I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Clichés…And what’s wrong with them, anyway?


As cool as a cucumber, there I sat in Margie Lawson’s Empowering Characters' Emotions class, taking it all in. Since I’d robbed Peter to pay Paul to get here, I wanted to get my money’s worth. My head was spinning like a top from all the information, and then she dropped the bombshell. The most common writing or editing mistake that writers make is…*Drum roll*…..
Clichés, clichés, and clichés.
She went on to explain (and I’m paraphrasing here) that when readers read the beginning of a clichéd phrase, they can finish it in their mind before they finish the line. It’s predictable. They know what’s coming. And for a nanosecond, they lose interest. Somewhere in the back of their mind is the thought: This isn’t fresh. A few more clichés and readers might remember that load of clothes that needs to go into the dryer or that it’s almost bedtime. They close your book and may or may not get back to it.
Since the workshop, I’ve pondered why clichés are so prevalent and came up with three quick answers. Number 1 was easy. And that was it. Clichés are easy. A cliché can get your point across with a minimum of words. If you write that someone was born with a silver spoon in their mouth, everyone knows exactly what you mean. Number 2. Clichés work. (See above.) Number 3. Writers overlook their clichés. We don’t see them because clichés become like family. Comfortable. And let’s face it. Sometimes we get in a hurry, and use those comfortable phrases.
So, what’s a writer to do? First of all, embrace the cliché. It probably captures the emotion or situation perfectly. Then go a step or two further. Explore what it is the cliché captures and rewrite it in a fresh way. For example: She carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. My rewrite: She shuffled, each step a struggle as the coffin came into view. I’m sure you can do even better. In fact, why don’t you? Or take one of the phrases in the Wordle picture and rewrite it.

Pat Trainum
I asked God to teach me patience and He gave me a book to write





Contest winner: Sonia won the copy of Liz Curtis Higgs book Rise and Shine! Sonia, please email Beth at beth@bethvogt.com so she can send you the book! Congratulations!

23 comments:

  1. Pat what a good post! I just read something else about cliches recently. I guess I'd better sit up and take notice (cliche intended). Thanks for the reminder of the importance of keeping the reader engaged by using fresh images.
    One thing I heard about cliches is to put a twist on them, or to think of a more vivid word picture to explain the same idea, like what you said.
    Here's my weak attempt at changing up a cliche: Misery loves holding someone's hand.
    Thanks for the encouragement to strive to write beyond cliches!

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  2. Oh, I love that, Jeanne! I really wish there was something called a cliche finder on our computers because I don't always recognize cliches. lol

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  3. What a fun post, Pat, and loved your suggestions for helping writers move past cliches. I smiled when I read cliches were like family. So true. It's so much easier to write the cliche than to take your writing to the next level. Brilliant job with incorporating so many into the beginning of your post. :)

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  4. Awesome Post Pat. I was going to respond in cliches but, after reading what you said, I can't think of a single one. Oh my gosh! I think I'm cured!

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  5. I love the "Wordle," Pat. It makes me want to play with cliches all day--but that wasn't on my to-do list.
    How's this: One thing he knew for sure, push-overs like him didn't win Olympic gold.
    (Nice guys finish last.)

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  6. Great, Beth!And thanks for making the prnt on the post bigger.
    Thanks Lisa and Reba for the encouragement.

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  7. Pat, what a great way to make your point. Quoting you as source, may I read much of this to our MN Chris. Writers Guild when we resume in Sept.? In fact, you should consider writing this into an article to get published by a writing mag. Appreciate this & you, Delores

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  8. You know I love this post, Pat. I too will probably pass this blog post onto those who would appreciate it. Thanks, Friend!

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  9. Love this, Pat. I'm crazy short on sleep - or just mentally lazy - so I can't attempt the cliche rewrite at the moment. But I loved your tips! Sometimes when I'm doing first-draft writing and I know I'm cliche-ing it up, I highlight those sentences so I can go back a de-cliche them later.

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  10. This topic is definitely worth a revisit! It can take a bit of retraining for you to catch the more insidious sayings that creep into your unconscious vocab arsenal. Old cliche's die hard. *cough* >.>

    I particularly liked what Margie said about twisting sayings, and putting a fresh spin on them that fits your specific character's situation and/or profession. INVALUABLE advice!

    ~Angela Blount

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  11. I always thought cliche's were easy to understand, got your point across, etc. etc. So when I started writing, I wondered why you couldn't use them. Now I know! I never thought of that brief moment in time where a reader might want to put the book down. Great post!

    Jennie

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  12. Thanks for the great post, Pat!

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  13. Great post! So true, and so hard to be free from!

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  14. Dee, (and anyone else who wants to use the post) feel free to read at your meeting. I feel honored. *blush*

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  15. Cheryl, thanks for stopping by. (Cheryl usually sees my posts before anyone else). Pass it along!

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  16. Melissa, the night I wrote the post my brain had glazed over...or is it eyes glaze over? Anyway, I had a terrible time coming up with a fresh way to rewrite carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. So I know exactly what you mean!

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  17. Angela, thanks for stopping by. Margie did a great job with those cliches! And the little story she read with practically nothing but cliches was too funny.

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  18. Jennie and Roxanne and Faye:
    Thank you so much for the encouragement. And I loved what Lisa said earlier about taking our writing to a higher level. And I think that's what we're all trying to do.

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  19. That post was fine as frog's hair. :)

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  20. Pat,
    Loved the post. But even more, loved your prayer. I've been cautioned about praying for patience. . . .but what a blessing to have the challenge of a novel to write instead of some random disaster.
    Chris

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  21. Chris, I'm glad you like my tagline. I've certainly learned patience these past few years as I work to get published in novel form. And, it's spilled over into other areas of my life as well.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  22. Though it sounds like a cliche -- great post! I think you hit the nail on the head (ha!) with your three reasons. Thanks, Pat!

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