I have never understood why Bill Gates didn’t include a cliché finder in his Word package – and I have never understood why editors hate them so much. Clichés are part of the English language and most of us use them without even noticing. It has been ‘drummed into us’ that our writing should be original, but every word we use has been used by someone else.
Some time ago I tried to think up new phrases for old clichés. A task that is almost impossible and exceedingly frustrating. I did manage to come up with ‘about as useful as a knitted bucket’, ‘bleeding like a motorway rabbit’, and ‘the deep breath before the scream’ but I doubt they will ‘go down in history’.
The Internet can turn an original phrase into a cliché in a matter of seconds, so even if an author is clever enough to think up a brilliant new descriptive expression, it will probably be a cliché by the time the book is published.
Some new clichés (is that another oxymoron?) have already earned their place in the reference books. ‘The elephant in the room’ is one of my favourites – but, of course, I can never use it because it is now a cliché. One of the best I came across recently, and one I hadn’t heard before, was ‘as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs’. But you can’t use that either because I’ve just told you about it.
What would the thriller writer do if he couldn’t arm his hero ‘to the teeth’ before ‘all hell breaks loose’? The romance writer’s hero is often ‘blown away’ by his first sight of the heroine, while she thinks he has a smile ‘to die for’. Most of us know exactly what these phrases mean and don’t mind them a bit. In our novellas the lovers have to get together before the end or our readers would kill us, and sometimes a predictable ‘happy ending’ is as comforting as a warm blanket, even if it is a cliché.
Clichés are fine in conversation, because that’s the way people talk, but when writing a descriptive passage we have to use our imagination – not someone else’s.
All my books are available in the libraries and on line at Amazon, but please don’t look for clichés. I am sure you’ll find a lot of them.