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The Final Frontier to Exquisite Writing – Avoid Clichés

Today Bamboo Forest from Pun Intended shares some thoughts on the topic of avoiding Clichés.

I’ve co-authored a blog for less than a year, and prior to beginning, my writing was natural – which is precisely why it wasn’t good.

Good writing stands on good principles. These principles aren’t natural; instead, they are forged by reading blogs like this one – and quality material in general.

Once you begin to internalize effective principles, the challenge then is to constantly have the necessary awareness while writing. Developing awareness as a writer is an ongoing process; one we must continually perfect.

If you were to make a feast, and lacked mindfulness during preparation, you may forget a few integral ingredients resulting in the meal tasting a bit bland. Your guests would be disappointed. The same concept is true with writing: forgetting important principles during the creation stage will lead to a lackluster outcome.

I could cover all the important aspects one should constantly be aware of – but I’m opting instead to cover the final frontier to exquisite writing: omitting clichés.

A cliché is a phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or novelty, especially when at some time it was considered distinctively forceful or novel.

A superior way to raise your awareness of these vile concoctions is to read a good sampling; I found this list via an article by Robust Writing.

The reason we have an unconscious tendency to use them is because they have been repeated a trillion times; they have become deeply imbedded in our brains; not only ours, but our readers too. If an audience finds a page full of clichés, their judgment of the content will decline. In short: reading clichés is reading what has already been written. That’s boring.

In a recent article, my final sentence was “Long and strong my friend!” I then changed it to, “Keep your heart in it my friend!” A small alteration, yes. But how many times have you read “long and strong?” The edited version is much better.

How to Ensure Clichés are Minimized from This Point Forward

You must install a cliché radar in your mind. Any metaphors, similes, or idioms that look familiar and tired – must be eradicated from your prose. Of course it’s easier to speckle your writing with clichés but it’s also lazy thinking, and unimpressive.

Everyone can pluck the mundane growth of clichés out of their prose with a little awareness, and by doing so you will have significantly upgraded your writing.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Great post, that list is fantastic.

    “Avoid them like the plague.” Hah

  2. Terry Krysak says:

    Thanks for the tips, I never imagined that the list was so large.
    Being a newbie blogger, I will keep this in front of me from now on.

  3. how about some other suggestions:
    - step up to the plate
    - on the same page
    - team player

  4. Cliches can usually be replaced by a better, more effective phrase, but they can be useful. Most people understand cliches, and they can be used to convey ideas quickly. The trick is to not overuse them, but to use them where appropriate.

    But when in doubt, throw them out.

  5. “Any metaphors, similes, or idioms that look familiar and tired – must be eradicated from your prose.”

    You mean like “final frontier”?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  6. I promise to never, ever, ever, ever use a cliche again.

  7. John Hood says:

    Hopefully avoiding clichés will witness a paradigm shift towards richer, more compelling, pros!

  8. Mike Nichols says:

    Clichés and buzzwords are always waiting to worm their way into your writing! We are so used to hearing and reading them that, unless you have your radar constantly running, they will escape your editing self.

    I particularly liked the sentence, “Good writing stands on good principles. These principles aren’t natural.” Good writing is not the same as everyday speech; it’s not even the same as formal speech. It’s a world unto its own. This may not be the rule for novel writers, but it certainly is for bloggers!

    Thanks for the post, and thanks for the cliché URL!

  9. This was very interesting!
    Re-reading a lot of what I’ve written in the past few months I’ve noticed that while I thought I’d been avoiding cliché’s I’d still managed to sneak in a few of the
    ‘easier said than done’ variety.

    It’s definitely something I’ll be watching out for carefully in future. Thanks for the tip.

  10. Patti Allyson says:

    You really made some good points- Maybe people don’t even know why something bores them- but I think you do- if they have heard it- read it- seen it- they are yawning!!- and are not aware of the fact that the phrase is repetitive overused and dull- they just know that it does not stimulate any imagination or thought- but you know that it does not spark any insightful thoughts in their heads- because it is rote- They have heard it all before.
    Love your insight- NO MORE CLICHES!!!

