How can I avoid clichés in my writing?
This is only one method of many, but give it a try.
The examples I’m offering are for fiction writing but exactly the same principles apply to non-fiction.
Clichés often arise when we automatically associate one word with another (often an adjective with a noun).
So, we can get into the habit of describing all sunshine as bright, odours as pervasive, echoes as distant, gravestones as weathered, and so on and so forth.
This is an especially bad habit because readers see those adjectives so often, they come to just ignore them.
If you write bright sunshine most people just think sunshine and it doesn’t occur to them it might have been particularly bright in the scene you are describing; they skip the word bright because it’s so over-used.
Call it something like painfully white sunshine instead and the reader will notice!
So, try doing a first pass at a sentence or phrase without adjectives or adverbs.
And instead of:
Walking among the weathered gravestones, he heard a distant echo.
You’ll just have:
Walking among the gravestones, he heard an echo.
And then you can go back and put in the modifiers, if you need them.
At this stage you’ll actually think about them, rather than inserting them automatically.
Would the gravestones actually have been weathered? (Probably not if they were to veterans of the Iraq war and the story is set in a temperate climate, for example.
) Was the echo actually distant? Where was the source of the sound? What was it reflecting off? Why could he hear the echo but not the actual sound?
And so on and so forth.
This won’t eradicate every cliché but it will address a lot of them, mean that many more of the words you choose actually do some work and add some specific meaning, rather than being thoughtless.
As I say, the same applies to non-fiction and even business writing.
Of course, you probably don’t want a lot of very original descriptions in business writing, but even so you can work to trim down the over-used ones: not every company or product is market-leading.
Not every penny a consumer spends is hard-earned.
Not every opportunity is new, not every executive is senior, and not every regulation is onerous.
Archimedes jumping off the bath tub in excitement as he figured the solution to his King's problem.
Unless you’re a physicist or a mathematician like Archimedes, the chance is you won’t find the same solution in the bath tub.
The truth is there no such thing as 'Eureka'.
Just a bunch of ideas you've read or watched from other people's works.
And we wonder how do we avoid cliche.
Imagine, you’re writing a story about a person you never met, maybe a lawyer.
Unless you are a lawyer yourself or have a lawyer friend, the chance is you’ll rely your creative decision on Better Call Saul — a liar, smart, witty, etc.
All bunch of cliches flooding out into pages.
The key to break cliches is simple — know what you write and write what you know.
Doing research before you write, for God’s sake.
It takes months to write a story, researching for a week won’t kill you.
The less you know about something, the fewer creative choice you have and the more cliche you will rely on.
Thanks for reading.
Cliches are like sign posts, the kind you see when you turn onto what you think is an expressway entrance ramp, except the background is red and the words say “Wrong Way” and maybe “Turn Around Now.
In writing, they’re really your subconscious saying “This is the best you can come up with?”
If you’re writing fiction, it’s possible you may want a character who’s prone to voicing cliches.
It’s an identifier for this character.
Even then, use the cliche sparingly.
Maybe it’s just one turn of phrase this character uses.
Use that phrase too often, the reader will hate that character.
Use it way too often, the reader will hate your story.
Outside of that instance, use cliches sparingly if at all.
But here’s the problem in your question.
It suggest that, just like that wrong way sign post, you must come to a full stop and turn around.
Coming to a full stop is easy.
Turning around and putting your writing back in gear, that’s hard.
You’ve interrupted the outline and intent you already have in your head by paying too much attention to a stupid cliche.
If you can’t come up with a better alternative quickly, underline the cliche or highlight it and continue on with your story.
You’re probably inserting your cliches in your first draft, or else a significant reworking of a scene.
You want to get the key elements of your story down.
Chances are much of what you have written you will change anyway in a second draft or subsequent revisions.
Accept that first drafts are typically lousy, but they hold the key points to what can become a good or even great story.
One of the advantages of cliches are you know what they mean.
Everyone knows what they mean.
But if you have a complete draft of your story done, think of those cliches as placeholders.
Go back to them, decide what you intend each cliche to mean in context of the scene you’ve written.
