What makes a cliche?

Today’s witticisms can be tomorrow’s cliches.

The definition of a cliche is “a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect.

But does that mean it shouldn’t be used in writing? Much of the current wisdom says you can use a cliche in dialogue, but not narrative. The reasoning behind this is that people speak in cliches all the time. We squeal like stuck pigs and go green with envy. We see red when we’re mad and we always get our man.

The words have a lot of power. It’s all about what you choose and what you want to say. What can the writer say instead?

Well, anything we please.

A writer can show you the difference between red and dark pink and vermilion, cranberry, burgundy, maroon… or anywhere else on the endless red color palette. Don’t get me started on the greens. My mother taught me chartreuse before I went to first grade.

So why the ban on cliches in narrative? Writers can do better. What can you say that makes people stand up and pay attention because they’ve never seen/heard/read something like that before?

Let’s look at it a different way, what did you read that made you laugh out loud? Cry for the character’s pain? Repeat the line at a later date? I’m betting it wasn’t when the writer exclaimed the main character hit the ball out of the park.

In dialogue, they allow it because so often we do throw out those tired old phrases. It makes it realistic. That’s not to say you have to use cliches in dialogue. You can make them say, well, not what the writers wants them to say, but what the character really wants to say.

I’m enough of a writer to admit I’m not always in control of what my characters say or do. They pretty much steer their own lives into print.

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