Although clichés may express truth or convey information, they do so in a way that has been overused to the point of becoming trite:
- Beauty is only skin deep
- Cool as a cucumber
- Blood is thicker than water
- Raining cats and dogs
- Free as a bird
- Reinventing the wheel
- Neat as a pin
- Take the bull by the horns
One way to know if you are dealing with a cliché is to ask, “Do I know how this ends?” For example, if someone says, “Fit as a…” you know the last word is “fiddle,” right? Cliché!
Salvador Dalí took a dim view of clichés. He is quoted as saying, “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”
Clichés do not make for good writing. However, there are times when it may be appropriate to use them. Here are a few examples:
- Use a cliché in the title. Clichés are familiar, and can express a thought, idea or mood in just a few words. That might be “just what the doctor ordered” for your title.
- Have a character speak a cliché. When someone uses clichés, it says something about them. The use of clichés can be a character trait, most likely useful for a minor or secondary character.
- Put a new spin on an old cliché. Wikipedia calls this an “anti-cliché” and gives a Woody Allen joke as an example: “Years ago, my mother gave me a bullet…a bullet, and I put it in my breast pocket. Two years after that, I was walking down the street, when a berserk evangelist heaved a Gideon bible out a hotel room window, hitting me in the chest. Bible would have gone through my heart if it wasn’t for the bullet.”
We use clichés because they are familiar and easily understood. Challenge yourself to find better and more creative ways to tell your stories and avoid the use of “tried and true” clichés.