The Creeping Pestilence of Clichés
Recently, I reviewed a story and in my comments I referred to the use of clichés. It got me thinking about what is a cliché and how as an author and book reviewer, I use and address these dratted buggers.
Clichés crawl into everyone's work and articles. Even the best selling author Dan Brown littered his novel the Da Vinci Code with clichéd descriptions. I ask, no, I yell, "Where was his editor!" I say, shame for not killing them with a red pen. The clichés in his story telling are so abundant that if stripped, I'm not certain much would be left on the page. If nothing else, I suggest using the novel for a fun twist on an old drinking game. When you read a cliché, DRINK! You'll need a liver transplant by chapter two.
Anyhow, by definition, a cliché is not merely a phrase used by lots of people, but a phrase that conveys some sort of idea or message. A cliché is an overused metaphor.
Here's some advice on how to test if something is a cliché:
1. Read the first half of the sentence, then ask, "do I know how the sentence ends?"
Example, "The gene pool could use a little chlorine." Is not a cliché because when asked, "The gene pool could use what?" The entire room doesn't groan in unison the answer.
Example, "At the crack of...." most people will immediately say, "dawn." Therefore, the phrase is cliché. Need another example? "Stubborn as a...?" mule most likely.
Clichés are familiar and immediately conjure images. They're easy to pull from and even tempting to write down when a writer becomes tired or hurried. They often appear in early drafts when writers are trying to keep the flow of the story moving and run out of creative, original metaphors to describe a character's physical attributes, movements or even surroundings. This is fine, but get out your red pen and strike through when editing. This is the time when you should slow down, re-think and insert something a bit more original. Don't be afraid to hurt your own feelings. Every writer does it. We all make the mistake, but a good writer makes the corrections, or at the very least, tries to recognize these creepy little bastards.
Anti-cliché Some good advice is to exterminate these pests by using the anti-cliché. Here is an example I pulled from another site:
"A really dumb cliché like what goes around comes around deserves to be mistreated. The anti-cliché is a cliché that is twisted into a different shape, but is still recognizable. For example, you could take what goes around comes around and change what comes around to probably should, to make what goes around probably should. The meaning is significantly changed, but it is better to be thought of as cantankerous than as a bad writer."