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Writing Clichés

First off, thanks to Debby and Nancy our guest bloggers, for a really thought-provoking week on the TOLLBOOTH. Unfortunately, it is my week now and ... yeah.... well the quality is about to fall a bit.

Tala: Carrie, enough, just blog.
Me: Sure, Tala. Sure Grover. I will try.

This week is not an easy topic for me. So, I am just going to dive in....

It happens to all of us. It stalks us until our brains and fingers are weak and then it sneaks its way onto our pages, taunting us, daring us to notice, and so often we, poor overworked writers that we are? We are oblivious.

What am I talking about?

What is our arch nemesis?

It's not politicians.
It's not television talk show hosts.
It's not even the dreaded refrigerator.
I'm coming to get you, writer!

The problem is the dreaded, the evil, the horrifying monster known as:

The cliché.

It comes in all shapes and forms but once a cliché always a cliché.

We’re going to spend the beginning of this week talking about the nasty little bugger.

Clichés can be words, phrases, settings, characters or even plots. Today we’re going to talk about phrases.

Recently Oxford created a list of the most irritating phrases, which have become clichés in speech (and I would add in writing).

The top ten most irritating phrases:
1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

Obviously, the list is British. I think #6 might be “awesome” here in the States. I’m not sure. I still say “awesome” though and people are just going to have to handle that. To be fair I also say:

  1. Baby
  2. Cool beans
  3. Rock on (but only in a mocking way)

People say clichés all the time. That’s how clichés become clichés. However, we don’t really want them in our writing? Why? Because they are:

  1. Boring
  2. Easy
  3. Dull (same as boring, I know)
  4. Places where we as writers wimp out, refuse to dig deep, to think, to go after the truth, etc.

There’s a hysterical and brilliant example at this site http://writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb/cliche.html

I am going to copy it verbatim:

John Doe had been sleeping like the dead when his alarm clock screamed like a Banshee at him. It was 1:36 P.M., and John had planned to be up bright and early that morning. His eyelids were as heavy as lead as he wracked his brain for excuses. It had been the mother of all lost weekends. Now he had to pay the piper--he'd missed Core again, and the hand of doom was heavy upon his grade in the class.

Honestly? What do you think when you read that? Sure, it’s hyperbolized but how awesome is it, really? It is overrun with clichés. Wow. I love it.
But you see why it’s bad, right? So, now that you recognize them, you can avoid them.
There is more difficult news though. Sometimes clichés are not just words or phrases that are simple to pick out. Sometimes they are characters. This week I’m going to explore those characters. Tomorrow I’m starting with the EVIL OTHER WOMAN.

What writing cliché phrases are on your hit list? Is 'hit list?' Let me know in the comments section. I love gritting my teeth and getting annoyed at words, don't you?


( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Nov. 16th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
Oh my gosh! Those are awesome. Notice how I wrote 'awesome.'

This is your wake-up call, absolutely kills me, as does 'step up your game.'

Nov. 16th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
With all due respect, Carrie, at the end of the day, I absolutely struggle with this. I'm just writing along happy as a clam when suddenly out of nowhere I type cliche after cliche. It's a nightmare! An absolute nightmare. I don't know what my problem is. I know I shouldn't of. It's not like writing is rocket science after all. (Actually, it's harder.)


P.S. I love Grover!
Nov. 16th, 2009 02:12 pm (UTC)

You are brilliant.

Grover loves you back.
Nov. 16th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
Shoot, I couldn't find a cliche if it bit me in the butt.
Nov. 16th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
Ha! Awesome.
Nov. 16th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
There's nothing worse than a cliche. But I guess it is what it is (not a cliche, just an extremely annoying phrase).
Nov. 16th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't know... it is what it is... may qualify.

And it is SO annoying. I have a relative who says that all the time.
Nov. 16th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
If that doesn't take the cake. I'm massively depressed now because I use most of the cliches described. i suppose it's short hand for real dialogue but the bottom line is we all use a bunch of these. Thanks for pointing it out, I might as well get it over with and shoot myself.
Nov. 16th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Cliches
No! Don't do that!

Just do a FIND on your manuscript and think of all those places as places where you can dig deeper and make it really shine. One writer I know calls cliches "place holders." She thinks of them as subconscious hints she leaves herself so that she can go back and revise there, because they tend to be places that are harder, more emotional, etc.
Re: Cliches - mandyrtaylor - Nov. 17th, 2009 06:45 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Cliches - dennismhavens - Nov. 16th, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
yeah... see? this is why I don't write. I want it to be all natural and easy, not forced and picked over. I don't know how you do it Carrie!! (but I'm glad that you do!)
Nov. 16th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks Phil.


