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  1. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Avoiding Cliches

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Reggie, Dec 29, 2010.

    Hey everyone, I thought for a minute that I have been using clichés without realizing them. Some of them are phrases like “His heart pounded repeatedly,” or, “the alarm clocked screamed at the top of its lungs,” “what goes around comes around.” Other clichés are unknown as well. We might have a sentence, such as “ten minutes went by” (although this one is really not a cliché, but it will become one. I’m asking how we can write original sentences without falling into clichés. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to avoid them?

    One website suggests that we should not use clichés, which makes our work more original. Instead of using “what goes around comes around” (we should know that this is overused), we can use “something that we do is not going to come back to us, but it will eventually bounce back,” and so forth.
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    'His heart pounded repeatedly' and 'the alarm clocked(?) screamed at the top of its lungs' is a cliché?
    Personally, I don't think clichés are all that bad, if used from time to time and the writing is not bombarded with them.
     
  3. Naiyn
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    Naiyn Contributing Member

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    Sometimes trying to be unique for the soul purpose of avoiding cliches can end up sounding forced and awkward. A phrase that draws attention to itself for all the wrong reasons. The last thing you want, is a reader who thinks: "What the hell does that even mean? why didn't they just write (insert cliche here) instead?"
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think that "ten minutes went by" is likely to ever become a cliche--it's a bare statement of facts, not particularly memorable or distinctive. Plain unadorned phrases like that can only become cliches, IMO, if for some reason everyone has some common association with them--for example, I never would have imagined that "I'll be back" could possibly be a cliche, before Terminator made it one. "Naturally curly hair" would be an ordinary phrase, but to people of my generation it may be cliched because of the little red-haired girl in Charlie Brown.

    "What goes around comes around", on the other hand, isn't so plain--there's a little wordplay and poetry going on there. Similes, metaphors, wordplay, all of those things can make a phrase distinctive and therefore, IMO, make it subject to being cliched. "He was a tall man" isn't a cliche; "He was as tall as a beanpole" is.

    So I'd say that in general, if a phrase is distinctive in this way, consider whether you created it or heard it somewhere. And sometimes it's hard to judge whether it is distinctive. Is "bleached blond" now an ordinary non-cliched description, or is it a cliche?

    Looking at your exampes, _is_ "heart pounded" a cliche? On the one hand, I guess "pounded" is part of a metaphor, but on the other hand, hearts have been "pounding" for so long that it's lost its distinctiveness. So I'd say that while it gets no points for originality, it also doesn't lose points for cliche. But that's just my scoring system.

    ChickenFreak
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Not a cliche, but the adverb "repeatedly" adds nothing. For one thing, "pounded" is a pretty good descriptive verb that doesn't need an additional modifier, but even if you needed one, it would likely address "how hard is it pounding?" and "repeatedly" does not do that.

    Again, not a cliche - I've never read of an alarm clock screaming, and I like it, because it paints an extreme picture in my mind, and that's what I suspect you wanted to do. Unfortunately, the phrase "at the top of its lungs" makes the mental picture look silly. If you're looking for humor, it's fine. Otherwise, it's unnecessary.

    Now, that's a cliche. But if you have a character speaking it in context, it works.

    Not a cliche, and no chance (IMHO) of ever becoming one. But it can be something of a narrative trap, because you may find yourself feeling like you have to account for specific time frames and that can really bog down your narrative. My advice is to avoid time lapse references unless they are really necessary to the story. If, for example, you are writing a thriller, such as a time bomb having been placed that is set to explode in 15 minutes, and the bomb expert who is supposed to defuse it has gotten stuck in traffic, "ten minutes went by" has real meaning to the reader.

    Like a lot of "rules" of writing, this one should be regarded as a guideline, not as a hard and fast rule. Generally speaking, assuming you have a solid vocabulary, you should not find it difficult to avoid over-reliance on cliches.

    Good luck.
     
  6. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    I for one, would be hoping that my heart pounded repeatedly or else I'd die :p

    I agree with the majority. It seems you're getting too hung up on using things that are used commonly and are probably not even relevant to pull apart as they are merely statements of fact.
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Cliche situations (i.e. having an infodump of the character's physical description by having them think about what they look like in the mirror when they wake up in the morning) personally bother me more than cliche phrases. The phrases you mentioned don't seem too bad - just avoid things like "she drifted off"/"her eyelids grew heavy" etc for transitioning into dreams, and avoid purple prose-eqsue cliche: "I missed him with all my heart," "it was like a weight upon my shoulders" etc.
     
  8. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my everyday life I use cliche all the time - they just 'spring to mind' - ooops! 'there I go again' - ooops! not again.

    But I try to avoid them in my writing. I too used to think it was okay to use them in dialogue - but, after hearing one being used in Coronation Street The other night I've changed my mind -it made me cringe.:(
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Cliche dialogue is the worst. (Cough, CSI) :)
     
  10. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Cliche dialogue and prose is only a bad thing, I think, when a reader notices it or cares. Some readers may set out to pick your work apart, but trying to please such people is futile. There'll always be something. I have freinds who always say, "that sounds like", "that's not very original". They are the kind of people, bless their hearts, who think that the Matrix or Tarantino films are particularly original (I do enjoy those, by the way!). I use movies because most of those friends aren't readers.

