Using Clichés: Should You and When?
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
A widely debated point in writing both fiction and non-fiction is the use of clichés: phrases or expressions that are overused; so commonplace that they are boring and predictable. Let’s take a look at why it’s not advisable to use them, especially in writing:
Clichés are not stimulating for the reader.
They lack originality, displaying laziness on the part of the author.
Some use obsolete images that are unclear or absurd in a modern context.
Clichés can be replaced by rich description or author-made phrases which will be much more impressive and memorable for the reader.
But does that mean you shouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole? Not really – there are many cases, in which clichés can serve you loyally:
Clichés can characterize a speaker as a specific type of person.
Clichés mark genre clearly: ‘once upon a time’ is a clear marker of a fairy tale; ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ introduces a macabre mystery.
Alternatively, clichés can be used to subvert genre by tricking the reader into looking in the wrong direction.
They can also be used for satiric purposes, or to turn language on its head, like in the sentence below: “Sport is not my cup of coffee. Don’t look at me like that - I don’t drink tea.”
Clichés can help the author connect with a specific reader group, which finds them familiar and comforting: older generations like the phrase ‘back in my day’, while young people usually respond well to a techie cliché, if used appropriately.
In conclusion, used sparingly, clichés can enrich your prose and create some great effects.
What is your personal experience with clichés? Do you use them? When? Do others around you use them? Tell us more!