Avoid Writing Cliches!

Have you noticed how many people drive the same kind of car as you? I’m betting, you didn’t pay much attention to ____(fill in the blank with what you’re driving) until you started driving one yourself. Then, it’s as if every tenth vehicle on the road is the same make and model!

Writing can be like owning a new-to-you car. When a writer becomes aware of a major writing taboo, it’s suddenly easy to recognize it. Especially *gasp* in you’re own writing! When a friend in your writer’s group points out that most of your sentences start out with “He was”, or that editor highlights how many times you used “swiveled” in your novel (um, yes, that happened to me), those things are suddenly on your writing radar.

If you learn enough writing faux pas, it becomes difficult to enjoy reading a book for the sheer pleasure of the story. You mentally edit what you read and wonder how the book’s editor allowed the author to use “in the sky, the moon was as thin as the blade of a knife” or some variation of it four times in as many chapters (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin). Seriously, comparing the moon to a knife blade happened repeatedly in one of Martin’s Game of Thrones audiobooks that I was listening to.

Now Martin is brilliant at descriptions and comparisons—which may be why such an oversight glared (or in my case blared) so brightly. But let’s face it, if the likes of George Martin can overuse a phrase, how much more careful must we—the Martin/Lewis/Tolkien/Rowling wannabes—be? To stand out against a MILLION newly published books a year (thank you, Amazon), we need to be a paranoid kind of careful!

I once happened across an ongoing list in which readers contributed examples of characters being described as “forgetting to breathe”. It was comical to see the plethora of lines that read, “she forgot to breathe” or “he finally remembered to breathe” in one way or another (most of them, pretty straightforward forgetting to breathe).

First of all, who literally FORGETS—like, oh man that’s right, I haven’t breathed since lunch and it’s practically dinner—to breathe? No one! I’ve never forgotten to breathe in my *ahem* many years on God’s green earth. Now, I may have involuntarily held my breath because something startled or frightened me, but after the moment passed I didn’t smack myself in the head and say, “Duh, might help if I started breathing again. I’m so forgetful!”

Ever since I saw that list (which I hoped to link to but cannot find, thank you Murphy’s law) I have been shocked at the frequent use of the term in the books that I read or listen to. It’s ridiculous, people! Now, my intention is not to step on anyone’s writing toes. I’ve got my own overused and/or nonsensical phrases as well of which I am hoping to become more aware. I guess what’s surprising, is how prevalent that particular phrase is now that I know about it, and that editors allow it to be used when it really doesn’t translate to reality.

However, if I hadn’t come across that list I probably wouldn’t think twice about reading it in a book. It took someone pointing it out for me to be conscious of it. Which makes me wonder how many other phrases or words I am blind to in my own writing, or in literature in general (which means I’ll probably emulate it in my own way, unknowingly, at some point!).

What overused phrases or words have you noticed in books or movies? I may as well start looking for those as well, LOL. Do you think it’s okay to use common phrases even when they don’t make sense or are overused? Let me know in the comments! I love to hear from you 🙂

7 comments on “Avoid Writing Cliches!Add yours →

  1. (Guess I could have just included this in my reply to Carissa above… oh, well….)
    I can’t turn off my inner-editor. Never have been able to, so yes to the above. Or should I say, YES! Multiple moon slivers (and other repetitive descriptors); inhalation-deprived amnesiacs….
    But for me, one of the worst is re-introductions to characters we’ve already met,
    either through more repetitive descriptors (“Carla’s beach bum, fitness buff ex, Ralphie,” “Carla’s ex, Ralphie, the super buff beach bum,” etc.), or both the author AND EDITOR(!) forgetting they’ve already shown up altogether (so she meets him at Grandma’s bday party AND runs into him at church the next day- “I didn’t know you were back in town”… Yes, you DID! you just saw him yesterday at Gma’s!), or giving us conflicting backstory (did they meet in Mrs. Klein’s third grade GT class, or was it not till the eight grade MathOlympics team tryouts? Make up your ever-lovin’, collective minds, people!).
    And don’t get me started on conflicting chronology. Just … DON’T. 😁

    1. Ha ha…I think you DID get started 🙂 But I feel your pain! I think that’s sloppy editing more than anything. Whether it’s the author or a paid editor…the point of proofreading is to catch those things!

  2. I absolutely hate it when an author breaks the grammar rule: “The thing after the -ing must be the thing doing the ‘-ing’ing.” Example.

    She moved swiftly from the room, as quietly as she could. Opening the door, it creaked–a dead giveaway.


    “She” was opening the door. But did the writer say that? Nooooo. Now, if it had been written: “Opening the door, she winced when the hinges squeaked–a dead giveaway.” That would be grammatically correct/physically possible.

    Or, better yet, forget the dead giveaway part altogether. It’s borderline telling anyway!

    So…there’s MY biggest writing pet peeve 🙂

  3. Sometimes a main character “goes cold” so many times in a story, I wonder if they need some thyroid support! Get that girl some help, because her body temp is out of control!

    1. YES!!! (That’s all, just wanted to lend support, ’cause that’s a glaring [not blaring, I don’t listen to audio books]☺ and tres trite annoyance in my book [pun intended].)

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