You are Phil?
(no subject) - dennismhavens - Nov. 16th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
Tanita Says :)
I struggle with clichéd concepts more than words, I think -- the "obvious" response, the "everybody does this" reality that I often find in books sucks more out of creativity than even the worst string of clichéd phrases. Looking forward to The Evil Other Woman, the Beautiful Beeyatch Cheerleader, The Jerk Jock, and more!
Nov. 16th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)
I can't wait to talk about the concepts. I may have to add your suggestions into the mix because they are brilliant!
Nov. 16th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)

Not even going to lie... The running refrigerator made me CRACK UP! Thanks for making my morning so much better. :)

I hate the word "said." I really try not to use it in my WIP (which, btw, just got to 41k!). I think it is overused. Like, I was reading A LITTLE PRINCESS this weekend (I'm writing a paper about it. woot woot!), and all the characters spoke like this "Sara said" "Becky said" etc. UGHHHHH!!!! I mean I love you FHB, but use another expression. Please!

Nov. 16th, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
When I was a little kid I remember reading those EASY READER books that were like this:

Bear said, "I think I am hungry today."
Mouse said, "Me too."
Bear said, "Perhaps I shall have honey."
Mouse said, "Me too."

And I would close the book and cringe. I felt so insulted. ;)
(no subject) - mandyrtaylor - Nov. 17th, 2009 06:52 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
Yada, yada, yada... I've been hearing about cliches since Hector was a pup. I've heard it more times than Carter has liver pills.

You summed it up nicely, Carrie. But I do have a question... what is Tala doing with Grover's corpse? I'm mean... it's as plain as day that the little blue guy is dead.

Oh... and CAPTIVATE lives up to its name so far! Very, very nice!
Nov. 16th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
You crack me up, Mr. Eyeball.

I am glad that you like it so far.

And finally, GROVER IS NOT DEAD! He is merely... merely.... um.... resting! HE IS RESTING!
(no subject) - mandyrtaylor - Nov. 17th, 2009 06:55 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
I wonder if middle-grade and YA authors in particular overuse the word "absolutely." Hmm. Will ponder this will I resist the urge to visit the fridge (Me to stomach: "Yes, that Lean Cuisine is enough to fill you up! Wait 20 more minutes, you'll see!").
Nov. 16th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, I bet we do. I mean, I absolutely do.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. What kind of Lean Cuisine is it. I think it all depends on the variety.
(no subject) - jeniwrites - Nov. 16th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carriejones - Nov. 17th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
Great post, Carrie!! :)

I don't know that I use so many cliches, but I totally have words and phrases that I'm always using. Like 'totally'...

Hmm... I have been known to say 'at the end of the day'. OMG! That's not good. But then, I am a Brit so that's okay. ;)

Nov. 17th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks, K! As we all know I use "awesome," "brilliant," and "you crack me up" way too often.

I love that you say 'at the end of the day.'

That is awesome.
And brilliant.
And it cracks me up.
Nov. 16th, 2009 08:16 pm (UTC)
Hey Carrie,
Great post. My manuscript is somewhat a cliched plot. good boy vs bad boy struggling for confused girls affections . . .
(That is the worst pitch-line ever.)
But I'm hoping that by NOT having cliched characters or writing, it will separate itself from the others.
when is a cliche, okay? (love that that rhymed)

Nov. 17th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
I am going to talk about plots later this week. ;)

You've already figured out how to make a plot not a cliche. You wrote it right there! You are too smart. ;)
Nov. 16th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
This post put John Prine's "It's a Big Old Goofy World" in my head, and now it's stuck there!
Nov. 17th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Oh my gosh! That's so funny and I am soooo sorry.
(no subject) - philia_fan - Nov. 17th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carriejones - Nov. 17th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 16th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
I'm always super-paranoid of cliches when writing! I tend to abuse single words more than phrases, though. Like, things "slightly" happened. Or they "probably" happened. Or they "obviously" happened...

But I do abuse phrases, like "blah, blah, blah." I also have a bad habit of describing characters as walking-somethings. (They are "Walking Fire Hazards," "Walking Textbooks," etc.) Darn these cliches taunting us to be more original! :P
Nov. 17th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
I do abuse words too. In CAPTIVATE I wrote "sniff" possibly 5,000 times. It was horrifying once I realized it.

Cliches are so mean.
Nov. 17th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
Do you love gritting your teeth and getting annoyed as much as Bella Swan in the first Twilight book?? How about rolling your eyes and pursing your lips? This is so hard, because if anyone ever managed to write a WHOLE book with ZERO cliches, that would LOOK like it took a ton of effort and be almost as annoying as a book that was chock full of them. It's a fine line. :/
Nov. 17th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
It is SUCH a fine line. You're so right.
Every time I write "shrug" I think, OH NO! I DID IT!
But I keep some of them in there because sometimes you just have to.
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