Fresh Writing Trumps Clichés

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Unless you have a quirky character who talks in clichés, it’s best to use phrases readers haven’t heard a million times. Or get clever and give an old cliché a new twist.

In the passage below, note the clichés.

Passage Laden with Clichés 

As luck would have it, I was all thumbs that day. I was between a rock and a hard place. I couldn’t do anything right. I was scared stiff I’d get the sack. I’d been burning the candle at both ends and was dog tired.

The head honcho, a fat slob, dropped in on me and saw the mess I’d made. We were always at loggerheads. This time my back was against the wall. He claimed I was all talk and no action. I beat around the bush, trying to save face and cover up my mess.

Now, I had to go home to my better half, a.k.a. my ball and chain, and deal with her conniption fits that drove me up a wall. But seriously, she needed to give me a break. Life wasn’t about the almighty dollar, bringing home the bacon, and, last but not least, manicured lawns.

The bottom line was, I needed to lighten up, or I’d be sent off to the funny farm. I thought about throwing in the towel. With every fiber of my being, I believed a month away would be just the ticket for a fresh start. I’d be able to knuckle down, and be a true blue employee. And, I’d lay down the law with my wife. I could land on my feet.

A Fresher Passage

I’d worked long hours for two weeks, and I fell asleep at my desk. When I woke at five o’clock, the folders for the six cases I was supposed to have processed by the end of the day sat stacked on my desk protector. My heart juddered, and pain from my peptic ulcer burned. If Bill came in, would he fire me? I couldn’t lose my job. I didn’t have the skills to do anything else.

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Bill knocked and entered. His shirttail hung out where his belly hung over his belt. His gaze dropped to the manila folders on my desk. He told me this example of my shoddy work would go into the file he was keeping on me. This wasn’t the first altercation we’d had about my slow progress. I explained how I had problems at home, and had worked overtime to catch up, but hadn’t been able to finish the six cases.  Bill shot me a disgusted look, dispensed a final warning, and marched from my office.

I stayed until I finished working my cases. I dreaded going home. Lately, Cynthia had issued her own threats. Why couldn’t she understand I couldn’t mow the lawn and keep my job? Couldn’t she see her constant harping was draining the little love I had left?

I needed a vacation, one without Cynthia. If I could have a month away from unreasonable Bill and my stay-at-home pickaxe, I might survive.

~~~

Note, when clichés are avoided, we know genuine information about the protagonist.

Avoid clichés and provide readers with more genuine information. Click to tweet.

What clichés bother you?

 

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Speaker Attributes and Beats: They’re to Subtly Help the Reader

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A speaker attribute is a way a person says something, such as he said, asked, whispered, or yelled. A beat is an action connected to dialogue. It reminds readers people are talking, not solely their heads.

The main job of speaker attributes and beats is to let the reader know who’s speaking. Usually, they should not call attention to themselves. And a speaker attribute should be a valid way someone could speak.

After the examples below, see if you can revise the conversations to focus more on the content of the conversation than how something is said. Use words in the dialogue or character’s actions to show how the speaker feels.

Dialogue Between Talking Heads

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“Why’d you say that?”

“I was telling the truth.”

“What you said about me was far from the truth.”

“What did I say that was untrue?”

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend.”

“I saw you flirting with him.”

“You’re mean.”

“What about you?”

“I’m not mean.”

“Says you.”

Notice the conversation is like two heads are talking. Did you get lost as to who said which line by the end?

Overbearing or Impossible Speaker Attributes

 

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“Why’d you do that?” Meredith fumed.

“I was telling the truth.” Cal grated.

“What you said about me was far from the truth,” Meredith threw back.

“What did I say that was untrue?” Cal defended.

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend,” Meredith seethed.

“I saw you flirting with him.” Cal accused.

Fumed, grated, threw, defended, and seethed are not valid ways a person speaks. How does one fume or defend words out of their mouths?

In Cal’s last statement, his words show he accused Meredith of flirting. The author had no need to explain or tell that’s what Cal did.

Too Much He said, She said

 

“Why’d you do that?” she said.

“I was telling the truth,” he said.

“What you said about me was far from the truth,” she said.

“What did I say that was untrue?” he said.

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend,” she said.

“I saw you flirting with him,” he said.

An Improved Rewrite

 

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“Why’d you do that?” Meredith asked.

Cal stared at her. “I was telling the truth.”

“What you said about me was far from the truth, Cal.”

“What did I say that was untrue?”

She clamped her hands on her hips. “You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend.”

“I saw you flirting with him.” His gaze drilled hers. “Do you deny that?”

Use only speaker attributes and beats that improve dialogue for the reader. Click to tweet.

I invite you to share your rewrite in the comments.

 

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.