Phrase Friday: Cliches

“I’m having the time of my life.”

“Let’s start with a clean slate.”

“He was driving like  bat out of hell.”

These are three examples of a cliche: an overused, often trite phrase, usually used to describe a person, thing or situation. It can be tempting to use cliches in your writing. Sometimes you might do it without even noticing.

The problem with using cliches is that they just aren’t very interesting. Why write about something in a way everyone has already heard? You’ll have a better chance of grabbing your reader’s attention if what you have to say is new to them.

Let’s start with those three phrases above:

“This is the most fun I’ve ever had, including that time when I parachuted off the Empire State Building!” – Not only does this grab the reader’s attention (who parachutes off the Empire State Building, anyway?), it tells you something about the person who is speaking. It also makes you want to know more – what could this crazy person consider more fun than parachuting off the Empire State Building? What on earth are they doing?

“Let’s do it again from the beginning, and this time I will try not to get angry.” – Again, don’t you feel like you know a lot more about the situation?

“The taxi driver was zooming through intersections and flying around corners, and I was quite honestly afraid for my life.” – Now you know who was driving, and you have a mental picture of where they are.

As always, context is extremely important, and while most cliches are one-size-fits-all phrases that can be applied in a variety of scenarios, coming up with an original description of your own is a lot more difficult.

Further reading: 681 Cliches to Avoid, The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill: Cliches and why you should avoid them, a dictionary of cliches, with explanations of what they mean and where they originated.




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