“Let’s have some new clichés.” —Samuel Goldwyn
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
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.
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
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?
Antiseptic washed stainless steel everywhere. My eyes focused on the only color and movement in the examining room. A king-sized fuchsia pillowcase, tied closed with a piece of twine, raised up on the examining table, then collapsed into a lump. A whip to the right and I put my hand up to keep the bundle from a drop to the floor.
The door opened. Doc Skyler walked in, glanced at the manila folder he’d pulled from the plastic holder on the door, and said, “Who do we have here.”
The pillowcase jerked to a full two feet and let out the most hideous yowl.
Doc dropped the folder. “Is that what I think it is? Have you trapped a Carolina Black Panther?
That man doesn’t know who he’s courtin’. Sitting on my porch steps, he’d said I couldn’t do it. “I’m not about to let the cat out of the bag.” I said as I walked my bare feet out of the room. “You’ll just have to see for yourself.”
Very nice play on words!!!
Donna, you made me think perhaps I should have titled this Play on Cliches.
Fun, Marcia. Thanks for playing!
Whoa – loved this!
That was so fun! Right now I’m a little brain dead, so anything I’d come up with wouldn’t be too lively.
Thanks Jane. I had fun writing this one.”
I love how you worked new life into old cliches! I’m going to keep my ears open for something I can incorporate into my own work.
Good fun, Zoe. You have a real talent with words. I used that cliche technique in my suspense novels “The Lazarus File” and “Deadly Additive.” Each has characters who think in cliches but never get them quite right. For example, Raul explains why he can’t speak objectively about another character: “Because he is my father, and I am a sheep off the old black.” And the father (in another book) says, “You will find the grass is greener when you are not straddling the fence.” It’s good to know someone else’s mind and sense of humor runs in that direction.
Donn, love your “not quite right” cliches. It was fun to do this exercise.