    Basically, if a cliche serves the story better, I'd use it. And is it a "cliche" or common idiom or proverb? Is the word "cliche" being over-used today? It seems to me that a lot of grazers ... er I mean armchair reviewers, love to show their genre knowlege but often, it's not to celebrate connectivity but about some kind of Tall Poppy Syndrome. I see the word thrown about almost as much as I see the term "plot-hole" misapplied. To me, symbolic and mythic moments are great to ultilise. especially if they bring with them the gravity of timeless themes and dare I say it, better work.

    What is cliche, is a character reaching for the heavens screaming "NO!" or "WHY ME?", especially when over the dead body of a loved one. What about a grizzled cop on the brink of losing his job, metering out justice in his own unorthadox way, fighting a system corrupt, juggling estranged children from a marraige broken by his neglect?

    I don't think that your examples were necessarily cliche. Maybe they need a bit of a trim and a massage.
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's not about NEVER writing cliches. I mean, what are cliches? They're things that have become so common that it becomes revolting - but have you ever thought of this: why did it become so popular and so widely-used in the first place? It's because IT'S A GOOD IDEA.

    They're gems, they're brilliant ideas - that's why they spread and people use them. To avoid using them is just plain silly, and you can't avoid it given all the centuries of stories that have been written. True originality comes from God - all we humans do is re-create what's already there, but anyway, back to the writing and less theology/philosophy....

    My thinking is this - using cliche is fine, but what's amazing is if you can use a cliche in an original way.

    Say Narnia - the idea of a witch and talking animals and fauns and finding a magical world isn't exactly original - but the way C.S. Lewis wrote it makes it original, and it's still a classic.

    LOTR - something with great power that one must destroy to keep it from falling into the wrong hands - hardly original. But the world within which Tolkien weaves it is fantastic and brilliant.

    Harry Potter - spells and wizards with a dark lord after everyone, and Potter being a unique little boy who's also the ONLY one who can defeat Vordemort - again, heard it somewhere before? Even the idea of a school of magic - hardly original stuff.

    It's the way you write in those "cliches" - the way you create your world, your characters, the way you write it, the way your characters interact. I personally loved the film, The Dark Knight - it's filled with some very cheesy lines (eg. "he's not a hero. He's the silent protector, the (something, I forget) watcher... The dark knight.") - and yet they were put in in such timely fashion that it FITS so perfectly that it is absolutely brilliant. Cliche is revolting only when you misuse it. It's all about timing.

    If you can use cliche appropriately, I think it can lift your story to another level - and if you can create an original world within which these cliches dwell, I think the cliches become the cream on the cake - it just makes it that much better because you're using, playing with and showing these little gems in the right light, like a diamond that sparkles under the spotlight and that is enhanced by the right setting. Whereas too many diamonds just become BLING and cheap.
     
  12. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I wouldn't say a "pounding heart" is a cliche, since the phrase is so used that it flies under the radar. Just avoid phrases like "sea blue eyes" or "chocolate brown hair".
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Your post had some wisdom in it, but the part I quote is not part of it. You have the definition of "cliche" wrong, as it's used in writing generally and this thread in particular. A cliche is not something so common that it's revolting; rather, it's something so common nobody notices it. Our eyes glaze over when we read it. The reason cliches are frowned upon is that they're wasted words - we've all seen the image before, it's old hat to us, and we ignore it.

    The reason writing instructors tell their students not to use cliches is that bad writers use them in place of honest imagination. Bad writers throw cliches into their prose because they can't be bothered thinking of fresh images or phrases with which to describe their scenes. The reader's eyes skip over them ("Oh, one of those," he says as he reads, losing interest) and the writer winds up losing his audience.

    When Homer or Chaucer or Shakespeare or some other classic writer used the image, it was fresh, and was NOT a cliche. When everyone is used to it, we all yawn when we see it, and that's why it's not a good idea to use it. We're writers; we have to create our own images, our own phrases, and our own ways of looking at the world.

    Saying a cliche is a GOOD IDEA is not wholly true. It WAS a good idea when it was first used. Now it isn't. The fact that Homer used it effectively does not give us licence to use it - that is, we may use it, but we must be aware, as the reader is, that we are using someone else's second or third-hand leftovers, and the reader will judge us accordingly.
     
  14. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    To avoid clichéd phrases, just keep it simple and write what you mean. Instead of writing "he was as strong as an ox", just write, "he was frightfully strong", or "he was the strongest one in the village" and go on. Don't try too hard to be poetic or flowery.

    If you want to emphasize how strong someone is, you can show it instead. For example, he could break something by mistake and being surprised and apologetic, showing the reader how effortless it is for him.

    I don't think your first two examples really are clichés.

    "His heart pounded repeatedly" is redundant. Just writing "his heart pounded" is not a cliché in my eyes, it's just an ordinary idiom, neither particularly poetic nor particularly clichéd.

