Saturday, 31 October 2009

The terrible pull of the cliché...

A father in Waitrose to his small son, 'We'll find it, they sell everything here.'

Small son, reaching for and finding a grown-up phrase, 'They sell anything and everything, don't they, Dad?'

The boy's simple pleasure in this cliché is all too common among adults, including those who write for a living and should know better. The journalist who describes something as weird and wonderful, the delighted new author talking about what a rollercoaster ride it is to publication, the unpublished writer who pens a strangely familiar plot summary:

When mysterious forces from beyond the grave threaten life as we know it, Scarran must face his own demons and risk everything to rescue the woman he loves from a tangled web of deceit without becoming a target himself - but can he right an old wrong before it is too late? His task seems straightforward - but is it?

A story of love, murder and mayhem.

I'm sure none of my blog readers are ever guilty of using such reach-me-down expressions...are you? I'd better admit right now, I once wrote she woke with a start.

I can only apologise, and promise never to do it again.


  1. The cliche is an interesting beast. When does a phrase stop being a common English colocation, thereby aiding comprehension, and begin to be a cliche?

    I don't doubt for one moment that in creative writing there is no place for the cliche - not just the cliched phrase but also the cliched situation. In journalism, though, newspapers are rife with cliches. Although I sometimes wince, I should just accept that "at the end of the day", journalese "is the grassroots" of the cliche.

  2. Yes - Hamlet's full of clichés, new-minted by Shakespeare. (Polonius no doubt used many phrases already hackneyed when his speeches were written.)

    There's a huge pleasure in making up one's own vivid simile, though. I find them difficult, and don't often manage it - my favourite is he felt as weak as a fly on a cold day at the end of summer.

  3. When I was a kid and went to church with my parents every week the local vicar always included 'in this day and age' in his sermon at least three times every week. In fact for some time I actually thought it was a word 'daynage' and I asked my mother what it meant.

  4. Somehow one doubts his sermons were compelling...

    People have all sorts of verbal tics they simply don't notice. Do you remember when hopefully appeared all the time? Some people couldn't manage without it. And like still peppers every sentence in some quarters.

  5. Quite right, Lexi. We should assiduously avoid them.

    Our characters may use them, though. Dialog has to sound authentic. And we (people) use cliches as a way of shorthand, transferring meaning and information quickly and efficiently.

    On the other hand, we writers got to keep it real." (or something)

  6. True, Norm, dialogue is another matter. Though I try to avoid clichés in speech myself, especially since I started writing.

  7. The "Men With Pens" blog has an interesting take on creating characters, they say to START with a cliché, "She’s a middle-aged woman struggling to balance her work and her family, and she has issues with her mother.

    "It’s okay. She’s not going to stay a cliché for long."

    I recommend their post.

  8. This sounds a neat idea, because from the moment you started with a cliché you'd know it for what it was and be straining to get away from it; which is better than inadvertantly slipping into cliché.