Daily Archives: February 3, 2014

Are cliches overused?

I feel like I’ve posted about this before, which – given the subject matter – would be somewhat embarrassing. But I’ve searched the archives and can’t find anything, so perhaps I’ve just thought it before…

When writing, and particularly when editing, one of thing I’m always on the look out for is use of clichés. They come in all shapes and sizes, from little phrases to characters and even entire plot-lines, and generally speaking they are bad things. Writing, surely, is about putting our words and sentences together in new and interesting ways – why read a poor copy of a classic when you could just go back and read the classic itself.

And yet, by definition, they crop up everywhere. They have their uses – spectacles and pencil skirt can tell us a lot about a cameo character without the writer or the reader having to distract themselves from the main story with a lengthy description, for example. And avoiding them can lead to tortuous and forced language which gives the reader far more pause than a simple cliché would do – a fast-paced action scene is not necessarily the time to get all flowery about how dark it was when “night” or “pitch” will fill the part.

In language at least, I actually think it’s easier to get novelty wrong than it is to get clichés wrong. Much like the mind passes over “said” as a speech attribution, but stumbles over more frilly versions, I think I would skim “dark as night” but I’ve definitely tripped over more exotic blacknesses.

However, for the most part, I think I’m on the side of the editors. Isn’t it nice to see something sparkling and new in your reading? Isn’t there a thrill – for both the writer and the reader – in finding the perfect new way to concisely deliver a prim woman or an unfathomable hole?

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