If you’ve ever had a peer review, or an editor read your work, you might have been told – Avoid cliches. In fact, it is frowned upon in all kinds of writing – from academic to fictional prose.
Cliches are old and tired phrases. According to Oxford, they are phrases or opinions that are overused and show a lack of original thought. Sometimes, clichés are useful to get a simple message across. Mostly, they are tired and worn out. In fact, synonyms for clichés include ‘platitudes‘ and ‘banalities‘.
Clichés also describe ideas, actions, characters, and events that are predictable or expected because they are based on something that has been done before.
Most of us may use them in our everyday conversations all the time. They are like old wives’ tales. They convey a meaning that everyone should understand – for example:
- at the end of the day
- few and far between
- a level playing field
- in this day and age
- to all intents and purposes
- when all’s said and done
- in the final analysis
- come full circle
- par for the course
- think outside the box
- avoid [someone or something] like the plague
- in the current climate
- mass exodus
- the path of least resistance
- stick out like a sore thumb
- a baptism of fire
- fit for purpose
- in any way, shape, or form
(this list comes from Lexico – who compiled common cliches we should avoid.)
The biggest problem with cliches is that they lack original thought. Writers should be trying to express their ideas with new words – unique words, and words that bring to the readers’ mind an image.
When read, cliches are often skipped over. Our mind automatically assumes what you mean. The problem exists because the words are so worn out and tired, that they have very little impact on readers. And, it is often believed that the author is simply stringing their sentences from tired ideas – someone who shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Anthony Ehlers, author of How Clichés And Jargon Ruin Your Writing says: ‘When we use jargon or clichés, we create fuzziness around the image or emotion we’re trying to get across. Be as specific as you can be and authentic as you can be. Every word must have your blood in it – anger, irony, admiration, etc. Don’t make it look like everyone else’s.’
How to avoid using cliches in YOUR writing:
When you come across a cliché in your writing, do your best to substitute it with an original thought. Here is a process that should help:
- Think about what it means.
- List the images it evokes.
- List the words you associate with it.
- Rewrite the sentence using one of the other images or one of the other words.
Always do your best to make your writing as original as possible. Treat your readers to new and exciting ways to express an idea – ‘show,’ and avoid ‘telling’ with worn out words.