A cliché is a word or phrase that has fallen into common use. Generally, the term is used in a negative way, referring to phrases that lack originality. Here are a few common examples of clichés:
Read between the lines.
Woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
Only time will tell.
Fit as a fiddle.
The calm before the storm.
Frighten to death.
What goes around comes around.
A clean slate.
Against all odds.
#1 - They Create a Conversational Tone
One of the main issues with clichés is that they are – by definition – unoriginal. They are often used in everyday conversations, which means they can be extremely counterproductive if you are attempting to create a formal piece of writing. An official document or academic paper can be invalidated by the casual, conversational tone we natually associate with clichés.
These phrases can also have negative effects on creative writing; they can make your content seem stale, unimaginative, and even anachronistic. This is because readers will associate phrases such as “fit as a fiddle” with certain time periods, characters, and perhaps even conversations they have held in the past. Such associations can distract them from your writing, causing them to lose focus and feel disengaged.
Readers may also become disinterested in your writing once they spot a cliché. This is because they can give the impression that you haven’t put a lot of effort into your content. You haven’t strived to create an original description: you have opted for a well-used cliché. This can give some readers a negative impression of you and your content, causing them to judge it too harshly.
#2 - Readers Will Skim Over Them
Of course, if you want your writing to have a conversational tone, you should still be aware of the other ways that clichés can negatively impact your writing. These are phrases that your readers will already be used to hearing, which means that when they see them in a piece of writing, they may skim over them. Consider a few commen clichés:
The grass is always greener on the other side.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
A wolf in sheep's clothing.
These phrases are used so often that our brains don’t have to work especially hard to understand them. When we read them, we don’t consider the details, which means we don’t picture the green grass, the apple tree, or the deceptive wolf when we read these phrases. We skim over them, failing to appreciate the power behind the descriptions. This is a good reason why you should consider avoiding clichés in your writing: if you are using them to convey important details, they may be missed by the reader.
#3 - They Might Not Actually Be Saying Anything
Another issue which clichés is that many of them do not contain any real content: they are lengthy ways of saying reasonably simple things. A good example of this is “in any way, shape, or form”. This phrase can be cut in half and it will still have the same meaning as the full-length cliché.
If you have a word count that you need to keep to, clichés such as this can waste the words that could be used to convey important points. Moreover, even a piece of writing that doesn’t have a word count should not purposefully waste readers’ time. Generally speaking, clichés do not convey important information, descriptions, or make your writing more appealing. In these cases, they should be avoided.
Thank you for reading this post about why you should avoid clichés in your writing. If you would like to read more writing advice from Literary Edits, why not check out our post, “The Problem With Typing Errors“?