Cliché, What is it Good For?

We all know to avoid cliché.

A cliché is a phrase, statement, or depiction that has become overly familiar or commonplace.

All clichés were once pithy. Before they were overused, they captivated. Over time, however, like a popular song, they began to grate on the ear. People began to recognize that they never expressed the whole truth. They expressed a portion of truth that mattered in the moment of their origin and echoed in their use, but the echo faded.

“When you find a cliché in your work, ask yourself why it’s there.”

A cliché is a placeholder for an undeveloped idea.

Clichés don’t tell the whole story and do no intellectual labor. They take no work to produce. Although they once expressed a nugget of truth in a novel way, their overuse diluted their value. Clichés don’t lack value; they’re a partial idea where a full idea could be explored.

When you find a cliché in your work, ask yourself why it’s there. Don’t ignore it. Use it. Dig deeper and develop the idea. Make the idea your own, and in so doing you’ll express the idea behind the cliché.

Playing on expectations twists emotions.

The partial truth a cliché expresses hasn’t change, we’ve just become tone deaf to that particular expression of it. We crave more. Readers want to be challenged, to have their expectations expanded.

Spin the expectation on its head.

Readers agree and groan when they read a cliché. You know how your audience will respond to those words used in that way. Tweak the cliché, bend it, use it in a new and unique way that demands attention. Make your audience expect one thing only to experience another.

Image by Jon Tyson from Unsplash.

Do you know of examples from some of your favorite books where a cliché was used in an interesting way? How have you spun a cliché on its head and reinvigorated its meaning? Share your experience below.

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