Avoiding and Retooling Clichés

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I heard a line of dialogue in Hawaii Five O this past Friday (One of my favs.) that made me sit up and take notice. “I know it like I know the name on my driver’s license.” Why, you ask, was it so significant?

It was creative. No cliché here. You know the cliché I’m talking about. “I know it like I know my own name.” This old tired line was transformed into something cool, memorable, noteworthy. At least for me it was. I turned to my hubby remarking that was a great line. Other family members would rather I kept my thoughts to myself. But I can’t help it. I tend to analyze not just watch a TV show or movie. This time I found a gem of a line. It inspired me.

Don’t show your amateur hand

They say the sign of an amateur writer is cliché lines. Not sure who they are, but it’s mention many times in writing books, classes and workshops “Avoid Cliché.”

It’s not easy. A cliché often says so much. We can understand with one line what otherwise would take paragraphs to explain. But it can become uninteresting and lack creativity for readers if our story is peppered with a lot of clichés.

Old Idioms aren’t always clear

My co-worker told me about her son’s coach who often used old idioms. Her son came home from practice one day and asked his mother what does “You are slower than molasses in winter” mean. I would guess most people under the age of 40 have no idea what that cliché means. When molasses was used more consistently as sweetener in days gone by, they knew it thicken in cold weather. Unless you know are familiar with molasses it makes no sense. So making sure your cliché is understandable is important too.

The cliché “It’s as plain as the nose on your face,” we know, refers to the obvious. Today we might hear the phrase. “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”

“The buck stops here” says I take responsibility. More recent “Put on our big boy pants.” or “Big girl pants.” We strive to be PC.

Some clichés like the molasses reference are dated. “Easy as pie.” What does that mean? It should really be easy as eating pie. Simple and pleasurable. Same as “Piece of Cake.”

Clichés can show time periods

Old clichés fit well in historical fiction if they are true to the time period.

“Say hello to my little friend.” Probably wouldn’t come out of the mouth of a bandit from 1874. But the idiom “When Pigs Fly” has been around since the 1600s. It refers to the impossible.

A sprinkle of cliché to speak to time and place usually gets (excuse the cliché ) under the radar of the cliché police.

Practice avoiding clichés

An exercise in many writing courses is to take an overused line and give it a fresh spin. Such as the line “I know it as well as I know my own name.” How else can a writer express confidence in a characters declaration of truth? How about “I know it like I know when Monday Night Football comes on.” Okay maybe you can come up with a better one.

One of the best reasons to avoid clichés is to push yourself to exercise creativity. For example a big clumsy guy at a gala might be described as “A Bull in a China Shop.” But isn’t it more interesting to say he was like “A singing mule at a piano recital.”

Avoiding cliché stretches our writing muscles. You might even create a new cliché. Remember “Life is just a box of chocolate.”

Let’s have a little fun. Here are some clichés. See if you can come up with a new twist on them.

Stick to my guns

It’s not my cup of tea.

Can’t see the forest for the tree.

It’s like pulling teeth.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water.

If you’re comfortable doing so I’d love to see your creativity in the comments.


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Using Pictures Can Spark a Writer’s Imagination

What story does this picture evoke in your imagination?

What story does this picture evoke in your imagination?

What does this picture say to you? Does a story begin to form in your mind? The teens in my writing workshop this past summer were given a selection of pictures of random things. After looking through the pile of pics each choose the one that spoke to them. I was thrilled with the creativity and depth of their rough draft story ideas.

The stories reflected their background and experiences. Some were humorous and others dramatic. The starting point wasn’t always the picture. One student after looking at the picture above started with a car accident that killed the husband and wove the picture into a flashback of the day he had proposed. Clever and troubling don’t you think. Her young life had already dealt with death and it was reflected in her story choice.

What kind of personality would this bike have?

What kind of personality would this bike have?

Pictures speak to different people in different ways. This bicycle picture evoked a humorous story from another student. The bike’s point of view of a misspent life was creative.  While this same bike was the final scene in a Sam Spade type detective’s investigation into a murder. That particular student love of mysteries was apparent.

Because there was no specific storyline that had to be followed each one was free to tell the story that sparked from their imagination.  An imagination laced with the students own life experiences and interests. Pictures are great tools to get your writing mojo started. Character descriptions can begin with a picture. Settings can be captured in words from those vacation photos and travel magazines. Those thousand words a picture paints can find their way on the page with the right photo.

What story do you see when you look at the following picture?

I will not identify this photo but only say I was in another country when it was taken. Use your imagination and post a short intro to your story.

I will not identify this photo but only say I was in another country when it was taken. Use your imagination and post a short intro to your story.

Can’t wait to read what stories this photo draws from your imagination.

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Creating A Monster With Your Writing


As I sit here trying to decide what I want to write for my blog post, I am continually being interrupted by my granddaughter. She is engrossed in a sticker book that allows her to create faces on cartoon monsters. Shyla insists that I approve each new creation.  Her joy was dampened when she noticed the examples on the front of the book. Believing this must be the right way to do it, she begs me to help her. We combed through the pages of stickers looking for just the right nose, horn, three eye combo and mouth to match the picture on the front.

Be careful not to imitate

Writers tend to do that, as well. While we learn the craft, we go from creating our own voice to copying exactly what someone else is doing because that has to be the right way. We comb writing books looking for examples that say what we want to say. Our imitation—like my granddaughters monster faces—is a close facsimile to the example. But it lacks something—originality.


Let your originality shine

Shyla’s original monster faces are full of character. They reflect who she is. Each face becoming more distinct as she works out where to position each facial characteristic. The layout becomes smoother and the color combinations more dynamic. Her originality shines.


Examples are only guides

Creativity and personality are keys to great writing. Guided by the examples we see in others’ writings, we take our writing tools and combine them to produce our own word pictures that others can benefit from. Originality is what draws readers to a writer’s work and keeps them coming back.

While learning the craft of writing, don’t compromise that natural God-given style for someone elses. Be the original God has made you to be.

What lessons have you learned about originality as you learn the craft of writing?


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