Friday, October 21, 2011

Avoiding the Dreaded Cliches

At one time I could have been accused of adopting clichés as my new friends. That was way back in school. Though it took time I outgrew that friendship. Cliches are an editor’s nightmare. They are also a creative writing teacher’s nightmare. Actually, they are everyone’s nightmare. I have nothing personal against clichés, but I really, really hate them. Whenever I come across the common cliches my hands itch to scratch them out.

After reading a few of my students assignments stuffed with clichés of all kinds from plots and characters to the actual writing: her blood was the colour of tomato sauce/ketchup (I seriously stopped eating ketchup), her dress was as green as grass (does anyone still say that?), he was as cool as a cucumber; I decided to devote an entire session to avoiding clichés.  

Granted that few of these students were just out of school, but that’s no excuse to fall heavily into cliché territory.

 I always feel there are better ways of saying things. Instead of saying “the colour of her dress was as green as grass,” we can always say “ her dress was  the colour of freshly watered grass.” This description instantly creates an image of swaying grass with drops of water clinging to it.

Another cliché that really irks me  is “her eyes were blue as the sky,” we can say this in a different way “her eyes were the colour of a summer sky.” There is an instant visual of an endless blue sky devoid of clouds.

A cliché I detest is “ her hair was as black as the night.” There is always a better description, we just have to exercise our creative cells.  Isn’t the description “ her hair was dark as sin, her hair was the color of melted dark chocolate, her hair was the color of a cold winter’s night,” way better.   

 “Far from the madding crowd,” is a cliché I have come across several times. Isn’t  “far from the dust and pollution of the city,” or “ far from city noises,” a slightly better way of describing  the same thing?

Another student of mine had decided to cram as many clichés as possible in her essay. I just hope that she was not testing my patience. Her first cliché “he was as hairy as a bear,” I converted into “a bee could get lost in his body hair”.  Highlighting all the clichés with red, I asked her to write them in a better way. By the end of the session, she had learnt to avoid clichés.

Cliches should be given a royal burial. There is no place for them in a good piece of writing. Cliches are responsible for pieces of writing that come under the heading of  ‘Bad Writing.’

As writers we are supposed to see the unusual in the usual stuff, to see a thing differently is our forte. And to describe it in an unusual way is what we specialize in. Our descriptions conjure vivid images in our readers’ minds. They literally transport them to  other and different worlds.  It’s our moral duty towards our readers to give them different descriptions.

 Is there any cliché you particularly detest? Is there another and better way of describing it? We all would love to read about the clichés you abhor.

PS.  I am taking a small break, as Wednesday 26th October is Diwali (the most important Indian Festival). There won't be a Tuesday post. My next post will be on Friday 28th October. Here is wishing all my writing friends a very Happy Diwali.


  1. What a lovely post, Rachna. As usual its full of good advice and wonderful examples. I enjoyed your examples a lot. Wish you Happy Diwali in advance.

  2. Lovely post and helpful as always, ma'am. Happy Diwali. Thanks for sharing such useful things here. :)

  3. I really like these tips and gives me a feeling of attending a class which feels so good! Thanks Rachna and Wishing you a Happy Diwali

  4. I could learn a lot from reading your suggestions. Thanks.

    I hope you enjoy yoru blogging break.

  5. Ah, yes. Cliches. They "ruffle my feathers". hehe.

    Enjoy your blogging break!

  6. @ Meera..glad you found the post helpful.

    @ are welcome. Thanks for your wishes.

    @ Rahul..oops,did I by mistake send you back to school?

    @ Slamdunk...its just a short break. I learn't about cliches the hard way.

    @ Cherie..ah, didn't mean to ruffle your feathers ;)

  7. Thank you for the well wishes. Have a good time on your break. Cliche's I hate, hmmm?

    I think I'm more sensitive to more generalized Cliches, like the evil republican who listens to classical music. The bad boy who's actually misunderstood. The cheerleader who treats other girls like crap.

    You get my drift.

  8. I intentionally put in a cliche recently. "The goggles, they do nothing." It fits and fans of steampunk hopefully get a laugh from it.

  9. Happy Diwali!

    Sometimes I will leave in the obvious cliches and go back to redo them in a way that's much more original. They're like sticky notes. "Change me!"

  10. Rachna, thanks for your nice comments on my interview over at Lydia Kang's. Cliches are tough - I'm sure I'm guilty at times, though I work hard to find better descriptive ways to express things. This was a terrific post.

  11. Have nice break, Rachna!

    I am trying to get my novel class to see the importance of not using cliches in their writing. They make it tired and dull and boring.

    Great post. :-)

  12. Happy Diwali!

    I'm not a fan of cliche's either. Not for any reason but that they sort of fall out of line with what my characters would think.

    I mean, none of my characters are every-day types, can't think why they'd use hackeyed phrases...

  13. How about "Her eyes were a mottled shade of green" or maybe "The sky was an azure blue - vast and unblemished."... :)

  14. those cursed cliches are hard to avoid sometimes. they're usually the first things that rush to my head when i get down to writing.

  15. It was a dark and stormy night... ;)

    Fabulous post! I particularly liked "a bee could get lost in his body hair”.

  16. If I use cliches, it's usually in speech and not stuff that's repetitive.

  17. This is a great reminder. I find them sometimes in my writing, even when I am watching carefully for them. This is why I trust my critique partners even more! :)

  18. Great post as usual, Rachna! Happy Diwali to you too!

  19. This makes me think of a fun blogfest that could use all these cliches to good effect in flash fiction. I'll have a think and post it up sometime soon.

    Great post. I have heard that such cliches can actually drive a short story giving the reader a welcome familiarity. Before then I'm going to be posting another award post and guess what you're nominated again :O)