. The piece needs to be satire. If you are trying to overuse cliche in a realistic piece, with a realistic character, it will get old fast.


  6. Bodhirose says:

    Okay, I’ve gone back and looked at a couple of my stories and in spite of trying to be on guard for overuse of cliche, there they were! But like you said, some are less “visible” than others. But now they all seemed to scream out at me–here I am, here I am! Yes, certainly I can replace them with other phrases to make my point–but what are they?! Hehe…

    Thanks, Victoria–an important reminder to expand our abilities.


  7. janachantel says:

    Although we often at times overuse cliches, it’s impossible not to use! It’s just one of those difficult situations. I think it has come to the point when we don’t even realize that we’re using cliches any more.

    I’ll appreciate it if you checked out my blog http://janachantel1.wordpress.com/ it’s about me trying to become a successful published author. And please feel free to subscribe!


  8. I’ll try, but my life is a cliche, so I may have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees…or the trees may obscure my view of the forest…or…Well, you see what I mean?


  9. Ravenblack says:

    Cliches often sound so good, they are easily incorporated into the rhythm of a poem. When used, they must have purpose or bring purpose to the work overall. To be brutally honest, if I spot too many cliches in a poem, I won’t much enjoy it — it’s boring and nothing new. There’s nothing to say to cliches except, “well of course you are right”, obviously, the phrases are what they are because they are mostly true and typical. Of course _no one_ should ever say, you must not use them _at all_; there are no absolutes in art. A sprinkle of familiarity might help bring a reader in, but if he comes in and sees nothing new in the store, he’s gonna leave and forget about it.

    Avoiding cliches have the effect of making one more creative with coming up with new ways of expressing oneself, I think (imho). I’d like to think that I made something fresh, and that’s why I avoid them when I write a poem.


  10. vivinfrance says:

    I promise to do as you suggest, even though I have been known to defend the use of cliché and received phrased. Meanwhile, you might enjoy this: http://vivinfrance.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/and-while-im-on-the-subject/


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