Monday, June 6, 2016

End Cliche Speed Bumps

Cliches are all around us. Cliched plot lines. Cliched characters. Cliched blog posts? Sometimes cliches slip into our writing and we don't realize it. How can they be avoided? Do we even realize how many we use? Is crying a cliche when showing a character's sadness? How else can we write sadness instead of just having a person cry? Drooping shoulders. Flat, monotone voice. Heavy-footed walk. Staring down at empty hands or clutching a token like a cross of memorabilia.

Think of other things we write or read many, many times. Ear to ear grin ... sounds a bit creepy instead of joyful. Waves of nausea. Quaking knees. Shivers crawling up the spine. Pounding heart.

Most of us write a few of those into our work. And the more experienced you are, the more likely that they create a snag in the flow. You stop typing, knowing you have to make that sentence better. You have to get the emotion across without an overused phrase. I used to do this all the time. But another writer gave me permission to not let these things slow me down. Cliches are permitted in first drafts. Now when I write one I wince, but I keep on moving. Fix it in the next draft. Fix it when your critique partner points it out. Fix it before an editor sees it but don't let it slow you down in the first draft.

One of the ways I fix my cliches is by using the best-selling resource, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. A member of my writers' group recommended this book a few years ago. I've had it on my desk side shelf for a while now. I don't pull it out for the first draft but keep it on hand during the second.

So instead of worrying that your protagonist shed a single tear or their eyes widened again, finish the first draft and then make the second draft as shiny as a new penny and cliche free.

What cliches do you find in your writing? Any particular cliche you see often when reading that really bothers you?  Are you familiar with The Emotional Thesaurus and its sequels? And why couldn't I figure out how to get the accent mark over the 'e' in cliche?

20 comments:

Lan said...

I'm sure I've written a number of the same cliches over and over again because I tend to do a lot of action scenes. Bile rising in the throat is one I can think of off the top of my head. I've seen the Emotion Thesaurus floating around for years. I think it's about time I got a copy!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've used that book before. It does come in handy when you start editing and know you need to say something much better.

Pat Hatt said...

Yeah, I cringe a bit as I see them in my writing now. The more you write the more you want to get rid of them.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Like you, Pat, I notice mine as soon as I think them but sometimes to get the draft done I just go with it.

lorilmaclaughlin.com said...

They always seem to creep in and sometimes I struggle to come up with something more unique. Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll look it up.

cleemckenzie said...

Unfortunately, what's fresh and shiny one year is a cliche the next. I wish I could use, "Every cloud has a silver lining," and get away with it.

Mina Burrows said...

True. Sometimes they do sneak up on us, don't they? And you're right...sometimes I don't even see them. But the same could be said for reading. There are times when I spot them and get irritated while other times, I'm not offended at all. I love the Emotional Thesaurus by the way...

Juneta Key said...

Oh yeah, I think in cliche so shows up everywhere in my life. I was taught with cliches and saying so its a part of everyday life and associations.

I think in writing for first draft sometimes it captures what you want to express when you can't quite come up with the right words so put that cliche in so you remember the feeling on rewrite. I think they are good tool however as you say you have to also recognize them to fix them.

Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Olga Godim said...

I need to get this book. Thanks for the tip.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I know I use gasped for breath too often. It's easy to do.

Nilanjana Bose said...

I need a copy of that book. Thanks for the reco!

klahanie said...

Hey Susan,

Ah yes, thought I should come over and check out how "my" amazing group is doing. Yep, "IWSG" aka "I Was Seeking Gary." Fine, delusional moment is over...

Cliches! Cliches aggravate mean! I strive for originality. At the end of the day, to be honest, you know, you know what I'm sayin', I avoid cliches like the plague. "The Emotion Thesaurus....", would be very useful for those who are trapped in the the over using of what I consider to be very annoying cliches. Here's the accent mark over the "e" in "cliché".

I'm going now...

Gary :)

Peaches Ledwidge said...

I should get that book. I try to avoid cliché,s but I deliberately use them when I want to.

Beth Camp said...

Thanks for the timely reminder. I'm ready to jump into a major edit . . . and have postponed getting this valuable book. Perseverance furthers! Ooops! Is that a cliche? Anyway, THE EMOTION THESAURUS is on its way to the great Pacific Northwest, and I thank you.

Roland Clarke said...

The cliches creep into my first drafts, so I've learnt to ignore them...until the next one, and so on. And The Emotion Thesaurus is a mainstay of my editing process, along with the related One Stop for Writers - https://onestopforwriters.com/

In fact, I'm about to review Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi's next offering The Urban Setting Thesaurus (due out June 13th). Another addition to an indispensible library.

G. B. Miller said...

I have a tendency to use clichés, but for the most part, I try not to use the Captain Obvious ones, and I also strive to put a new twist on an old cliché.

Father Nature's Corner

Michelle Wallace said...

Cliches DO have a habit of sneaking in.
But instead of throwing them all out, I read somewhere that we should try to add a twist, which gives a fresh perspective to an old, worn out phrase.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I have the book! I try to be careful and not use cliches, but you're right, they sneak in. Good thing we have the Emotion Thesaurus! Great post.

Lynda Dietz said...

That sounds like an excellent book! I am always scanning for clichés when I edit, because I see them as a lazy way to express thoughts or actions. And boy, the more I look, the more they really jump out at me in other books. I'll have to get that so I can recommend something better when telling an author "you need to remove this."

Lynda Dietz said...

Almost forgot: to get the accent mark on the "e" in cliché, use alt0233 and BOOM! There it shall appear. :) One of those weird ones I remember without looking it up every time.