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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

The Devil Is in the Clichés

A diamond in the rough. The writing on the wall. All that glitters is not gold. The devil is in the details. Behind the eight ball. The calm before the storm. Clichés . . . time-worn phrases (emphasis on “worn.”) . . . over-used adages. Avoid them like the plague.

The last line above communicates an important point . . . using a worn-out cliché. The point could be stated with greater freshness, such as: Eschew them as a dreaded disease.

Generally a fiction writer does well to stay away from the aforementioned. “Writing that relies heavily on clichés is considered poor or lazy writing. They are considered trite and should be avoided in writing unless used purposely for effect.” So writes Pearl Luke on her Be a Better Writer website, which includes 681 clichés that are bad to the bone for authors. (There, I did it again.)

Indeed, the avoidance of familiar phrases is not an inviolable rule, but usage should be sparse and for a particular purpose. For instance, there might be a character who uses a host of clichés as part of his/her persona. Or the proverbial “shot in the dark” might be employed to describe a literal situation in which a shooter returns fire on a blindingly, pitch-black night.

The key is creativity. Finding and using one’s own words rather than relying on boring, trite, bathetic terminology that will often disinterest readers. There are over a quarter of a million entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Put the words together in fresh, innovative ways. You and your readers will both like it.

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