"A cliché is anything you have ever heard before, and it's banned...you have to create your own language." ~Janet Fitch
I love this quote. It's strong, it's concise, and it's spot on.
It took me awhile, as a writer, to realize the danger of cliches - WHY it's not a good idea to use them. I tell my students now that it's "lazy" writing. To rely on a cliche, on something you've heard before (especially over and over again) is easy. Too easy. The reader wants something fresh, something new and original. Something different.
Avoiding cliches is easier said than done (<--See? *giggle*). Because we're not only to avoid the obvious phrases: "dead as a doornail," "blue as the sky," "hard as a rock," but also cliched plot devices (those storylines/characters you tend to see over and over again). Right now, an example I can think of is the wave of "chick lit." I actually enjoy chick lit, but am seeing a lot of the same cliched plots/characters, a la Bridget Jones. They all start to "sound" the same to me, after awhile - same (usually overweight and insecure) heroine, same jerky romantic lead, same clever/witty friends who surround the heroine, etc.
I realize as I'm typing this that I'm a complete hypocrite. I write women's fiction (less "spunky" than chick lit) which tends to have predictabe plots, in terms of having the lead girl and lead guy fall for each other in the end (if the plot is romance-related). But, I try my best to be original and unpredictable in the "getting there" process. Actually, I think predictability is a bit different than a cliche. Predictability is comforting to many people and is used often (in any romantic comedy, you KNOW they'll get together in the end; in any action story, you KNOW the good guy will win and the bad guy will be brutally killed).
But - even in those predictable genres, I think there's room for originality. And that's what any writer should strive for, no matter what the genre.