Writing Tips: Stop Beating Cliches to Death

January 8, 2013 | Writing Craft, Writing Tips, Metaphors

One of the writing tips you’ve most likely heard is probably to avoid clichés. This writing tip is so widely shared that it has almost become a cliché itself. So you know that clichés in creative writing should be avoided like the plague. But so often a cliché is the first thing at the tip of your tongue, the low hanging fruit that can help you hit that word count you so desperately want to hit.

writing tips avoiding cliches

writing tips how to avoid cliches

So, what’s a writer to do?

Think outside the box, let a new dog have his day, take the tiger by the tail and put a spin on that old cliché!

First, let’s define a cliché.

A cliché is quite simply a phrase that has been used to excess perhaps even to the point that it has become a bit annoying.

You might be able to pick out a few in my opening paragraphs.

A cliché is not, however, every metaphor or simile that is used.

Similes, a comparison between two things often using “like” or “as,” quite often become clichés, but they don’t start out that way. They have to be used over and over and be easily recognizable to the person hearing them to be a cliché.

I’m from Southern Missouri and a lot of my characters are from Southern Missouri. Southern Missourians love a good simile… okay some not so good ones too.

Cliché example

“He’s as jumpy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Is a simile AND a cliché.

Cliché alternative

“He’s as jumpy as cheating husband in a room full of ex-wives.” Is also a simile, but it isn’t a cliché because it hasn’t been used over and over. (For good reason – not my best work there.)

Metaphors Defined

A metaphor is similar to a simile, but it’s stronger and more direct. Similes say something is similar – “as” or “like” each other. Metaphors suggest that two unlike things are the same at some level – but if you just look at the words literally this isn’t true.

Metaphor examples

“All the world’s a stage.” But the world isn’t really a stage.

“The light of my life.” This person isn’t literally shining a spotlight on your life.

“Feeling blue.” You aren’t ready to audition for a feature show in Vegas.

In creative writing, you want to use metaphors and similes – as they fit your characters and story – but you don’t want to use clichéd ones.

Writing tips to keeping metaphors and similes, but avoid clichés?

Take a cliché and twist and turn it like a Rubik’s cube until you have something that fits your story and characters and won’t make readers yawn.

Let’s play.

Here’s a list of five clichéd similes and metaphors.  See how you can say the same thing in a unique way. Bonus points for making it fit a certain type of character.

  • “Armed to the teeth.” (A bride shopping for a bargain wedding gown.)
  • “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” (A tarot shop owner.)
  • “Sharp as a tack.” (Commodity-trading thirty-something.)
  • “Pretty as a picture.” (Fur-trapping, backwoodsman)
  • “Right as rain.” (Teen gamer.)

Have more writing tips on how to avoid or twist a cliché? Share!

Click here for more writing tips from the How to Write Shop on using metaphors.


Lori Devoti is the multi-published author of romantic comedy, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. She also writes the Dusty Deals Mystery series under the pen name Rae Davies. Look for her workshops at Write by the Lake (DCS University of Wisconsin), at various conferences, and here at the How To Write Shop. For more information, visit her website. Find her on Google +




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