October 08, 2013

Chrys’ Writing Rules: Avoid Cliches

To editors, aside from poor grammar, there is probably nothing worse than overused cliches. Sometimes, we aren’t even aware we are using them, and sometimes they are hard to escape, because every day more and more phrases and ideas are becoming cliches in the literary world.

A writer who says they never use a cliche in their writing is fooling themselves. There are so many that no one could possibly know them all. Cliches are, in fact, sneaky. They can slip into your writing when you least expect it. 

What is a cliche? 

A cliche is an overused phrase/expression, idea, or opinion that betrays an original thought.

First, I will mention a few writing cliches that bug me:
1.    The most irritating cliche, in my opinion, is author characters. A writer writing a book about a writer writing a book is the most predictable and unoriginal idea I have ever come across. I have read several books by the same best-selling author with writer characters that I’ve come to think she does it because she’s fresh out of ideas for new books. Sure, we all know what it’s like to be a writer, but keep that in your memoir and create a unique character instead. Even if your character is a writer, make him/her different!

2.    Another cliche that irritates me are characters with blonde hair and blue eyes. One well-known romance writer always gives her characters this overused description. Don’t get me wrong, you can have a character with blonde hair and blue eyes, there actually isn’t anything wrong with it, but be careful about using the same color combo with your other characters, especially in other stories! There are so many other shades of hair and eye colors to experiment with instead.

3.    The last cliche I’ve noticed an overuse of is when one character tucks another character’s hair behind his/her ear. An overwhelming number of authors use this romantic gesture in their books, but it seems like books is the only place where this ever happens. At least, no one has ever tucked my hair! I will admit though that I used this ONCE in my writing, but I did it in a different way, which is the trick; you have to make it different!

Now here is a list of
25 cliches to avoid in your writing: 

·         Blood boil
·         Eyes were glazing over
·         Glaring sun
·         Stopped in his/her tracks
·         Yelled at the top of his/her lungs
·         Sigh of relief
·         When hell freezes over
·         Scared to death
·         Cold as ice
·         In the blink of an eye
·         All hell broke loose
·         At the end of the day
·         Each and everyone
·         Against all odds
·         A far cry from
·         Alive and kicking
·         On the tip of his/her tongue
·         Bared his/her soul
·         Let’s face it
·         Shove it down your throat
·         Time flies
·         Lit up like a Christmas tree
·         I’m all ears
·         See eye to eye
·         Knock on wood
There are so many more in existence than just these, so try Googling cliches to develop a longer list.

TIP: Using cliches is normal, but they shouldn't stay in your writing. After you create a list of common cliches you tend to fall victim to, use the Find tool in Microsoft Word to search for them in your finished manuscripts. If you come across one , either delete it or rework it to make it unique.

QUESTIONS: What cliches bug you? Would you like to add to my list of phrases to watch out for? And, ladies, has anyone ever tucked a strand of your hair behind your ear?


  1. Oh dear, I think I'm guilty of all of these! I think life is one big cliche!

    Funny how song writers make a living off them and writers are condemned for them! LOL

    PS: Are you aware captcha is on and cuts down on comments? Just asking cause lots of folks aren't aware. I wasn't for the longest time.

    1. You're not alone! I was a victim of most of these too. And I got a few pointed out to me by an editor looking at one of my short stories. He didn't like "sigh or relief" or "yelled at the top of her lungs". Now, I use the Find tool on Microsoft when I'm done writing a book just to see if I used any of them by accident.

      Whenever I used to hear "avoid cliches" I'd think: "But other published authors use them!" So I thought I could too. Turns out I'm one of the condemned. lol But cliches can be annoying so it's best just to cut them out all together.

      Yes, I had captcha on because of an overload of spam a while ago, but thanks for reminding me! :)

  2. I think cliches are what we turn to when we're stuck, and that's fine, but they should be rewritten during revision. :)

    1. Absolutely! Cliches are always in the front of our minds and easy to grab, but you're right that we should rewrite them to make them unique. :)

  3. You know what? I don't even think about cliches when I'm writing (but that's because I generally write scenes before I can think about them). I normally catch these things during the editing phase. One thing my characters always do? Roll their eyes. If I let them, they'll roll right off the page!

    1. Neither do I. Sometimes I'll catch one soon after I write it or during editing. But I always use the Find tool to catch the most common cliches that I use, and a few of them are listed above.

  4. I don't think I use this in my everyday life so why would it end up in my writing.
    *note to self quit using cliches*
    *tucks own gloriously blond hair behind ear, after stairing in the mirror at his blue eyes*

    1. HILARIOUS!!!!

      Thanks for your comment, David!

  5. I was smiling and nodding my head all through the post- I'm so guilty of this crime! A very timely post!

    1. lol I think most writers are, Kelly. Thank you! :)

  6. This is too funny - I used two of the ones you mention BUT - hear me out: I purposely gave one character blonde hair and blue eyes because she is a lesbian and I wanted to play on the stereotypes; the same character has a habit, when nervous, of pushing her hair behind her own ear. No one does it for her, so is that better? :)

    1. I like your idea very much, Jessica! :D And I really don't mind characters with blonde hair and blue eyes. But when an author uses that description for all of the protagonists in their books, it gets annoying to me.

      I don't mind if a character tucks his/her own hair. I do that all the time! :) But I've never seen anyone tuck someone's hair in real life. Ever! So when characters are tucking character's hair all over the place, I don't get it. lol

  7. I try my best to be as unique as possible so when it comes to clichés, I'm pretty good at catching myself.

    This is so funny though because for my first fiction novel, I wanted my main character to have blond hair and blue eyes. I know, I know, total cliché, right? So I've changed up a couple of things and well...you will have to see! I was literally fighting with myself internally until I saw a woman who reminded me of what my main character could look like. She seemed like an angel with another side to her that people often missed. So I chose to bag the cliche and go with something different, still quite easy on the eyes, ha!

    Great post Chrys!

    1. That is so neat! You're the second person who has said they saw someone who looked like one of their main characters. I've never had the privilege. Well, maybe that's because the character I had been writing about for eleven years has silvery-white hair and neon eyes. HAHA!

      I can't wait to read your novel now!

      And thanks! :)

  8. I had to laugh about the writer writing about a writer thing. Never done it although I must confess many of my protags seem to be archeaologists! Why, you ask? Latent longing to be one myself? :)
    My characters roll their eyes and shrug a lot. Oh, and the male protags always look like Jimmy Thomas in my head. I can't help it.

    1. I come across a writer writing a book in a book all the time! lol

      I'll confess that a lot of my characters end up being cops or detectives because I always wanted to be a cop/detective. ;)

  9. Oh dear. I am reading about myself.

    Yours truly,
    The cliche queen

    1. That's okay, Irene! It's quite common. You must've taken the throne after I stepped down as the Cliche Queen. lol

  10. No I"M the QUEEN of cliche lol.

    Thanks for the reminder Chrys :)


  11. Wow... reading this post I realized that I am great! I don't use any of these cliches! I don't know the English cliches :-))))) So, may be would be good to try to write in Chinese also... for sure I will be a best seller :)

    Now... letting the joke apart... Thank you Chrys for all the free tips which you post! They are a real treasure for new writers and for future authors.

    1. Not knowing the English cliches is great, because it saves you from falling for them.

      I'm glad you like my blog and all of my tips. That is a wonderful compliment, M.C. Thank you! :)