Cutting Clichés

Clichés are clichés for a reason; they are so commonplace that they create an immediate image for the reader. Clichés are stereotypes or trite phrases or expressions. And writers never want their work to be stereotypical or trite. So, either cutting or putting a new twist on an old cliché is a good idea.

Personalizing a Cliché

A good way to find a replacement for a cliché is to look within your character and personalize the phrase to some aspect of the character's life, career, interest, or experience. See examples following:

Cliché Example One

  • Cliché: She looked sweeter than honey

  • Personalized Cliché (from the hero's personal experience): She looked sweeter and more tempting than the chocolate mousse they'd shared last night.

Cliché Example Two

  • Cliché: Her temper was hotter than fire.

  • Personalized Cliché (from the hero's career as a firefighter): Her temper had the making of a three-alarm fire, and not one that he or any firefighter could survive.

Putting a New Twist on an Old Cliché

Find a way to tweak an old cliché by either taking it to the next level, or by mixing it up a bit so it reads fresh. See the following examples:

Cliché Example One

  • Cliché: Her expression was colder than ice.

  • Twisted Cliché: Her expression should have come stamped with a frostbite warning.

Cliché Example Two

  • Cliché: Ever since she'd walked into his life, he couldn't think straight.

  • Cliché Taken to the Next Level: Ever since she'd walked into his life, he couldn't think, walk, or even pee straight.

By changing a few words, you can take an old cliché and make it feel fresh, make it something of your very own.

Cookie-Cutter Characters

Characters and character traits can also be clichéd. Think of dumb blondes, doctors who can't write legibly, and engineers who carry around a pocket calculator. It is okay to use some of the common traits — people are sometimes characteristic of their chosen careers, their backgrounds, and ethnic makeup — but make sure your characters are fresh and unique, not carbon copies of what people might expect them to be.

A good book is one in which the characters stay in the minds and hearts of the reader long after the book is finished. Making your characters memorable, perhaps a bit eccentric, will help get you on the bookshelves, and make a place for your book on your reader's keeper shelves.

Make sure each of your characters has something that makes them memorable. Look at habits, obsessions, weaknesses, passions, or hobbies, anything that will make them stand out in a crowd.

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