- I was thunderstruck
- Her skin was sunkissed
- His eyes were bigger than his stomach
- She was always there for him.
- He loved her to the moon and back.
- A chill went down her spine
- His heart broke
- He was broken
- At the end of the day…
A lot of writers would rather be caught dead than caught writing clichés, yet a lot of novice writers don’t realize they’re using them– or actually think they are good. There are many reasons for this. First, we internalize language we like, and uncovering a memory can feel like an invention, second, if you haven’t read a lot, you may not realize how often the phrase has been used, and third, an awful lot of cliché cards and mass market fiction make money.
The problem with cliches (aside from going up in a puff of smoke or being obliterated by the writing police) is that they don’t move people. To the person reading their 105th romance novel, they can be comforting (as when her breast heaves and he gruffly kisses her), but for everyone else it rings hollow and can ruin a good plot.
However, there’s no need to crawl under rock in shame when you write in cliché. Clichés can be place holders when writing a rough draft. Highlight it, keep going, and come back later and meditate on the scene, feel it from the inside, and search for a new way to express it.
A quick fix is to revamp a cliché. “My heart breaks” is old and tired. But “My heart breaks like a stick” (borrowed from a poem I need to track down).
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaewke Emezi is full of inventive similes that help us feel in a new way. Contrast, for example “She ran like the wind,” with “She moved like the ground was falling away beneath her feet, the future running toward her” (Emezi).
Some feel as if they simply cannot come up with new simile or metaphr. If so, try some writing prompts to loosen up, and realize it takes time. Sometimes I’ll write out fifteen different descriptions before I settle on the exact wording or image.
If you suspect something is cliché, ask a friend or search the phrase in Google. If it shows up even once, it’s probably a cliché. It’s always good to be in a writing group or have friends read your work, and above all, keep reading.
Comment below, and let me know if you can’t see the above video without downloading the Tiktok app! I’ve put another version here just in case.