Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cliches: Avoid Them Like the Plague

"A cliché is anything you have ever heard before, and it's 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.


  1. Great post, Traci! I find myself using cliches without even thinking about it sometimes (because I'm being lazy, probably!). It's tough to avoid, but definitely necessary to get rid of them when revising. I agree with you about plot cliches, too. The key is to make the journey interesting, even if you know where you'll end up.

  2. Excellent point, Lizzy, about making the journey interesting. I love romantic comedies like "While You Were Sleeping" and "Return to Me," because of that very reason. I know the ending, but the "getting there" is fun and pretty creative.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Great post. I totally agree that we need to be original. Comfort is good to have, there is something nice about a Romantic Comedy having the same plot so-to-speak...

    I think the voice is what makes something original. I mean, have someone else write Bridget Jones, and it would be a lot different with probably the same outcome :o)

  4. Genre fiction is all about formulas--that's partly why we like it, I think. You just have to own the formula instead of letting it own you. The best ones, I think, are the ones that play around with the formula, push the boundaries a little. Make the reader see the formula/genre itself in a new way. That's rare, and hard to do--you see why I don't write fiction!

  5. Erica - excellent point, about "voice." I always tell my students that what I love most about the writing prompts I give them is that it's the same prompt, but with 20 different angles or perspectives, because they're 20 individual writers.

    Gayle - I agree. There are few who can do that, push the boundaries of the rigid genre fiction. Admittedly, I'm not one of them, lol - I do try to maintain originality, but it's very difficult when people are expecting certain things from a certain genre. Always a challenge to do something new...

  6. We're all 'creatures of habit' in some ways....and even when it comes to books and plots we do like predictable plots...there's some comfort in that. But, more importantly, it's that original slant that grabs the reader and makes that particular author stand out.