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Friday, April 12, 2013


We've all heard them, seen them in used in television, movies and advertising, or read them in books. The dreaded cliché. People use them all the time while talking. It's as natural for some as talking with your hands (which I'm totally guilty of—never stand too close when I get going—you could lose an eye. LOL) They also tend to be a regional thing. I'm from the South . . . we spout cliches here like well—like water off a duck's back.

There's a natural rhythm and familiarity to the cliché. They can be a comforting turn of phrase which takes us to a special place and time. Or reminds us of a particular friend who always used those particular word(s). In writing using cliches can be great as long as we don't overuse them. Too many and the reader will start rolling their eyes to the back of their heads.

Still they can add a nuance or flavor to the story that might not otherwise be there. Like adding an accent to the dialect, the cliché can change the ordinary to the extraordinary. Here are a few examples of some cliches I'm sure you've heard before.

Avoid it like the plague

Deader than a doornail

Grab a tiger by the tail

If these walls could talk

The pot calling the kettle black

Think outside the box

Thick as thieves

Banging your head against a brick wall

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Plenty of fish in the sea

Every dog has its day

He/she was like a kid in a candy store

Back to the salt mines

The best thing since sliced bread

Crying all the way to the bank

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

These are a handful of cliches I know I've heard or read over the years. Sometimes they make a character unique and stand out in a crowd of same old, tired caricatures. But, and this caveat I'll give you for free—don't overuse them. Sprinkling a few of them throughout your story or conversation can be fun and light but too many and your creativity can be called into question, thinking you're using them as a crutch. (I've been guilty of having a few too many cliches running throughout my books and my critique partners call me on them every time.)

So, how do you feel about cliches in your stories? Do you love 'em or would you rather do without them altogether?

Why not add your own special cliches to the above list. Post them in the comment section for everybody to see and enjoy.


Rita said...

Great post. This is a topic near and dear to me. Here are some more clichés.
Alls well that ends well.
An oldie but goodie.
Pick of the litter.
Pay backs are hell.
Kick ass.
I know that place like the back of my hand.
Slept like a baby

I LOVE to take a cliché and mess with it.

“I know that place like the back of my hand.”
She stared at the stainless steel hooks extending from his arms.”

"How’d you sleep?" Sgt Betts asked his partner.
"Slept like a baby. I woke up every 2 hours.”
Don’t know if you guys remember the GIECO commercial that had a drill sergeant therapist. Mu mostest favorite cliché buster is choosing Anthony Hopkins to play the chilling Dr. Hannibal Lector.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Fun post, Kathy! And very timely, too. I was just listening to the sports report on the radio and one fellow used "brass tacks" and "down to the short strokes" in the same sentence!

Pamela Stone said...

They're everywhere. Until I started writing, I never even noticed them though. Funny how now they stick out like a sore thumb. I'm more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rockers trying to catch them all. Ha! Couldn't resist.

Sylvia said...

Ohhh...Margie Lawson hates clichés and if you take one of her classes, she will point them out like crazy. Some I hadn't even heard of. But I love to mess with them. It's fun.


Hi, Kathy, and yep, I occasionally use then. Not fill a book with them. Not all the time. They do have a purpose and sometimes, there's a character who spouts out one.

We just need to remember to write fresh. Maybe give that ol' cliche a twist.

Elise Warner said...

How about "The best is yet to come?" If the cliche fits the character then it would work. Fun post,Kathy. Oh..Here in NY, "it's raining cats and dogs."

Kathy Ivan said...

Hi Rita

It was hard limiting the list because there are just so many great ones out there. And I totally agree about Anthony Hopkins. LOL

Kathy Ivan said...

See, Marcelle, that's what I'm talking about. Everybody uses them, sometimes without conscious thought. As long as we verbally use them, I'm okay, but too many in a story and it's overload.

Kathy Ivan said...

Hi Pam

It's funny you hear them all the time and while you subconsciously process them, seeing them in writing somehow makes them stand out more, at least in my brain. I have to be very careful not to overuse them. But they can be fun and give a character a certain "quirk" that makes them come alive. Thanks for stopping by.

Kathy Ivan said...

Sylvia, I have take one of Margie's classes, and she does really, really dislike them. I like to try and find a way to turn the normal cliche on its head. It's fun to take the expected and make it the unexpected.

A rose by any other name would still be a stench blossom. :-)

Kathy Ivan said...

Hi Vicki,

I agree, writing fresh is the key. I'll throw a couple of cliches in every once in a while, but I don't want to use them as a crutch.

Hugs, my friend, for stopping by today.

Kathy Ivan said...

Hi Elise!

Yep, the best is yet to come. Hopefully that's a very true cliche for all of us, and one that I can live with. :-)

It's not raining cats and dogs here in Texas, but the weather has been wonky all the same. 80+ degrees one day and low 40s the next.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Fun post! My mother enjoyed speaking in cliches, so when I read them, I think of her (fondly). :) Her favorite was "no one ever promised you a rose garden."

When I hear a cliche, I often wonder where it came from. Some of them are a bit outdated, I guess.

Jean Harrington said...

Nothing succeeds like success, and this is a great post. Enjoyed it.

Kathy Ivan said...

Hi Anne Marie, my mom used to say that too! It's true, a lot of cliches are a bit date now, but new ones seem to spring up all the time. I just went with a lot of the one's I'm most familiar with.

Kathy Ivan said...

Jean, I remember that cliche well, too! I glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for dropping by today.

Wynter Daniels said...

Cliches are great jumping off points to begin stories. Then to turn them upside-down;-)

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