One of my posts, titled Becoming, had a handful of cliches in it. I chose to keep them because they get the point across, but they were still cliches.
In writing a cliche is generally considered any construction that has been overused until people roll their eyes and move on. I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie or TV show where the young lady gasps and cowers while her rescuer fights for her? It can be done well, but it’s still a cliche.
You can almost hear someone I won’t name. “Get behind me, little lady.”
In the old movies the hero always wore white and the villian black (except for Tarzan, who wore a clean diaper), perhaps under the assumption that the audience was too stupid to figure out which was which without a visual clue. It took time for this to change, as the audience became more sophisticated. In a sense. Cliches come much more subtle than that. More subtle than the blue-eyed blond hero.
We all write using cliches–it’s unavoidable. Do we use them knowingly, recognize them, or are they just stuck in there without a thought?
In essence, that’s what a cliche is. A thoughtless expression that everyone uses, in many cases something we don’t even recognize as a problem. An I’ll-change-it-later filler. Readers are not stupid–they’ll recognize thoughtless prose just as easily as they recognize the hero in the white suit. (Although it might be interesting to do a parody on this, where the hero is in a straightjacket).
There are a number of different types that we have to be looking for. Gesture, conversation, action, description, and so on. A word could be cliche used in one sense, and fine used in another.
Were you able to identify the cliches above? I’ll give you one, you give me the rest. “People roll their eyes.” Rolling eyes is an example of a gesture cliche. It’s been used so often and in such a variety of ways that almost any way you use it has already been done multiple times.
That’s not saying that you should avoid all cliches, but use them sparingly and only when they will advance your narrative. Be aware that you’re using them, as with everything else.
Can you see anything in the following paragraph that isn’t a cliche?
The doughty warrior’s blue eyes flashed as he raised his sentient sword toward the sun’s merciless gaze. “You will never defeat me,” he shouted as the world collapsed around him.
(His enemy giggled and wrote him out of the story. She kept the sword though.)