    "The alarm clock screamed at the top of its lungs" is a mixed metaphor, unless you're living in Bedrock and your alarm clock is a live bird.

    "What goes around comes around" could sound clichéd, but it's not something I would put in the narrator's mouth in any case. A character could say it, if he/she liked cheesy phrases.
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    While these aren't cliches in the sense they're figures of speech, really, they're both vague and overwrought, which isn't good.

    This is cliche and a figure of speech, and not good writing (imo imo imo). Cliches are used by a lot of writers because the meaning is supplied through the accepted general meaning. This isn't good though, as a writer should be creating their own meaning, not relying on vague generalities that come with figures of speech.

    Eh, doubt that will become a cliche, necessarily. There is a difference between cliches and literary figures of speech. Sometimes something isn't a cliche in our language outside of writing, where we'll see it used by tons of writers. For instance, "their eyes locked" isn't really a cliche that people use as figures of speech in their personal lives all that often, but one can find it used repeatedly in fiction. Same rules apply though, you're losing personal meaning due to relying on the expected fare.


    Write better? Be more specific and create the exact meaning you intend by a sentence, not some vague generalization based on established cliches, figures of speech.

    That's silly to the point of lol.

    As has been mentioned, trying too hard to come up with a 'creative' way to say something simple is just as bad (usually overwrought language also). I don't know why you'd ever want to say 'what goes around comes around' in fiction, though. If it's a character's dialog, then cliches are often fine, as that's how people talk. If it's in the prose, then maybe the writer needs to create and demonstrate the 'moral' of the story and not so directly try to state these sort of things.
     
  16. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    Cliche's are the kind of thing that kills me when reading fiction. It's one of the reasons I have a hard time with it...

    I think not only phrases themselves can be cliches but overall approach. Not that taking a well proven path is bad but I read peoples stuff and think that it reminds me of the wistful hopes of a teenage writer emulating what they read versus me reading someone who is striving to create their own voice through writing.

    What I find is that I'm read through the veil of another's style to try to get to the voice of the actual writer. The cliche part comes in to play in that I think there are certain 'canned' writing voices or styles that try to evoke the vibe the writer was attracted to as a reader themselves.

    Because of this, they adopt certain phraseology that tends to sound like other writing of the genre.

    So, I guess that's my soapbox. Actual cliche's themselves aren't bad if appropriate but I think a writer should develop who they are and not be as beholden to the voice of the genre.
     
  17. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Okay, I have some questions:

    1, Can a voice or word rhythm used previously become a cliche if successfully immitated?

    2. How does a beginning writer, who has not read prose profusely throughout his life, nor has excersized the necessary creativity, develop the means to conjure such fresh images, or to conjure fresh images without developing the means, if that is possible?

    3. Also, It would seem to me, that to sustain his voice and mood throughout his prose, he must restrict the wording he uses, thus limiting the kind of images he can use because they would require expressions that violate his flow. And what about being concise? Does that not also place limits on style?
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have thought about this too recently. I think i will have to have my manuscript read and cliché-proof before sending it anywhere ;)
    I was wondering about that, actually, how to avoid them, because i've got a feeling sometimes i use them without even noticing. this was an interesting read.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not altogether clear on your meaning for (1), but I'd guess that the answer is yes. I'm thinking of the classic hard-boiled-private detective voice as an example--it's been imitated to the point of being cliched, and it's also been satirized many times.

    On (2), I think you just write and write and write, and have people critique your writing, and hopefully part of that critique will be the identification of cliches, and you'll slowly scrub them out of your writing. Don't let the fear of cliches stop you; if you stop and try to search for phrases to see if anyone's used them before, you'll never write anything. Write first, kill the cliches second.

    However, I'd think that a lack of extensive reading would actually make you _less_ likely to use cliches. For example, the average person has never seen an ox, so you're not like to say "he was strong as an ox" without having read it somewhere. Please don't take this as me advising against extensive reading--do lots of reading anyway, just be cautious about grabbing specific phrasing and images from your reading.

    ChickenFreak
     
  20. laciemn
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    laciemn Senior Member

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    The question reminds me of a book I read about drawing. She says that most people who don't "see" when they are drawing draw symbols rather than what they actually see. Like a heart. If you say to someone draw a heart, they would draw the stupid symbol for it :love: rather than what an actual heart looks like.

    I think cliches are like these "symbols."
     
  21. Forkfoot
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  22. Unit7
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    I love how he already has sunglasses on and is putting them on again in that picture.
     
  23. Forkfoot
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  24. J_Jammer
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    J_Jammer Banned

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    Put a different spin on the cliche and still use it...

    like What comes around goes around....

    If you were writing a high school story about a whore you can say what goes around comes around with a bit of flare...

    lol I just wrote it two different ways. Anyway...

    Jen gets around and comes with sound.

    Something to that effect.
     
  25. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a very interesting point. I often cringe at writers who seem to pour out fancy words and phrases, without thinking about what they mean.

    The magic is not in the words and sentences themselves, it's in the images they evoke. You first need to have a clear idea in your mind of what image you want to convey before you can describe it well.
     

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