  11. These were nice points. However, I still do this myself and I actually think it still works. I guess we are all entitled to our opinions though.

  12. Clichés can be annoying, but sometimes, they do work. Take, for example, your title. Tell me “final frontier” is not a cliché! But I suppose that was done for humor, and in that case, it works. Sometimes, clichés do work.

    It’s the over-use of the overused that becomes really annoying. A well-placed cliché can often create just the right effect that a writer wants, especially in cases where dry humor is desired. Does a cliché necessarily have to be a metaphor or simile? The over-used phrases that drive me absolutely bonkers are “as it were,” “so to speak” and “in a manner of speaking.” They’re so over-used, usually by bombastic sorts!

    Love the list on that link! I’ll have to share that with my high school writing students! It’s rather funny.

  13. @ Terry Krysak: I’ve really only recently internalized how common clichés are. The list definitely was a big help.

    @ Jesse J McLaughlin: I agree. When used sparingly they can be an asset at times.

    @ Steven at Book Dads: Precisely. “final frontier” was done for a hint of irony. And my main point is to minimize them. Using them on occasion is OK.

    @ Matthew Dryden: I’m glad to hear that.

    @ John Hood: I hope so.

    @ Mike Nichols: I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I agree, the cliché url is very helpful.

    @ Jenni Wallace: “I’ve noticed that while I thought I’d been avoiding cliché’s I’d still managed to sneak in a few of the
    ‘easier said than done’ variety.”

    I feel the same way. It’s only recently that I’ve reinforced my cliché radar.

    @ Pattie Allyson: “they just know that it does not stimulate any imagination or thought”

    Well said.

    @ Blogging Millionaire: I suppose it can work – but I’m convinced minimizing the use of them will make one’s product even better.

    @ Mary Corbet: “Tell me “final frontier” is not a cliché! But I suppose that was done for humor, and in that case, it works. Sometimes, clichés do work.”

    Yes, I agree. They do work sometimes.

    “Does a cliché necessarily have to be a metaphor or simile?”

    You make an excellent point. I don’t think so. A common phrase can also be truly boring.

  14. Bamboo,

    how do you feel about the effects of using a cliche as a setup?

    “Is it better to have loved and lost than to..” and replacing the last part with a joke. Or arguing against a cliche-”no it’s better to love and not lose at all”

    Great read!

  15. @ Alex Strandberg: I’ve never thought of using a cliché in this way.

    If done tactfully, I think it could be effective.

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  16. Ryan says:

    Often, I think that when we are tempted to use a cliche, we should just not say anything at all. Usually we use them as punch lines, to reiterate what we’ve already said. Changing it, like your example, also works out in most situations.

  17. Thanks Bamboo for the response.

    I was thinking using a cliche in less than intended way could be effective because of people’s natural nausea they get from reading cliches.

  18. PT says:

    To be honest, at the end of the day, the thing is, I’m not going to lie to you.

    ;)

  19. Writer Dad says:

    BAMBOO, MY MAN! Awesome job. Great post.

    I try to avoid cliche, but every once in a while one sneaks up from behind and puts a pillow over my face. Your words will make me ever more mindful.

    Great job!

  20. steveo250k says:

    Keep reading the Wikipedia definition or look it up in a dictionary, cliché has other meanings. As several other posters stated, the cliché has its place. To say, “Avoid like the plague.” has meaning for me that is slightly different from simply saying “avoid” or “never use …” The cliché adds color, it paints a picture. Too much of the same color is boring. This is true of any word or phrase. Repeating the same picture on a blog or webpage is also boring. But so is a blog or webpage with no pictures. When used for the intended effect, as you did w/ your title, clichés are the perfect solution.

  21. Great post! Is that cliche? :)

  22. Ryan says:

    @steveo250k: “Avoid it like your grandmother’s toe fungus” also paints a picture, but it’s not cliche, and it probably won’t be overused anytime soon. Cliches may be useful, but only in illustrating how we should not use them. If you want to paint a picture, paint your own; it’s easy to change cliches into something uncommon and (better yet) unexpected. I’ll posit that you will always get a better response with the unexpected than you will with the common.

