Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Clichés are the bane of a writer’s existence. (I think I just used a cliché!) They’re so easy to fall back on because we’ve heard them all of our lives and they’ve become a part of our speech patterns—so, of course, when we write, they invade our work there, as well.

I really didn’t notice how often clichés appeared in the books I read until I wrote my own book, and my editor sent me a very nice note telling me I needed to go through and remove the clichés and find a different way of wording some of the passages…I had never seen so much red ink in my life!

(This is the first iteration of FIRE EYES--the one that had all the "red ink" in it!)

I got better as time has gone on, but there are still instances when I think, “Nothing else will do!” And I have to tell myself, “Yes. You’ll think of a different way to say it.”

As a reader, I do notice those clichés more now than I did before. And if there are too many of them, I have been known to lay the book down…for good. You might think such a thing isn’t a HUGE deal, but for me, being aware of it tends to jerk me out of the story when I see too many of them.

I subscribe to a newsletter called “QUORA” – it’s a fun little online publication, where people write in with questions and other people answer them. The rest of us can “upvote” the answers if we agree. Yesterday I came across this question: What are the most common clichés in fiction writing? Author Ellen Vrana gives these answers—and they're darn good! I had to laugh—I’ve used plenty of these. Take a look:

(PHOTO by Rick Burgess Photography )
Every oak tree is gnarled.

Every gentle wave is lapping upon the shore. Every mountain town is nestled in a valley, every chimney produces curled rings of smoke.

Every politician is slick, every banker is soulless. Journalists are moral and hardworking. Teachers are worn out. Every woman is unsatisfied, every man is flippant. Mothers are worn out too, but the fathers are emotionless. Every woman has jet black hair and every day starts with bitter coffee (which might also be scorching) and ends with whiskey (who drinks whiskey?) and ice that clinks.

(Or is it chinks? My eyes glaze over...)

In the city there are cars honking, lights blinking and there are many things that are incessant; noise, screams, cries, honking. Oh, and blaring lights. Lots of blaring lights which sometimes flicker.

The country has chirping crickets and waving grass. Parched earth abounds, there is lots and lots and lots of dust. The moon is always bathing things, the fog is always thick or dense, sometimes both. Thunderstorms rage while thunder cracks. Lighting illuminates, what, I don't know. The sun shines down, as opposed to up, and clouds really don't do anything except move.

Waves crash. Cars don't.

Tears roll down cheeks and faces break into smiles while the eyes always crinkle, when they aren't sparkling, or flashing. Hair shines or curls, always curls. People are clad in clothing, never just clothed in it. Necklaces dangle and bracelets chink. Arms are thick and strong and eyes meet more than people.

Thoughts race or sometimes pervade while anger boils. Chills run up or down spines, depending on where you live, and ideas aren't just clear, they are crystal clear.

What is crystal? It's what you drink your whiskey in. With the ice that clinks.

Things are notably pale, thick, greasy, cold, strong and dry which don't need to be. If it's a pillow we know it's soft. Ditto Coke and cold. Words like eat and ran and speak are passed over for gobbled and raced and exclaimed. People can't just hold they have to clasp, they can't cry they have to sob and they can't stop they have to come to a halt.

I'm not tired, I'm fatigued. I'm not messy, I'm disheveled. I'm not sad, I'm despondent.

Ah whatever, at least I'm not gasping for breath or not sleeping a wink over the use of clichés. Every writer falls for them, at some time or another.

Every oak tree is gnarled. Even this one.

(There was a reason I picked this particular photo that Rick did--the "gnarled tree", the colors that looked "as though they were painted", and the water that reflects those colors "like a mirror"...)

I’m giving away a digital copy of the PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS’ upcoming Christmas anthology for 2015—A MAIL-ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE! This fantastic collection of stories will be available on November 27. It’s got a fabulous line up of authors, including Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hanson, Livia J Washburn, along with debut author Jesse J Elliot, Patti Sherry-Crews, Jacquie Rogers, Meg Mims, and yours truly.

What cliché grates on your nerves or holds fond memories for you? Leave a comment about it to be entered in this wonderful give-away!


  1. Darn it, now that you've made me so aware of them i'll have to go through my work in progress to see how guilty I am of using these.

    1. LOL I KNOW! Me, too, Frank. I came across that little piece from the Quora newsletter and just had to include it in a blog--sometimes, we remember things that are presented in a humorous way better than if someone tried to "lecture it" to us. Now, every time I write description I'm going to think about this.

  2. Tacking this post to my bulletin board next to my writing desk. Thanks, Cheryl!

    1. You're welcome, Alisa. Credit for that fun little piece goes to author Ellen Vrana. It's so true, and so humorous, I thought it might be something we would remember easier because of the way it's written. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    2. I usually don't notice the single adjective or verb cliches, even though you're right--they do get overused. The ones which always hit me between the eyes are the situational ones or the cliches consisting of an entire long phrase. Most of us find ourselves using them at some point. It's a matter of recognizing them before it gets to the publisher and out the door.

    3. Yes, and usually editors are really good at picking those out--unless it's their OWN work! LOL

  3. Well, you took the words right out of my mouth. :D

  4. Dad-gum-it-all. I have to stop reading these posts. It just makes more work for me. Off to do yet another edit. ;)

    1. Better to catch it before it makes it into print and you have readers rolling their eyes. I really try to be very careful about that when I'm editing--some of these are a lot easier to catch than others.

  5. The most grating is "I could care less" because it's wrong. Yes, you could care less; the expression is "I couldn't care less."

    1. Oh, I hate that one, too, Louis! I grind my teeth when I see or hear it.

  6. Great list! I just had to change "the smell of perfume" to be more specific. LOL