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. 


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.


  • 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

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    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      You’re welcome, Melissa. Happy writing.

  1. Marcia

    Great topic. I’m ready to carry out Clichendectomies.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Love the term clichéndectomies, Marcia.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Sheri, you warm the cockles of my heart. (And you made me smile.)

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