This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Clichés can be defined as over-used phrases or metaphors, which have lost their original meaning and effectiveness through familiarity. The first (hundred) times the phrase 'sly as a fox ' was used, it wasn't a cliché. Once it had been repeated so often that both the surprise and subtlety of the original metaphor was lost, it became a cliché.
By their very nature, clichés are easy to use and you will undoubtedly find several have slipped into your manuscript. They feel natural and easy, and we use them all the time in our everyday speech.
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When combing through your work to eradicate these sneaky phrases, bear in mind that new clichés are born all the time. One I've noticed quite recently is 'at the end of the day'. This is a classic 'filler' phrase, which adds very little meaning to a sentence, and sounds lazy and overly-familiar.So, are they always bad? It's pretty impossible to write without using some often-used phrases, but not all of these have moved into the realm of cliché. Don't panic and start weeding out everything which is familiar, but do pay attention to important details or events and make sure these are written as elegantly and creatively as possible.
Having difficulty coming up with a different way to say 'fog as thick as soup' and wondering whether to bother? Here are the two possible outcomes when your reader encounters a clichés in your story:
1. Your reader will not notice the cliché. Their mind will skip over it as a largely meaningless phrase and you’ll have wasted an opportunity to convey an image, thought or feeling.
2. Your reader will notice the cliché and be irritated by it. They may even lose confidence in your ability to write engaging and realistic prose, which will throw them out of the story. In a particularly bad instance, it may cause them to stop reading your book altogether.
Finally, don't forget that clichés aren't restricted to phrases or metaphors, they can be tired references (Achilles' heel, anyone?) or over-used plot devices (it was just a dream, the girl he was hugging was really his sister), too.