Fresh Writing Trumps Clichés

image by lenalinde

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.

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

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.

3 Ways to Make Tired Clichés Liven Up Your Creative Work

“Let’s have some new clichés.” —Samuel Goldwyn

A cliché is like a worn out shoe.
By Sgarton

People roll their eyes at others who talk in constant clichés. Writers and speakers are told to edit out clichés from their work. So, are these overused phrases, which often hit the nail on the head, not worth the paper they’re written on?

I think they’re often gems waiting for you to make them fresh or different. Here’s 3 ways to make clichés work for you. Even if you gag on my examples, you’ll get the idea.

1. Change a Word

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at
Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at

Ambulance chaser. “You’ll find Victoria frequenting only high-class, posh, and trendy places. I tell you, the woman is an ambiance chaser.”

Blood is thicker than water. No matter how hard Eddie tried to buy Carl’s friendship with Steeler tickets and the keys to his Mustang, no way would Carl rat on his dad for Eddie. Blood was thicker than barter.


2. Rearrange the Words

Tickled her fancy: For some time, his gifts had failed to delight Olivia. And she’d quit laughing at his jokes. Why did he stay? He’d lost his fancy to tickle her.

Image courtesy of olovedog at
Image courtesy of olovedog at

Bone to pick with you: Mom’s appraisng gaze suggested she had more bones that needed picking. (From my novel Calculated Risk.)

3. Expand the Phrase or Change the Meaning

Author: Qasinka
Author: Qasinka

Ace in the Hole: Dominic had been his ace in the hole, but Dominic’s hole was six feet deep. What was he going to do now?

Babe in the woods: The bleached blonde pursed her red lips and crooked her finger. Keeping her cat-eyed gaze on Dale, she swished toward the trees. Dale backed away. The vamp was the last babe he’d be caught in the woods with.

Better safe than sorry: A cop cuffed Elise and ushered her toward the cruiser. Max wiped her spittle from his face. Obviously, Elise didn’t care that jail was the only place she could hide from Frank. She might be safe, but she was still one sorry dame.

The next time you catch yourself using a cliché, don’t discard it immediately. See if you can wrangle it into an interesting twist. But use the rewrites of clichés sparingly.

Will you play? What rewrite can you come up with for: fifteen minutes of fame or let the cat out of the bag or another cliché of your choice?