You’ve been told Clichés are the ultimate taboo in the writing world — unsightly, unimaginative, almost blasphemous phrases. Google even defines a cliché as ‘a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.’ But I’m going to tell you differently; after all, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Why Clichés Are Effective
You’re probably wondering how on earth can something as ugly as sin be worthy enough for a form that’s meant to be the epitome of originality and creativity? Well, here’s why.
Clichés Build Character
Imagine this: you’re writing a coming-of-age novel from the perspective of a fairly young narrator. They aren’t going to have an extensive vocabulary, nor a flare for speaking in original metaphors at every turn. This is when the cliché becomes a useful tool. A young narrator is likely to use clichés, and while you should use them sparingly in your work, incorporating a cliché here and there can help convince readers that your narrator really is the age you’re making them out to be.
Similarly, if you have a character who speaks colloquially, using clichés can help convey this informal tone.
Powerful if Subverted
A cliché can become exceptionally powerful language that leaves a lasting effect on the reader’s mind — if you use it in a way that subverts its typical meaning. For example, let’s say you’re writing about a character who just brutally killed someone. She’s standing over the corpse, holding the bloodied knife. For a moment, she stares at the body in silence. Then, licking her lips, she smiles and says “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach is a cliché typically used as a romantic gesture. But in this instance, it now has a new meaning — one with a certainly more unsettling and disturbing tone. In fact, the reason why it is so effectively unsettling is because the reader is so used to seeing this cliché being used as a romantic gesture. By subverting its typical meaning, this cliché has gained immense power.
So, What’s the Take Away From This?
Clichés aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, sure, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated as taboo sayings. A cliché is a tool which if wielded properly — and used sparingly — will truly enhance your story.
Struggling with writer’s block? Then check out our in-depth guide on how to combat it.