What is a Cliche?
A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.
Last night I was reading the very last novel I will ever pick up by a very successful popular novelist. (name withheld) So our hero is getting down with his new girlfriend in a cheap hotel and he says “I was as hot as a ten dollar pistol.”
You can see why I won’t read any more of this guys work.
Of course, this is my opinion so you can slather cliches through your work if you feel the urge. What the hell do I know? Make up your own mind. Maybe the piece you are writing is screaming for some stale cliches to give it authenticity. Maybe an old style Sam Spade type detective novel would benefit from some cliches but then again, maybe not.
As usual, all rules related to the proper usage or adverbs, passive voice or cliches (THE THREE DEADLY SINS) are null and void when we enter the realm of dialogue. Dialogue is how people speak so if it seems natural, even if it contains one of the THREE, I say go with it.
But cliches are dull, boring and have a tendency to sneak in. Find them, rewrite them, kill them now.
Here’s one that I read that writer Elmore Leonard despises “All hell broke loose.” Yeah, that’s HORRIBLE.
Another type of cliche is the CLICHE STORY – your whole damn idea has been done to death. Ok, this one you can work your way out of if you can add something interesting, new, novel, and unexpected into the genre, style etc. you are writing. Look at Robert B. Parker’s series of Detective novels “Spenser.” Yeah, another hard boiled detective, written in the style or Raymond Chandler. So what is so impressive with that? Not much. Pretty well the same old formula, except with a few quirky twists. Spenser, compared the vast majority of detectives who bounce busty blonde witness off their bedsheets bi-weekly, is in a committed relationship. Spenser cooks – in many ways the food is almost as much fun as the crime. So Spenser slowly becomes a well rounded and unpredictable character.
Returning to the theme of Overall, Cliched stories, do a search – How many different stories are there – you will find that many, many works can be seen as a parallel to something that came before it.
My wife is watching a Mexican Soap Opera. The plot goes:
Young poor girl is wronged by a bunch of rich people.
She ends up in jail due to their abuse – lies.
Gets out of jail.
Changes her name.
Plans her revenge.
We are basically looking at the female, Mexican version of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” It’s all been done before.
Check out this link. Then do something different with it. And don’t make your main character “as hot as a ten dollar pistol.”
David Gordon Burke
Find my Books here.