Write that meaning in plain words, and then decide how you write that in a more descriptive or analogous way, if that’s what’s called for.
Sometimes writing in plain descriptions works best.
If you overdo descriptive writing, that in itself becomes a long-form cliche, and is often unreadable.
The “scene you’ve written” is the important point.
Relegating cliches to place-holder status allows you to write the basic structure for the scene, and the cliche you’ve written is among the details you have to work on in your second draft.
In this way, you are not stuck pointing the wrong way on a highway exit ramp.
You have turned around and are creeping back to the proper entrance ramp to your story.
And each time you replace a cliche, there’s a good chance it will become easier when you rewrite the next one.
Eventually, the appearance of cliches will recede in your rear view mirror.
(Ok, I couldn’t help myself.
Render them unique.
I’m writing about a love triangle right now; how many times have you read about love triangles? Many, isn’t it? But if you create interesting and compelling characters, putting them to face incredible and challenging circumstances, as well as having them moving in a very peculiar setting, than your love triangle will rise to the next level and readers won’t even have to know there’s a love triangle, they won’t have to read about it.
They will perceive it.
Show characters’ reactions when they meet one another, let the reader know through dialogue what happened between two characters in the past, show the consequences of their actions on other characters; to what extent have they affected other people’s lives?
I can write something like this:
John and Mary are a happy couple, then John meets Diane, falls in love with her and start to betray Mary.
She will eventually find out about this because Mary and John’s lover have a mutual friend and this friend tells Mary.
Now take a look at this:
John and Mary, 40 him and 38 her, are married from fifteen years and run a coffeehouse.
John falls for Diane, who is barely twenty years old.
They start to hang out and have a passionate affair.
One day, Lilah, Mary’s friend from the high school years, walks in the park on her day off and, in a dark corner, sees John and Diane sharing a kiss.
John acknowledges her presence, but Lilah goes away, pretending that nothing happened.
Lilah wants to tell Mary, but she’s hesitant, for she was also John’s lover during the first year of John and Mary’s marriage and Mary never knew about it.
Lilah and John can blackmail one another, but they at a stalemate.
See what I mean? This second situation is much more entriguing than the first one, because it adds depth and twists.
I have enough material in the second outline to write a 70000-word novel.
So clichés are not bad at all.
On the contrary, they have the potential to always be appealing to readers, but you have to give them another light and strength, rendering them unique and powerful.
You cannot avoid cliches especially after 10,000 years of tradition with the written word where cliches were often the simplest metaphors to use when presenting an idea.
Therefore, you need to be able to know and recognize cliches and avoid writing them within your own work.
One manner to get cliches out of your head is, once you realize a cliche, write it down in a different book.
That way, you can compile a reference library of cliches but also train your brain to forget to use this cliche ever again.
Can you identify a cliche? Some are not really obvious but we see them and use them every day.
They become like a worn-out pair of shoes.
They look like hell but are comfortable to wear – (and this line is a cliche unto itself).
If you google “Collected cliches” one of the first entries is a tracking done of journalistic cliches.
I would advise you have a look because I am certain some cliches listed you would have never considered as such.
Keep track of cliches and study them.
Sometimes they are useful and something they are better left unused.
It would presume the approach you wish to have with your work.
Get into a closer and more honest relationship with your story.
Don't try to make up dialogue, but rather know your characters well enough so that they begin to talk to each other and you have the feeling you're listening and transcribing rather than "writing.
" Don't try to invent the action — set your characters free and let them tell you their story.
Avoid the feeling of authorship.
Try for clarity rather than "style.
" Find Kerouac's "List of Essentials" and follow them.
Especially #21, "Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better.
" Kerouac will not lead you astray.
Don’t avoid them, distort them, turn them on their nose.
“It’s not nose ,you idiot, it’s ear, you turn them on their ear.
‘“Well if you say so, but didn’t you just let the cat out of the bucket?”
As far as plot clichés go, add a twist, warp it until it looks like a Picasso.
Instead of boy get girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl back change it to boy get girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl back but she eats his brain because she’s an alien and that's what alien girls do.