Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary describes a cliche as a trite phrase or expression or something that has become overly familiar or commonplace.
While the use of cliches is perfectly acceptable for songwriters, editors generally frown upon them. Why? Because they are a lazy form of writing. Readers want something fresh and original, and there are some fun ways to add new life to tired old cliches:
1. Amp up a familiar saying or add some humor to it. For example: Nellie put her hands on her hips and turned to look at her husband sleeping on the couch. Outside Junior cranked the old lawnmower. It sputtered once or twice then kicked into gear. Nellie watched as he pushed the old contraption across the lawn. “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, but thank goodness sometimes when they fall, they roll away.” She shook her head as she passed her husband’s prone figure and headed into the kitchen. Junior would want some lemonade when he finished the job.
2. Counter a cliche with a reaction or a revelation into the insight of the charater. This might not always pass the muster of an editor, but assume an author develops a character whose uniqueness comes from the use of cliches. Maybe they are localized expressions or the character is simply the kind of person who utters cliches as a form of communication. Counter the cliche with a reaction from another character or as in the following example, let the cliche show the reader something about the character that the character might not understand about herself: Katie slammed the kitchen door. She stopped halfway between the porch and the barn and stomped her feet in a fit of anger. “You’re as stubborn as an old mule, Zed,” she yelled back toward the house. No wonder we never get anything done. You want it your way. I want it mine.”
Zed opened the door with a smile. “Two peas in a pod, huh, Katie?”
Again, not all editors will be open to this, and it will take considerable talent to pull this off.
3. Twist the cliche. In an upcoming Pelican release, author Donn Taylor relieves the tense scenes in his thriller, Deadly Additive, by allowing characters to mangle the expressions so familiar to the reader, and it is a delightful addition to an excellent story, one you won’t want to miss.
Cliches can be fun in our writing if we change them up in creative ways. When self-editing, these overly used sayings should be identified and either eliminated or used in a more creative manner.
Next week we’ll look at some of the new “tired, old” cliches that are working their way into romance and discuss ways to bring new life to the way we show romantic feelings in our stories.
Until then, happy editing.