I read a book over the weekend riddled with cliches. I would have been more annoyed if I had paid money for it, but it still bothered me. The very first sentence included a cliche (she ran as fast as her legs could carry her). I probably should have counted them.
When I first read that writers should avoid peppering their writing with cliches, I didn't get it. The cliches sounded 'right' to my ear--probably because they were so familiar. I figured others might wonder why cliches are a no-no. Here's what I came up with.
Cliches are distracting. At least, for some readers. I don't think they used to bother me as much before I began to study writing, but now they tend to pull me out of the story for a moment.
Cliches are not fresh. Anytime I use a cliche, I try to look at it as a kind of plagiarizing. Think about it. This particular set of words has been used so many times before, it's not unique to me. It's the easy way out, instead of working to find a new way to say something.
Cliches invite skimming. I don't know about you, but when I get published, I'd rather not give my readers any excuse to skip sections of the story. When a cliche appears, readers instinctively know the rest of the phrase, and tend to skip ahead. Why not describe characters, emotions, and setting in an unexpected way, so the reader doesn't want to miss anything.
Here are some resources for identifying and changing cliches in fiction:
Use the Cliche Finder to pick out cliche's you might have missed in your editing.
If you worry that you use certain words too often, these three resources will help you out.
Did you know there are many kinds of cliches in writing? Read the list in No More Cookie Cutters.
And check out my favorite novel for fresh, cliche-free writing. I reviewed it here.
Do cliches bother you as a reader? Do they sneak into your writing? And do you have a book recommendation for an author who writes fresh?