One Important Reason to Limit Clichés in Your Stories

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Many clichés were catchy or meaningful when they were first penned. That’s the reason they became overused.

Before I give you a good reason to limit clichés, I invite you to read the following paragraphs. 

Example

Greg was always at a loss when it came to coming up with the perfect birthday gift for Annie. But this year he’d hit pay dirt. She’d mentioned how much she loved cakes from Harley’s Bakery. And his blushing bride to be would have a Harley’s Bakery birthday cake. 

As luck would have it, when he reached Harley’s Bakery, a “closed” sign big as life hung on the door’s window. “Well, have a nice day, Greg!” he yelled as he kicked the door. “You missed getting Annie her heart’s desire by five minutes.” What gift could he find in a pinch? He was supposed to pick her up in thirty minutes. It would take the luck of the Irish to arrive at her door with a present. 

Greg plodded back to his Camaro. What a bummer.

Clichés

  • at a loss
  • hit pay dirt
  • blushing bride
  • As luck would have it
  • big as life
  • have a nice day
  • her heart’s desire
  • in a pinch
  • the luck of the Irish
  • what a bummer

Reason to Limit Clichés 

The more clichés you include in your story, the less original your story is. The above example contains 136 words. Of those words, thirty-four formed clichés. Only seventy-five percent of the passage was original.

Possible Rewrite

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In past years, Greg spent unnerving afternoons jotting down gift ideas for Annie’s birthday. When he reviewed his lists, he realized most of the items were of more interest to him than to Annie. And the rest were pitiful—things like rubber dishwashing gloves. He cringed. How could he be so unimaginative? 

But this year he didn’t need to make a gift list. He’d overheard Annie tell her best friend how much she loved cakes from Harley’s Bakery.

Greg zipped his Camaro into a parking space at the mall and exited the car, whistling. This year a Harley’s Bakery birthday cake would delight his fiancée’s taste buds. He’d become her hero. 

When he reached Harley’s Bakery a red “closed” sign with six-inch white letters covered most of the door’s window. “Well, have a nice day, Greg!” he yelled as he kicked the door. “You missed getting the perfect gift by five minutes.” 

He peeked through the glass bordering the sign. No one inside. He banged on the door. No one appeared from the back of the shop. He had thirty minutes before he was to arrive at Annie’s house. What could he grab quickly from another store? Perfume scents made her sick. She claimed flowers were a waste of money. 

Greg plodded toward the grocery store at the end of the mall. The blue dishwashing gloves he’d given Annie three years ago were faded.

I left in “have a nice day” because it was something Greg would say. My one cliché was one and a half percent of the passage. 

What clichés are you guilty of using?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author.

Having Trouble Staying Inside Your Character’s Point of View?


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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available. See details below.

The Problem

Staying inside your point-of-view character (POVC) is important. Then your readers will experience being inside your character as well. You want readers to see what he sees, feel what he feels, know what he knows, and move with him as he performs actions. 

But sometimes, authors butt in and tell things that are outside the character’s ability to know. That pulls readers away from your character.

I learned this exercise from author Rene Gutteridge at a conference years ago. 

1. Pretend you’re the character.

2. You’re in a classroom with Zoe, Ann, Kelsey, and Bryan.

3. Stand at a front-room window and cup your hands around the sides of your eyes.

4. Don’t turn your head or body. What you see is what your POVC sees.

5. Answer these questions:

  • Can you see what Ann and Kelsey are doing in the room behind you? Answer: No. Not unless I turn around.
  • Can you see who’s coming around the back corner of the house? Answer: No. I’d have to go outside or look out a back window.
  • Do you know what Zoe is thinking? I’ve no idea.
  • Do you know who Bryan will kill tomorrow? No. I don’t think he’ll tell me that secret. I can’t know future events anyway.
  • Do you know what’s happening under the tree outside the side window? No. I’d have to turn toward the side window or go to it to find out.

When you’re inside a POVC during a scene don’t interrupt and tell the reader anything he couldn’t know from where he is at that moment.

An Example to Avoid

I will italicize what my POVC, Kirk, can’t see.

Kirk entered the classroom and waved to Ann. She walked toward him. If only he’d combed his hair and worn a collared shirt. Behind him, Kelsey and Zoe made “oohing” sounds and exchanged impish grins.

“Hi, Kirk,” Ann said. “What’s with your friends?”

“They’re being silly jerks.” Should he push past the niceties and ask her to join him for coffee after class? Sure. “Do you have another class after this one?”

 “No. This is my last one for the day.”

Poor Kirk never got a break. Professor Moody just turned the corner of the building and would enter and ruin Kirk’s chances with Ann.

Kirk gave Ann his killer smile. “Would you like to have coffee at the student center after class?”

Ann wasn’t sure she wanted to get involved with another guy so soon after her breakup with Bryan.

Bryan hustled to them from where he’d been with Kelsey and Zoe, giving Kirk murderous looks.

Kirk and Ann turned toward Bryan’s loud footsteps. 

“Ann, here’s your book you left at my house.” Bryan extended the book toward Ann, ignoring Kirk.

Kirk stepped between them. “I was having a conversation with Ann.”

Their conversation wouldn’t matter. Tonight, Bryan would wipe Kirk’s killer smile off his face with his ten-inch blade. 

Bryan cocked an eyebrow at Kirk. “By all means, have coffee together.

Professor Moody picked up trash from under the tree at the side of the building, then entered. “Class, take your seats.”

Did you feel like you were inside Kirk throughout the scene? Why or why not?



Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author




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