No More Cookie-Cutters: Avoiding Cliches to Create Original Fiction

It  poured cats and dogs. Her heart pounded like a drum. Their family was poor as dirt.

Cliche. Cliche. Cliche.

What sounds beautiful and original to the writer, often comes across as tired and hackneyed to agents and editors. Cookie-cutter phrases that make writing sound like something you've heard time and time again.

Cliches come in many forms, besides the obvious. There are cliched characters, cliched emotions, cliched dialogue, cliched settings and descriptions. Even cliched plots.

The best way to steer clear of them is to be aware of what they are. Beyond that, realize your first draft will be full of cliches. That's all right, since your own editing, plus your critique group, should be able to weed them out.

Here are some links I've been collecting to educate myself on cliches:

Cliche Catalogs. Have you wondered if anyone has ever collected cliches in one place? The answer is yes, and you can scroll through, search, or add to the hundreds of cliches at Cliche Site. The cliches are listed alphabetically, but you can also search by category. Check out Cliche Finder for more.

Plot Cliches. Do you fear your plot is just a recycled version of a tired storyline readers have heard before? TV Tropes has an extensive list of plot cliches, but that's not all. There's also cliched dialogue, characters, setting, and more. The site is searchable by genre, as well.

Character Cliches. You may argue that your main character is a classic archetype, not a cliche. Nathan Bransford breaks down the difference between them, and shows how to make your character rise above similar ones.

Emotional Cliches. Agent Mary Kole made me laugh with her insightful comments on the prevalence of certain body parts in writing about emotions. It definitely makes me stop and think before using one of these.

Query Cliches. Yes, even query letters have cliches. For an agent who reads hundreds of queries a month, certain phrases come up with maddening regularity. Would you like to avoid them? Nathan Bransford gives a rundown of the most frequent cliches in queries.

One of the best ways to avoid cliches is to read authors who invent refreshing characters, and unique ways of depicting setting and emotions. The best example I know of is The Book Thief. Any others you'd like to suggest?

Are there any cliche types I've missed? Which cliches bother you the most?


  1. Oh, what would I do without you Debbie? These links are incredibly helpful. Thanks!

    I haven't got around to reading The Book Thief. My local library doesn't have it and it's always $30+ at the bookstore. I do hear great things about it though.

    I think emotional cliches, particularly in dialogue, can annoy me the most. And in YA in gets worse. Though plot cliches have resulted in me hurling a book across the room. :)

  2. I agree about plot cliches. I'm so thrilled when an author's plot truly surprises me. When I can't guess where it's going in the first 20 pages.


  3. This is such a great summary of cliches--thanks so much for the links!



Related Posts with Thumbnails