- 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.
Sometimes, when writing a story, we get bogged down by the erroneous notion that we should write in order, from beginning to end. We may have an idea for the ending, but can’t figure out how to start, so we sit and wrack our brains, staring at the ceiling.
I’m here to tell you that the writing police won’t arrest you if you write the end or the middle first! You may leave the ending at the beginning or write the story working back from the end. The key here is to follow the energy. Ignore the voice that says “You should do X first.” Instead, follow the voice that says, “I’m excited to do Y.”
I wrote the climax of the novel right after I wrote the opening paragraphs because the inspiration struck. Later, as I approached the end of the novel, I became more and more worried about whether I could pull off the ending. When I finally came to it, I re-read the climax I had written almost a year before. I ended up revising it, but that first draft gave me the courage to hammer out a new ending.
When I began my second novel, I started by inventing my own theory about ghosts. I didn’t even have a plot. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. In the past I might have bogged down with despair, telling myself all kinds of untrue things. But I was having so much fun writing it, so I kept going, even though I didn’t know what it was or where it would lead. Later, I was glad it was written, because it had become boring to me. Instead I was all about plot, and as I was sorting out my character’s interactions with ghosts, I was glad to have my supernatural rules mapped out.
Here’s a Corollary: Digressions are Maps. Even if you are writing things that are digressions or not that interesting as scenes, write them anyway, because you need to write them in order to understand your plot or your character. You can always take them out later. Every once in a while, a student will hand me a story that starts with a long summary of the world the story is set in. Instead of telling them, “You did this wrong,” I tell them, “These first pages are your notes, your sketch. It’s important you wrote them, but the reader doesn’t need to read them. You can jump in with the action.
This it TikTok post that relates to yesterday’s post.