by Emily Boismier, sophomore writing coach
What is a Writing Cliché?
Many writing professionals and writing centers around the world have posted articles on writing clichés; but first, what are they? A writing cliché is a phrase that is so overused it has lost its intended meaning, and has become very general. This happens by desensitizing the reader through repeated use, so it’s not new or exciting anymore. To many people, these are a big no-no. And that’s understandable; they have quite a few downsides. However, I think they can also be used strategically once we understand how they can affect pieces of writing.
Some examples of writing clichés are…
Idioms are found more often in fictional works and less often in academic writing. An idiom is traditionally a phrase used to convey a different meaning than the word stated. For example, if I say that it’s raining cats and dogs, I mean it’s raining hard…not actual furry animals, as one might expect. A few more examples that are commonly found in writing include:
*In the nick of time
*All walks of life
I, and many others, have found that using idioms generally suck the life out of my writing like a literary vampire. They are too general, and specifics are so much more widely appreciated in literature. For example, if I wanted to say it was raining hard, I could describe the rain: how it blurred the backdrop behind it, the way the concrete undulated with every drop, etc. Instead, an idiom says something about cute animals. Which do you think is better?
In literature, imagery refers to using sensory details in order to describe something, and personification is when you give an inhuman object human characteristics. However, writers can get lazy. And, let’s face it, writing can be hard. We tend to apply imagery and personification clichés because they’re fairly easy to use: many have been used countless times, so we often just plug familiar ones in. Here are some overused examples of these:
*The snow crunched underfoot
*The door creaked
*The wind howled
Though our purpose is to seem profound and give a more powerful description, we actually achieve the opposite effect. Because they’re so overused, readers tend to glance over them and not really absorb the impact that the author is hoping to provide. Once again, to fix this problem, specifics and originality are key.
I’m sure that teachers can recognize these ones easily: academic writing clichés! As a writing coach and ‘the friend who’s good at editing,’ I’ve seen quite a few papers that suffer from the influence of academic writing clichés. Here are a few of the big ones:
*In a nutshell
*Since the dawn of mankind
*In this day and age
Although 2AM speed-writing sprees often welcome shortcuts, laziness is rarely rewarded in writing. These clichés are indeed used out of laziness, or out of a half-hearted attempt to be original and quirky. Using clichés in academic writing can weaken your work because it lacks specificity. Your paper becomes interchangeable with anyone else’s, and it doesn’t have your unique voice. That’s something you want to avoid. Try to think of your own way to say what you want, or pick up a thesaurus and find a nice synonym.
How Can We Use Clichés to Our Advantage?
Now that I’ve told you all about why to avoid clichés…don’t. At least, not always. I believe that since they have such potent effects, they can be used for good instead of evil. For example: they’re overused, so that means most people know them when they see them. Therefore, we can use clichés to express complex ideas in an easily understood way, so more people will be able to comprehend. Or, since they lack power and seem fluffy, we can use them to end a paper on a lighthearted note. Maybe you can even use them to describe a character’s personality in a work, as a dialogue or a thought. Either way, I believe they do have some use… even if your English teacher yells at you for using them.