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.

Mixed Metaphors – Don’t Let Them Sneak into Stories

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

What a Mixed Metaphor Is

A mixed metaphor is one that combines different images or ideas in a way that is confusing or absurd. The images don’t work well with each other.

Yes, I wrote the following mixed metaphor (sigh), and my editor dinged it. (In the scene, the heroine’s in the kitchen and the hero’s in the den.)

Original: Just because the battery in her brain’s smoke detector was dead, didn’t mean there weren’t smokin’ hot vibes in the lion’s den.

Edited: Just because the battery in her brain’s smoke detector was dead, didn’t mean there weren’t smokin’ hot vibes in the den.

Other Examples:

  • Two thugs working together is a handshake whose fingers should release their grip because they’re horses of a different color.
  • She was a sloth when it came to beating the bushes for a job.


Mixed metaphors often combine clichés in ludicrous ways. 

  • The armchair quarterback was at loggerheads with the all-talk-no-action play.
  • The vanilla statement was less than icing on the cake.
  • He was bad to the bone, and I had a bone to pick with his bare-bone budget.


Often, mixed metaphors murder clichés.

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  • His CEO attitude took charge and steam pressed over his colleagues.
  • Her diva comment was a hot knife with butter.

It’s best to use only one metaphor in a sentence or even in a paragraph.

What mixed metaphor have you read or heard that irked you or made you laugh?


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




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?

 

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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.