Common Cliches to Avoid in Your Writing
Once upon a time, a tragic heroine was born. She was raised by her abusive parents and had low self-esteem even though the author insisted she had beautiful blonde hair and giant blue orbs.
She lamented about her miserable life every night, but she remained unrealistically sane and kind because she believed good things come to those who wait.
One day, a magical fairy from god knows where appeared and told her that she has a mysterious power to save the world from its impending doom.
Does this story sound familiar to you? If you say no, then you’re lying. Because the example above has been recycled over and over with different characters and settings.
This is called a cliche. A cliche is an overused term, phrase or plot device that has lost its original taste because it has been abused by authors. Cliche makes the author look lazy and uncreative because readers can already predict where the plot is going or familiar with the boring metaphors.
In this article, I’m going to discuss two types of cliches: common phrases and plot devices.
Cliches: Common Phrases
Examples of common phrases that have been rehashed too often that it has lost its novelty are the following:
Every cloud has a silver lining
Every rose has its thorn
The time of my life
In the nick of the time
Down in the dumps
Pain in the neck
Raining cats and dogs
There are more of them I can add to the list. You can refer to Be a Better Writer.com for more cliches examples.
Why Should I Avoid Cliches?
Even though some of these metaphors and phrases translate the story well to the reader, seasoning too much cliche in your writing can make your work boring, dry and unauthentic. How is it unauthentic? Your writing feels less genuine because you’re borrowing common words and phrases to express your story. It is better to slow down and describe the scene in your own words and paint an original picture.
Instead of implementing ‘raining cats and dogs’, you can write: ‘The dark clouds send a heavy torrent to the earth.’ Another reason to avoid cliches is that they are vague and not specific. When I read ‘Abigail is down in the dumps’, I know that Abigail is upset over a particular matter in the story, but how does she express these emotions? Is she crying? Frowning? Hiding under the blankets? For me, these common cliches tell more than show, which makes the story bland and less impactful.
To avoid these common cliches, you can refer to the thesaurus or go online to find cheat sheets to describe a particular object. Use these cheat sheets as a guide or inspiration to sew your words to an original string of letters. I love to use Writer’s Write Guide to Body Language to describe my characters’ emotions to replace cliches. So instead of writing ‘Abigail cried like a baby.’ I write ‘Abigail’s tears ran down her cheek, followed by a fervent sobbing that lasted for hours.”
You can sharpen your vocabulary by reading more books, refer to the thesaurus and don’t be shy to find writing d
escriptions online like this helpful writing tool.
How can I tell if I use a cliche?
You can read your writing out loud. If you can guess what’s the next word in a sentence, then you are writing a cliche. You can also pass your writing to a friend. He/she can find whether your story is too vague and point out parts in your story where it needs to be rewritten.
Should I avoid cliche like the plague?
If you notice, I’m writing a cliche up there! Can you use cliche in your writing? Maybe one or two phrases will not hurt, but please don’t fill your entire book with it or else it can be published as a book for metaphors than a fiction novel. You may put cliche in the character’s conversation to make it sound natural or highlight their characteristics, but please do it in moderation. Stop writing ‘Let’s get out of here!” whenever your main character and his friends try to escape from the enemy’s clutches. You can refer to this list for cliche dialogues.
Ah, here’s the tea of this article. If you’re familiar with Japanese Shoujo manga, they are always filled with common stereotypes such as the weak heroine runs to school late with a loaf of bread on her mouth and bumps her potential love interest. This man turns out to be the mysterious transfer student in her classroom who is she attracted to. It’s always the same premise.
Here are some of the common plot stereotype cliches:
- The Love Triangle
You can go to Wattpad and there are zillions of them. The love triangle is when two perfect men fight for the love and attention of Ms. clumsy and innocent. The outcome is always obvious – the heroine will pick the first guy she meets first with the tragic backstory and sensitive attitude than the second guy who is more cheerful and caring. Why not write a story where she picks neither and marries a random man you introduced on the very last page of the book?
- The Chosen One
Yer a wizard, Harry. Harry Potter is an easy classic choice for the Chosen One trope. Only Harry can do this, only Harry can do that. Harry can do anything because Dumbledore says so. Is anyone going to write a story where the main character lives in the shadow of the Chosen One who becomes the unsung hero?
- Abusive or Absent (Or dead) parents
It’s hard finding stories where the main characters are loving, supportive or present unless you’re watching a soap opera from Disney Channel. Which main character has dead parents? Harry Potter, Naruto, Cinderella….there is too much! They usually make this trope as a tragic backstory for the readers to sympathize with them. If the parents are alive, they are abusive! They use the kid to pay their debts or sell them for money. There are many other ways to give your characters a tragic backstory, guys. For example, the main heroine is afraid of fishes because her mother used to slap her with a fish as a punishment. It sounds stupid but hey it’s original.
- The Mary Sue
Sally lost her parents when she is eight years old. She stays with her alcoholic uncle who abuses her on a daily basis. Sally has long brown locks, big blue eyes, and an hourglass figure. Sally excels all her classes and can cook, dance, sing and mysteriously has dragon-fire powers that can unlock all the secrets of the universe. Three guys are attracted to Sally for no particular reason. Even though Sally rejects them, they are still head over heels for her. They will do anything for Sally, even selling their kidneys to fund Sally’s skincare routine.
The Mary Sue is basically the perfect heroine who has no faults. This type is character is annoying to the readers due to her unrealistic nature.
After reading this article, I hope you are motivated to craft an original masterpiece. Don’t be afraid to look stupid. It’s better to stand out among the crowd.