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Do you try to avoid using cliches?

Ross at Play

I have seen advice from famous writers that cliches should be avoided. It seem like pretty hard advice to follow.
What is the difference anyway, between an 'everyday idiomatic expression' and a 'tired and boring old cliche'?
Do you prefer simple literal language over something that may appear unoriginal?
My feeling is that a cliche used in an unusual enough situation makes the writing (the idea being expressed) original, at least original enough.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer

I've wrestled with this, but there's a big difference between cliches in spoken dialogue (ex: "In a cow's eye I will!") and in the narrative. In dialogue, you have 'natural' expressions (natural here meaning 'sounding normal', and not normal speech, filled with dozens of "ums" and "ahs"). In narrative, though, you should focus on original expressions. Thus you wouldn't describe the main character as "running like the devil" when you could express it more originally ("he ran like he was followed by a pack of dogs with a package of sausages in his pocket").

However, even within that context, you want to beware of relying too heavily on common cliches in dialogue. The character's thoughts and ideas should be original, but their automatic responses (ex: "Holy Shitsky, Batman, there's trouble in Polishtown!") are alright to leave alone.

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

However, even within that context, you want to beware of relying too heavily on common cliches in dialogue.

It had occurred to me that dialogue would be different, and speech should be in character.
I can see why you make a distinction between automatic responses, and characters' thoughts and ideas.

REP

@Crumbly Writer

I've wrestled with this


Why wrestle with it?

A Cliché is a Cliché because it states what a person wants to say and it is used frequently. I agree that using numerous Clichés in dialog or narrative should be avoided. However, use of an occasional Cliché in a story is not something inappropriate for a writer to do. So as I said, why be concerned?

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

Are you considering only phraseological cliches or are you including plot cliches in your question?

While innovation is laudable, writers who break genre cliches often have problems earning reader approbation.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Are you considering only phraseological cliches

To be irritatingly precise, I was only considering phrasal cliches. :-)

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ross at Play

@REP

why be concerned?

Basically, to be original in the use of words as well as plot. I was wondering about the extent the more experienced writers here go to seeking to achieve that.

Crumbly Writer

@REP

Why wrestle with it?

I wrestled with the limits I should impose: how much use of Clichés are acceptable, and when are they verboten? What I outlined above is what I've generally decided. An occasional "Oh shit!", while hardly original, is perfectly fitting, as is the highly unoriginal "You haven't heard the last of me, Snidely Whiplash!" However, when expressing a character's motives, rationales, insights or discoveries, you should strive to express them in creative ways, and avoid Clichés as much as possible.

My distinction between automatic (unthinking responses) and original thought (requiring original explanations) marks a clear boundary between the two.

Replies:   REP
docholladay

Use them when they fit the character's personality and the situation in the story.

Cliches became what they are because they worked for given situations.

Used properly they can help a story or character's personality. Used wrong they will hurt the story and the character. Like every other tool in your writer's toolbox, it has its good and bad points.

REP

@Crumbly Writer

However, when expressing a character's motives, rationales, insights or discoveries, you should strive to express them in creative ways, and avoid Clichés as much as possible.


I don't disagree with expressing something in a creative manner. That is especially true in narrative. However in dialog, I don't agree with intentionally avoiding clichés. If the timing, emotions, and situations can best be expressed by an "Oh shit!" or "Fuck you", then use it. To me, writing dialog is about forming statements that would be used in real life. If you try to avoid clichés and other terms that a person would normally use, then the dialog seems stilted or unnatural.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

If I had used 'phrasal', would my average word length have been enough for me to be judged incomprehensible? :)

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@REP

I don't disagree with expressing something in a creative manner. That is especially true in narrative. However in dialog, I don't agree with intentionally avoiding clichés. If the timing, emotions, and situations can best be expressed by an "Oh shit!" or "Fuck you", then use it. To me, writing dialog is about forming statements that would be used in real life. If you try to avoid clichés and other terms that a person would normally use, then the dialog seems stilted or unnatural.

And I never suggested you shouldn't use common expressions, only that you needed to limit them (largely to expressions, rather than original thoughts the character is expressing). Clichés become problematic when you use them rather than expressing your own ideas, but if you utilize them to make characters seem more realistic, then they add to the story. (i.e. it's fine to use them, but don't use them as a crutch when your story needs to stand on its own.)

Replies:   REP
REP

@Crumbly Writer

I agree. That's why I said the use of numerous clichés should be avoided.

awnlee jawking

To put the topic into perspective, note how many clichés have been listed in the 'Immersion Breakers' thread.

AJ

Switch Blayde

I assume the question pertained to the narrative and NOT the dialogue.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I assume the question pertained to the narrative and NOT the dialogue.

That's not that unusual, especially at SOL and other novice author playgrounds. Authors often try for a relaxed tone in the narrative, and end up relying on clichés to make the narrator sound more like a 'normal person'.

Technically, that shouldn't be a problem, as far as the technique goes, but if both the narrative and dialogues are filled with common clichéd expression, it gets old fast. :(

PotomacBob

Cliches became cliches because they expressed thoughts in clever or useful ways. If what you really want to say is that the pen is mightier than the sword - you'd better use the cliche.

Switch Blayde

What "Writer's Digest" has to say on the subject.

Cliches drive me bonkers, especially when it comes to writing. They are boring and abused and about as fun to read as the instruction manual of a Dustbuster. Writing is supposed to be a creative process, and there's nothing creative in rehashing some trite phrase that is so old it was probably used by Moses as he parted the Red Sea.

Crumbly Writer

We've got two different threads here, one is "use what works and don't try anything original" and the other is "stop recycling old material and write your thoughts yourself". However, I suspect we're actually talking about two different things. One is using common phrases in dialogue (ex: "Oh shit" or "Not a chance!") while the other is recycling someone's else's once-clever writing (ex: "To thine own self be true" or "It was a dark and rainy night").

One won't get you in much trouble, though it's trite and unimpressive, while the other is likely to end up in copyright violations (if you do it enough).

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

As I said earlier, my assumption is the question has nothing to do with dialogue. Anything goes in dialogue. If your character speaks in cliches, his dialogue will be filled with them and it would be the right thing to do.

btw, I don't think "Oh shit!" and "Not a chance" are cliches.

Ernest Bywater

In general, it's best to avoid cliches, however, as has been pointed out, there's a real life reason why they exist. Sometimes the story situation just screams for you to use or mention a cliche simple because it makes it clearer to the reader what your saying. The same is true of using stereotypes in a story.

I try to avoid them as much as possible, but it's not always possible, and a few times I've managed to include them in a way of making fun of them.

docholladay

That is why I said earlier to use them when they fit the story or the character. Different people say things differently at times which can only be shown in the individual's dialog. Don't use them as a shortcut to creativity however.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

In general, it's best to avoid cliches, however, as has been pointed out, there's a real life reason why they exist. Sometimes the story situation just screams for you to use or mention a cliche simple because it makes it clearer to the reader what your saying. The same is true of using stereotypes in a story.

To emphasize your point, I just used the following in a new story (in the narrative):

He needed to pull his life together before he lost everything.

As you say, it says what needs to be said, and readers instantly recognize the concept.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


include them in a way of making fun of them


That's what I was trying, but failed, to say in my original post when I suggested they are okay if used in an 'unusual enough situation'.

I do use them frequently where the joke is using a common expression in an unusual situation.

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