Editing Tip #74 – How Cliche is Cliche

cash-cowI find it immensely interesting to note just how many new and emerging writers fall back on the use of cliche in their descriptions (although, let’s be honest here – some multi-book indie authors who publish for the love of writing and not because they actually studied writers craft fall into this category too).

When I point out a cliche in a client’s manuscript it will be in the narrative and not in the dialogue.


People speak in cliche, it’s only natural for getting our ideas out in a fast and understandable way. But if you want to compete with traditionally published authors, you need to understand this aspect of the craft of writing.

What is a cliche?

It’s a well-known metaphor or simile.

Her lips were blue with cold…

Tears ran down her cheeks…

His abs were rock hard…

The bullets rained down…

Why are writers supposed to avoid using them?

Because they’re someone else’s words – someone else’s imagination.

In a first draft don’t be surprised if your work is riddle with these easy go-to phrases – at that stage of writing you’re probably just trying to get the ideas out. But come draft two or three you need to identify these commonalities, these red flags, and use your own imagination to get your point across.

I’ve also heard a lot of new writers say, “But I’ve never heard it before. I thought I was being original.”

First off, if this is true you’re either not reading enough or not reading a variety of genres enough to be knowledgeable in this area. If someone points out to you that you’ve used a cliche in your narrative (one you thought was of your own creation but isn’t), don’t ignore the advice to change that moment – if they picked up on it then so will other people.

Part of being a good writer is knowing that there are no absolutes to what you know – the moment you think you know everything is the moment you’ve shot yourself in the foot πŸ˜‰

Happy Editing πŸ˜€

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Categories: Editing

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2 replies

  1. I try my hardest to remove cliches during the editing process when I can concentrate on being more creative with words, but I have a question to pose to your good self and your readers:
    If you are writing speech, is it wrong to use a cliche because people talk in them all of the time? You don’t stop yourself mid sentence and think – I mustn’t say that, it’s a cliche. This is a puzzle to me and yet I do go ‘ouch’ when reading some indie books.


  2. Hi Diana,
    Cliche is 100% expected in dialogue (speech as you call it). Like you said, it’s natural for us to talk in cliche and so it’s also good to have it when your characters talk – so long as that character would use that cliche and it’s not just your voice coming through πŸ˜‰


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