November 16th, 2009

Carrie Now

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?