How To Avoid Clichés - That Sounds Familiar

by : Scott Lindsay

When writing articles, stories for full blown manuscripts it is often in your best interest to avoid common phrases or colloquialisms. Many writers refer to the overuse of these phrases as cliché and they avoid them like the plague.

It may take some work to find new ways to say something you’ve relied on clichés to say for you.

Two exercises I have used for this is to pick a vocabulary list and only use words on that list to compose a thought. It’s amazing how creative you can get when forced into a narrowly defined list of words. The second exercise is to simply remove a letter from the alphabet and provide ground rules that say the letter ‘g’ (or any other letter you choose) can not be used in the thought you are working through. If a word you want to use has ‘g’ in it you will need to find an alternative word.

The primary use for colloquialisms is in fiction writing where period dialect dictates that an overused phrase that was commonly used during the time period of the story should be used. In these cases common phrases of the era may simply help identify the setting and the mannerisms of the character.

In Christian writing common colloquialisms are often referred to as ‘Christianese’. These phrases have meaning for those who know Christ, but often sound like some sort or code to those who are not Christians. It is in the best interest of Christian writers to find alternative ways to convey truths that have been reduced to ‘Christianese’.

However you look at colloquialisms it is safe to say that these common phrases have their roots in something most often forgotten. For instance the term, “the whole nine yards" is a term that is often used to describe an all encompassing amount. The original phrase came about during Word War II to describe the effect of machine guns mounted on air craft. If all the ammunition was used in one run it covered 27 feet or “the whole nine yards". While the original meaning is no longer connected with the term, its original intent was maximum coverage and that’s what the colloquialism represents today.

The primary word of caution is to minimize the use of common terms, phrases or slang whenever possible. If the slang is present day it will likely be passé before your piece can be published and will sound dated. If the slang is from the past, but is overdone it may sound like a visit to ‘Cliché Town" according to fellow author David Ian.

When you proof your manuscript look for phrases that seem familiar, chances are very strong that the line has been overused and will minimize the impact you desire for your piece. If possible find a new way to convey an old truth. You, your publisher and your reader will be glad you did.