From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

3 Tips to Avoid Cliche

We all know cliche is our enemy. It dulls our voice and makes us seem amateurish. But what are the specific tools we can use to fight it? Here are three I've come up with:

1-No Stealing. Never use a phrase or metaphor that you've seen or heard somewhere before. That keeps you from being genuine. Get at the heart of the metaphor and put it in a way that's truthful to you. Get specific. Details, details details, and ones from YOU and not anyone else.

2-Be Careful with "Dead" Words. Cliche goes beyond phrases and metaphors. There are single words that are used so often that they lose any real meaning. Words like smile, sigh, tear, laugh, beautiful. In fact, making a list is a good idea. These words aren't necessarily forbidden, they should just be used cautiously, and put in a context that will give back some real meaning to the word. What other "dead" words can you think of?

3-Be Observant. To really describe a faucet dripping, watch one drip. Other writers have their own way of describing a thing, but figure out your own way. See and smell and touch and hear for yourself, and pay attention. Then you have real life experience, and an understanding beyond the words someone else used to describe something.

What do you think? What else can we do to avoid cliche?

Sarah Allen


  1. Good tips. I find I catch cliches when I read my work out loud. If you cringe when you're saying it, you know it has to be fixed.

  2. I agree with Tracey. I think when you read what you have done out loud, it's a lot easier to spot the cliches. You are forced to hear how bad it sounds and it will help you come up with better descriptions.

  3. Yup, reading out loud is what I do too. I can HEAR the cliches when I do that, and my brain can't ignore them that way.

    Thanks for these tips!

  4. Interesting comments about reading your work out loud. Two of the final edits of my book were done out loud.

    Anytime something sounded strange or if the person reading out loud stumbled or said something differed we stopped to find out why and corrected if needed.

  5. This is a great list. It took me a while to realize how often I would write "beautiful" before I learned to actually write what was beautiful beyond the word itself. Nice job.

  6. Great advice! Although I would say that sometimes cliche isn't a bad thing. We rely on it a lot - there are reasons why some things are said often. :)

  7. I think when you go into a full sensory exploration of a moment and choose what "pops," then you avoid being trite and cliche.

  8. Using cliches can strangle the writing. You are correct--and reading stuff aloud helps.

  9. Great tips...... would be helpful for book publishers.

  10. Reading out loud is a great idea! Thanks for the advice and comments everyone :)


  11. These are excellent tips! I think we just get lazy, in general, unless we're aspiring professionals.

    I'm writing a post and would like to use the cliche graphic from your post. I want to make sure I give proper credit, though--Is it yours?



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