Avoid Them Like the Plague!

By Sierra Cartwright

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Clichés.

Clichés sneak into my work like the insidious little bastards they are. In a first draft, when I’m trying to get a million of zinging ideas from my imagination to the computer, I don’t worry about them too much. (That’s my excuse for using them. Er, uhm, yeah. That was only a draft.)

But in my revisions, I try to eradicate them. The trouble is, I sometimes don’t see them. Even my beta readers can miss them. I think we’re somewhat blind to them.

It’s not just they’re so common that we barely notice them. It’s that we have a common understanding. Unless they’re regional, it’s an expression that has universal meaning.

We understand hot as Hades. Actions speak louder than words. Mad as hell. Apple doesn’t fall from the tree.

But I’m always trying to be more precise in my choice of words, and I want to take opportunities to draw readers deeper into my characters so they seem more real. When I find a cliché, I will play with the image, trying to figure out what I mean by it, and how a particular character might think about it.

Why the hell not?Here’s an example from my novella, Master Class: Initiation (because, why the hell not? I don’t mind being publicly embarrassed, right?)

My hero, Logan, is talking to the heroine, Jennifer, a woman who he’s about to dominate for the first time…

The first draft reads like this:

“I make you nervous,” he said.

“As a cat on a hot tin roof.”

The second draft was revised to this:

“I make you nervous,” he said

“As hell.”

(Nothing really wrong with that. It’s probably how real people talk. And honestly, I might have left it at that.)

In my final draft, I forced myself to dig a bit deeper. I considered the fact that Jennifer’s a CPA. I wondered what would make her nervous. And I came up with this:

“I make you nervous,” he said.

“As missing a tax filing deadline.”

And yes, I’m sure that clichés still slither into my work. But I’m on guard. I’ve got my cliché killer instincts honed. Oops, did it again. So, okay, I probably still have some work ahead of me!

 

Leave a Reply