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How Do You Fix Clichés in Writing?

How do you fix clichés in writing? First, you need to identify clichés and then work to twist or change them so your prose is fresh and unique.

Let’s do a fun quiz. See if you can fill in the blanks.

A fly on the _______
Old as _______
At the end of my _______
Nip it in the _________
Many hands make light ________
A stitch in time saves ______
Growing like a ______
Like father, like______
Spitting _____
You can say that _____
Bend over ______
The buck stops _____
Build a better _____
Burn the midnight _____
Get your foot in the _____
Keep your nose to the _____
Laugh all the way to the _____
Making money hand over ______
Swim with the _____
Time is _____
Hope springs _____
On a wing and a _____
Hope against _____

Here are the answers:

A fly on the wall.
Old as dirt.
At the end of my rope.
Nip it in the bud.
Many hands make light work.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Growing like a weed.
Like father, like son.
Spitting mad.
You can say that again.
Bend over backwards.
The buck stops here.
Build a better mousetrap.
Burn the midnight oil.
Get your foot in the door.
Keep your nose to the grindstone.
Laugh all the way to the bank.
Making money hand over fist.
Swim with the sharks.
Time is money.
Hope springs eternal.
On a wing and a prayer.
Hope against hope.

How many did you get right? All of them? Some? None? More than likely, you correctly identified the last word in the majority of the expressions.


Why? Because they’re clichés, which are worn-out metaphors that have become so common they are meaningless.

At one time, clichés were original ways of expressing an idea, emotion, or thought. Over time, however, people have used these expressions so frequently that they’ve become trite.

You want to purge clichés from your writing. Instead of using a well-known expression like, “counting your chicks before they’re hatched,” try twisting it. Tweaking a word or two can make a difference. Test your creativity by twisting some of the above examples. Or, better yet, create your own unique expressions.

Pinpoint exactly what it is that you want to say and then find a new, fresh way to say it. You can brainstorm ideas so that you can avoid the same old expressions.

Less is More

Be careful that you don’t overdo it with original expressions that distract from your story but stay away from the “tried and true” statements that “everyone and their mother” has heard “since the dawn of time.”

Have you written any unique expressions or read any?

Have you read some fresh writing? Or written something that’s unique? Share it in the comment section.

It takes work to put a new spin on a familiar idea. Strong writing comes from seeing things in a new way and expressing thoughts with different words and images. There are only limited plots, but it’s the WAY the plot is written and HOW the author expressed ideas that makes the plot fresh.

Writing dialogue, prose, and actions need to be unique. Each of us sees the world through our own lens and we can use that perspective to lend energy to otherwise tired writing. Using clichés is lazy because it’s so easy. Coming up with a new way to paint an image in a reader’s mind takes time and talent and effort. But the pay off will make it worth it.

Clichés in Characterization

We can also be guilty of using Cliché in characterization. Instead of a beautiful cheerleader with blond hair and big eyes, what if she was short, a little chubby and super smart? Stereotyping characters is tiresome and lazy. Not all football players are dumb. Not all lawyers are slimy. Not all rich people are snobs. You get the idea. You can get some tips on characterization here.

Obviously, stereotypes and clichés are around for a reason, but as writers, we need to think beyond that and try to make our characters and our writing unique and fresh. Stay away from clichés as much as you can and reach deep inside to find new ways to create word tapestries.

You can download my FREE characterization packet to help you dive deep and avoid characterization clichés.

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