Fresh Writing Trumps Clichés

by | Writing | 4 comments

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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.

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  1. dianaflegal

    Great post Zoe! Very helpful.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Diana, I’m glad the post was helpful.

  2. Kathy Steinemann

    Ha! I like your cliché-ridden example, Zoe. You made me grin.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Kathy. Reading it after I wrote it, it sounded sort of like eating mac’n’cheese the phrases were so familiar.

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