  23. when you don’t know what to say…..cliche

  24. logiteq says:

    Hi Darren,

    I can see the change even in this post. Though I am not sure if I am correct, I think your suggestions on Cliche’s is the same as not to make content spam, ofcourse not entirely the same. I really like the topic you posted.

    Want to see good updates like this!!

    Thanks.

  25. Anjay says:

    You hit the nail on the head! (sorry)

  26. @ steveo250K: The effort should be in minimizing clichés. On occasion they do have their place – I agree.

    Ryan has it right. We use a cliché to convey a message. But, to use them too often makes one’s copy bland.

    So, the solution is to formulate our own way of expression that stems from our own unique personality. It would have all the elements of a cliché except it wouldn’t be one.

    Use metaphors. Use idioms. Use similes. But instead of constantly looking into the Encyclopedia of clichés – use your own mind to convey the message. Your readers will appreciate your unique ways of expression.

    I like Ryan’s suggestion to make them unexpected and why doing so would be effective.

    I don’t claim to be a master at avoiding clichés. Moreover, *there are degrees here*. This is not an all or nothing proposition. If you usage of clichés is a little less tomorrow than it was today – you have made serious progress. Your writing will show for it.

    Becoming a great writer is a process, which is wonderful – because it means your craft will continually improve.

  27. Jesse Hines says:

    Bamboo,

    Nice post. Concise, clear, and effective. Good argument.

    The idea is to vow to not write a cliche, to force yourself to think through what you really want to say (in your own words), and then, on occasion, when a cliche might actually work, go ahead and use it.

    Exhaust all other ways of saying it first, and then, if appropriate, drop a cliche on them.

    Just be sparing and tactful in your employment of them.

    Thanks for linking to my post as well.

  28. Andrew says:

    You have inspired me to write a plugin to help identify cliches. Thanks for the post and the inspiration.

  29. Mlinar says:

    The post makes sense, I agree. But, cliche is not the only “writing habit” that obscures what has been said. For example, unnecessary accentuations out of the context; however this can be matter of the style (“a superior way of”, “eradicate from the prose”, “internalize effective principles”).

    IMHO, this is more distracting than random cliche.

  30. @ Jesse: Thanks. You’re welcome. Your article stirred me to write it.

    @ Andrew: What an interesting idea!

  31. Frank Carr says:

    I love cliches. They’re my bread and butter, so to speak. I like it when bloggers throw everything in but the kitchen sink. When the rubber meets the road and all is said and done cliches make many things possible.

    It really is amazing how many cliches do enter into blog posts. I guess it’s just part of the colloquial language used on them for the most part. After all, most bloggers aren’t writing for a literary prize.

    Also, thanks for the list of cliches link, quite funny and interesting.

  32. العاب says:

    This is an excellent post , thanks a lot , I’m grateful to you.

  33. Good post!

    I suppose that I’ve always made an effort to avoid clichés when their inclusion would have added no benefit and would have served only to reiterate what had already been said.

    I do, however, agree with Alex’s comment above; clichés can be used creatively in order to provide humour, liveliness, or personality to an article while in no way rendering it poorly written. It’s similar to using the word “ain’t”: we all know that it’s incorrect, but it can serve an author quite well when the intention is to emphasize.

    That having been said, I think that we can all agree that there’s no challenge in determining whether an author’s inclusion of a cliché is motivated by what I’ve said above or simply the result of their lacking the creativity (or vocabulary) to come up with an original way in which to express themselves.

    But hey, sometimes there just ain’t no better way to drive the point home!

  34. @ Frank Carr: You’re welcome for the list. I found it quite helpful myself.

    @ العاب: You’re welcome.

    D’Arcy Gregoire: I agree they can be used creatively for those purposes. But, since we’ve all read them so many times before – they often lose their effectiveness in stirring the readers that read them. New ways of saying things don’t carry with it that same detriment.

    @ Minar: Thank you for your perspective. I didn’t find such constructions problematic. For me, what you have cited was just a clear way to communicate.

