Avoiding Cliches – The Name of the Game or Making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill?


clicheIn this post, I continue my journey through the book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. If you’ve seen my past posts highlighting information from this book, you’ll know that it is focused on quantifying various aspects of writing. So far, I’ve posted on the following topics:

This post looks at cliches and the frequency that they occur in the writing of notable authors. The clear winner (loser) in the use of cliches is James Patterson. Across his 22 Alex Cross books, he used 160 cliches per 100,000 words. Jane Austen is at the other end of the spectrum with just 45.

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Blatt goes on to point out that the position of Patterson at the top of this list is not a surprise as many of his book titles, 11th hour, Cat & Mouse, 7th Heaven, are cliches themselves.

Some writers have contributed to the collection of cliches through the popularity of their writing. Joseph Heller titled his book Catch-22 which was original at the time, but has been used so much, it is now considered a cliche.

Shakespeare is another source of many of our modern cliches with such phrases as “all that glitters in not gold”, “dead as a doornail” and “heart of gold”.

So, how do you feel about cliche’s? Are they the bees knees or are they old hat? My opinion is that they bring a sense of familiarity to readers and color to writing, but should not be over used.

I look forward to your thoughts.

10 thoughts on “Avoiding Cliches – The Name of the Game or Making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill?

  1. How I feel about the use of cliches depends on the quality of the writing otherwise. If they are used intentionally and thoughtfully they say a lot in a few words and do, as you say, add a sense of familiarity to the work. When they are thrown in willy-nilly they are tedious and signs of an amateur, to my mind.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

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  2. I’m not a writer, just a dabbler putting my point of view. The reason these old cliches are so important is they summarise a consistent truth in a succinct , accurate memorable way. How would you replace ‘ look before you leap ‘ ? I suspect with long winding sentences.

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  3. I am not a fan of cliches, but sometimes they slip into my writing. My editor usually catches them. I then attempt a better way to state. Cliches can be a crutch–a lazy way to write, but as with all things, sometimes it does give the reader the clearest description because of the commonality. Another suggestion for using cliches: Switch them up. For instance, instead of “don’t cry over spilled milk,” use something different. “The milk never cries when spilled.” I need my morning cup of java to be more creative with cliches. When I taught creative writing, I used this as an exercise. Always fun and inspiring.

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    • You make very good points. Also, cliches may not be as universal as you think. When I moved to the south, for instance, my boss told me that it was time to “fish or cut bait”. I had never heard this in my years in New York and didn’t know what it meant.

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