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Writers: When To Use Clichés, When Not To Use

By now you may have heard that clichés are boring or overrated. And that they reek of unoriginality. That’s not to say that they can’t be used. In fact, if your character will appear like they actually live on planet earth, clichés will have to come into play.

How then as a writer are you supposed to use it without it seeming unoriginal?

Simple. Dialogue.

Let’s face it. Real people use clichés in their conversations all the time (or nearly). Check yourself. You’ll find that your favorite clichés are not far from your day to day talk. And if your character will appear real at all, they’ll have to have theirs too.

Take a look at the dialogue below.

“How are you this morning?”

“I’m fine. I slept like a baby.”

The italicized words are a cliché made of simile. But that’s okay because it’s dialogue. Like I said, real people use them. Don’t in the name of trying to avoid clichés and being original, write something like this:

“Hey, what do you think about this book?”

“Like the sun finally coming forth on a cold day, it gladdens my heart.”

Seriously, DON’T. There is nothing real about a conversation like that. Not even the Queen of England speaks like that. Save it instead for description.

If you insist on being original, you could try something like this:

“How are you this morning?”

“I’m fine. I slept as sound as my mama’s cat wrapped in her ball of wool.”

That’s better.

How then do you not use a cliché?

Answer? Description.

This is where your creativity should kick in, and it’s usually accomplished well with metaphors and simile. Clichés should be kept out of your description as much as possible. Check out the paragraph below and see how the cliché is wrongly used.

Emily dragged her body like a sack of potatoes. She was glad she finally made it to her apartment. Fatigue couldn’t describe what she felt. It would be inadequate. She slumped on the bed and shut her heavy lids and slept like a baby till morning.

Whatever you do, do not begin your scene with words like these:

It was a dark and stormy night.

Or,

It was raining cats and dogs that night.

These are all clichés you should avoid. The beauty about words is that no matter how much they recur, they can still be managed and manipulated in ways to create unending, poetic and metaphorical expressions. You can accomplish this too. Believe it or not if God has given you the gift of writing, then the ability to create mind-blowing metaphors, simile and any other kind of expression is already in you. Why not try to bring it out instead of being a cliché copycat. All you need to do is take time to develop your craft.

So there. That’s how you use clichés, and that’s how you avoid using them.

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