Some stages in learning to use clichés:

  1. Never
  2. In the voice of a character – people think and talk a great deal in cliché – use sparingly, who wants to read the horrid stuff?
  3. With a clever twist
  4. Free indirect style – needs lots of skill
  5. Bravely/boldly – but only once you’ve mastered your craft well enough for discerning readers to understand what you’re up to


2 thoughts on “Using clichés

  1. Lee 16 years ago

    Ron, yes, this would be a particularly thorny challenge, but in fact most of our spoken language (and not a small part of our written) is idiomatic and automatic. Just eavesdrop on a teen conversation or one in diplomatic circles, examples from my own experience. I’m always struggling with ways to write through, not necessarily away from (Martin Amis’s formulation, if I remember correctly), cliché.

    Have you read David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green? He does some particularly interesting things with cliché, using it to indicate character development.

    Perhaps I need to think more about how cliché actually works on us.

  2. Ron Slate 16 years ago

    A difficulty: Setting one’s story, or part of one, in corporate business, where so much of the language is idiomatic and automatic, without dehumanizing the characters. Having them struggle through institutional language toward expression of some sort.