Quit Clichés Cold Turkey

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By Myra Johnson

Sitting on the fence about using clichés? Here are 50 reasons to quit cold turkey!

Clichés are the bane of a writer’s existence. We’ve all used them, both in our everyday conversations and in our manuscripts. Clichés are comfortable as an old shoe, phrases we use in a heartbeat because the meanings are usually crystal clear. Clichés roll off the tongue (or onto the keyboard) like water off a duck’s back.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with clichés. They’re just . . . tired. Stale. Overused.

Admit it-clichés are an excuse to be lazy in our communication, and as writers we owe our readers better than that. Not to mention the difficulty clichés and other such idioms present to readers who may not speak our brand of English.

So if you must use a cliché in your manuscript, make sure you’re doing it with intentionality. You may be writing about a character for whom speaking in clichés is a personality quirk. In deep POV narrative, sometimes a cliché comes across as perfectly natural or even expected. When possible, however, give the cliché an interesting twist. For example, not simply “a bur under his saddle,” but “a thorn bush the size of a Texas tumbleweed.”

Now it’s time to put on your thinking caps. Below you’ll find a list of 50 clichés. Choose a few and suggest simpler, clearer, or more creative alternatives.

I’ll start you off with a couple of examples.

1. bad apple – degenerate, troublemaker, the very last boy you’d want dating your teenage daughter
2. ball of fire – dynamo, high achiever, a car salesman who’s slapping the sold sign on your trade-in before you’ve driven your new car off the lot
3. barrel of laughs
4. cold fish
5. drop in the bucket
6. eat like a bird
7. every trick in the book
8. fight like cats and dogs
9. free as a bird
10. green around the gills
11. happy as a lark
12. haul over the coals
13. high on the hog
14. hungry as a bear
15. in hot water
16. jump down her throat
17. kick the bucket
18. lay an egg
19. leave no stone unturned
20. like clockwork
21. look before you leap
22. make a mountain out of a molehill
23. mind like a steel trap
24. muddy the waters
25. nothing to sneeze at
26. on pins and needles
27. on thin ice
28. out of the blue
29. out on a limb
30. play it by ear
31. quiet as a mouse
32. rest on one’s laurels
33. round peg in a square hole
34. sick as a dog
35. small potatoes
36. sour grapes
37. sweep under the rug
38. take with a grain of salt
39. thin as a reed
40. throw the book at
41. turn a blind eye to
42. under the weather
43. under the gun
44. up a creek
45. wake up and smell the coffee
46. water under the bridge
47. wet behind the ears
48. when push comes to shove
49. white as a sheet
50. wipe the slate clean

Did you have a ghost of an idea there were so many clichés? Believe me, these are only a drop in the bucket! Why, I could have gone on from dawn till dusk! Don’t go off the deep end, but which clichés make your hair curl? Toss them to the curb and you could be singing a different tune. You may feel like a square peg in a round hole at first, but if you rake that manuscript over the coals and do a clean sweep of those pesky clichés, every Tom, Dick, and Harry will sit up and take notice.

WhisperGoodbye cover Myra Johnson is a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist and RWA Golden Heart winner. Her upcoming release is Whisper Goodbye: Till We Meet Again, Book 2 (Abingdon Press, April 2014). Myra currently serves as president of ACFW-Charlotte Chapter. She and her husband reside in North Carolina with two pampered lapdogs.

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