  35. @ Bamboo Forest: Absolutely, I agree. My point, however, is that in using a cliché you’ve affected the reader in such a way that can only be achieved through the use of a cliché, an effect that is realized only due to the fact that a cliché is just that: cliché.

    Another side of this is that there are instances in which the author might want to inject a cliché not as a means of stirring the reader, but rather instilling in them a certain familiarity, a feeling of being unimpressed, or a sense that nothing new is being demonstrated. Instances wherein the intention behind having used a cliché would be to provide exactly what you’ve described as being a detriment. They could be seen, in certain specific cases, as a tool with which to provide the author leverage in creating a bias.

  36. @ D’Arcy Gregoire: You bring up interesting points. You’re making clear the instances when using clichés is not done out of ignorance or laziness – but executed for the purposes you stated.

    Fair enough.

    Another reason one may use them, is simply because they can’t think of another way to put it. And yes, that does happen.

    I’ve just finished an article that I will be publishing this week. In one sentence I include the phrase, “every step of the way.”

    It may be a cliché – but I have not been able to think of another effective way to put. And this phrase perfectly conveys my sentiment.

    It’s important to realize that unlike numbers, language is finite. There is a fixed number of words and ways to arrange those words.

    Some clichés are easier to replace. Others are much harder. Some clichés are particularly atrocious and others are better.

    Minimizing ones prose with these things, though, is the ideal.

  37. @ Bamboo Forest: I wouldn’t worry; “every step of the way” ranks relatively low in terms of being atrocious. ;)

    Your point about words being finite, and thus being limited in permutability, is quite nice and absolutely true. It would be for this reason, I suppose, that some phrases (the less atrocious ones) come to be known as clichés; there is just no better way to say it.

    I look forward to your next article!

  38. Ryan says:

    How about “Every dadgum step of the way” or “Every mother-loving step of the way” or even “Every step of The Way.” That last one will really get people thinking.

  39. @ D’Arcy Gregoire: Thank you. As you know, it’s a co-authored blog. My brother, Flying LlamaFish, is going to publish his new article, hopefully tonight. Mine will probably be a few days from now.

    Our writing style is a bit different, as is every individuals.

    Thank you for your readership, It’s much appreciated.

    @ Ryan: heh… Its actually a self improvement article. Or self development if you desire.

    So, as much as I like those suggestions – they wouldn’t be entirely fitting.

    I concluded on: “every point along the path.” It is longer, true – but it has a nice piercing quality to it.

    But who knows, it may change once again until published.

  40. Anne says:

    Ah, you used “final frontier” deliberately and very well, but “the reason … is because…” sneaked in!

    “The reason we have an unconscious tendency to use them is because they have been repeated a trillion times; they have become deeply imbedded in our brains …” makes me want to stop reading, and that would be a pity.

    “We have an unconscious tendency to use them because they have been repeated a trillion times; they have become deeply imbedded in our brains …” Same sense, but not annoying.

  41. Alan Hammond says:

    Cliches are annoying, but sometimes they serve a purpose. Just like anything else, application of a little common sense will tell you if you’ve over used a cliche or several of them.

    Great post and great comments.

    Alan

  42. This is great. I never really thought about it before, but I’m installing the cliche radar now. Thanks for the link to robust writing, I’ll check it out.
    Graham

  43. @ Alan Hammond: Thank you.

    @ Graham: Welcome. It’s a great blog – I highly recommend it.

  44. claire says:

    glad to get that link to a list of cliches. i have my own list — not exhaustive, just a list of my pet peeves — here:
    http://clairelight.typepad.com/seelight/strunk-and-light.html

  45. I remember hearing Janet Fitch, the novelist, speak at Squaw Valley Writers Conference. She said that, for a fiction writer at least, anything you’ve heard before is a cliche. This certainly does state most starkly the need to be original! Often tweaking a cliche and looking at the underlying metaphor for inspiration and, when you shift it, for consistency, can be very helpful. (I see I have more to say here and will consider doing my own blog posting on this topic.) Thanks for encouraging better writing out there . . .