I understand what that means, and I work hard to avoid those ‘trite’ expressions that haunt every writer. But, I do know one thing. People talk in cliches. Have you ever heard anyone say something like, “I’m colder than my mom’s house in the winter”? That’s a great way to say, “I’m freezing to death.” The first is not a cliche but the second is. When writing descriptions or back story or internal dialogue, avoiding cliches is easy. But when writing dialogue it’s hard because it’s hard not to make the dialogue sound stilted.
Let’s look at the definition of cliche:
A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought:
“the old cliché “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.””
synonyms: platitude · hackneyed phrase · commonplace · banality · a very predictable or unoriginal thing or person:
“each building is a mishmash of tired clichés”
Indeed, good writing is original thought. A turn of phrase that surprises the reader with its originality. Of course, unless you’re a poet, every word of phrase can’t be original. Cliches creep into our writing because it creeps into our thinking and our natural vernacular.
Nonetheless there are ways to avoid cliches. Here are some tips you might try:
- Imagine the feeling you’re trying to express. Put yourself in that character’s skin before he or she speaks. Then express how that feeling affects that particular character. If you can make the feeling relevant to the character’s history as the example above, that’s the best. Perhaps the feeling, however, relates to the events around the character or the setting. Here’s an example: When I stepped onto the pavement, my feet sizzled (cliche: as if walking on hot coals) like the steaks my dad threw on the grill every Saturday night.
- Dialogue is the hardest place to eliminate cliches. As I said before, we talk in cliches. But, here’s an example that Fredrik Backman employed with Britt-Marie. (He used this type of dialogue with Ove as well). When asked what she thought about the neighborhood drug pusher, she responded, “He has a very neat cutlery drawer.” That was a perfect response from this character’s point of view. It said everything.
- Trick you mind to think outside the box. That in and of itself is a cliche. But it states what must be done. Go beyond and stretch. Ask yourself to come up with a description that doesn’t sound like all the other’s you’ve heard. Here’s an example: Cliche: Bugs danced around the light like moths to a flame. Non-cliche: Bugs danced around the like like happy partygoers.
- When writing your first draft, don’t worry about cliches. You can capture them in the editing process. For the time being, you need to get the words on the page.
These are a few of my suggestions for ways to avoid cliches. What suggestions do you have?