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Eww clichés, avoid them like the plauge!

Human speech is filled with shortcuts as we try to communicate meaning in the quickest and clearest manner. Sometimes we won't register that we just used a cliché, sometimes we use clichés on purpose because we don't know what else to say.

However, nothing is more jarring for a reader than coming across a clichéd phrase in a writer’s work.

Common cliches phrases in writing

  • Baptism by fire

  • Better safe than sorry

  • Bide your time

  • Burst your bubble

  • Crack of dawn

  • Crystal clear

  • It is a dog eat dog world

  • Every fibre of my being

  • Easier said than done

  • Few and far between

  • I beg to differ

  • In the thick of it

  • In your dreams

  • It goes without saying

  • Jump to conclusions

  • My blood boiled

  • My heart skipped a beat

  • My heart was in my throat

  • No pain, no gain

  • Start from scratch

  • Vain attempt

  • Warm welcome

  • Worst nightmare

  • You’re the boss

What do I do if I write a cliché?

The best thing to do when you catch yourself using cliches is to take it as an opportunity to freshen up your writing.

1. Delete the cliché and write something fresh or closer to what you mean to say, for example:

Before: Jane had forgiven Rose for stealing. The situation was water under the bridge.

After: Jane forgave Rose for stealing. She let the hurt pass with forgiveness.

2. Use the cliché, but subvert expectations, for example:

Before: Blackwall hated Elena. The woman was a thorn in his side.

After: Blackwall hated Elena. The woman was a thorn in his balls.

This can be used to show character; Blackwall is aware that he's using a cliche but subverts it at the last moment. By substituting "balls" for "side" we see that his character is crass and unrefined.

3. You can use a cliché for comic effect or to help with humour. If the character, or writing, is self-aware that a cliché has been used, it can add to the characterisation. For example:

"Don't worry, I'll keep your secret," Dad grinned in the embarrassing way which only fathers could. His expression turned into a deadly serious mask of mockery. "It's like I always say: you're the boss."

"Dad," I sighed, quickly looking around to make sure no one saw. "You're such a dork!"

What NOT to do

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy #1) by Leigh Bardugo is filled with cliches which weaken the writing. Just look at this page .

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