Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Publishing as a Second Language - The Cliché

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

Publishing as a Second Language - The Cliché
One of the terms we borrow from the French is cliché. If you are not familiar with a cliché, the New Oxford American Dictionary defines a cliché as “a phrase or opinion that is overused or betrays a lack of original thought.”

Most writers use clichés without even thinking about it. Because they know them like the back of their hands, these common phrases just roll off their tongues. It’s easy as pie to include them in writing because writers want to make sure their writing is clear as a bell. Romance writers know that all is well that ends well. Encouraging writers know that every cloud has a silver lining. Regardless of what cliché you use, it feels like old hat to your readers.
Obviously the paragraph above is an exaggeration. Anyone can figure out that I used too many clichés and my readers would tire of that style writing quickly. But what is wrong with an occasional cliché? Nothing, as long as the emphasis is on occasional.

The problem is that writers are creative people. And by definition clichés show lack of creativity or original thought. Shouldn’t we write without using words and phrases that someone else has used for years?

Look for clichés as you edit.
Once you have completed a manuscript and you begin your final edit, pay attention to your use of clichés. If you find one, think of a better and more creative way to express your thoughts. For example, if you say something is “quiet as a mouse,” does that really say what you mean? Do you want that phrase to distract your reader and bring an image of a little squirmy gray thing darting in and out of walls? Perhaps you can come up with a more creative way to express the absence of noise. Many things might come to mind—the house when you first get up, sitting alone on a deserted beach, a baby who has finally fallen asleep, etc.

A good writing exercise is to take a cliché and create new ways to say the same thought. Why don’t we try one or two here? Pick out one of the clichés below and suggest in the comments how to rewrite that cliché in a new and fresh way. I have chosen a few just for writers!

The writing on the wall
Read between the lines

Happy writing!


Linda Gilden is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She finds great joy (and excellent writing material) in time spent with her family. Helping writers understand PSL is one of the things she also loves to do through her newest book, Called to Write. This month she is excited about having a chance to set new goals for the new year and maybe even do a few more rewrites!

To find out more about Linda, her writing, and her ministry, visit You can also connect with her on Twitter @LindaGilden and Facebook at Author Linda Gilden.


  1. Mary's letter seemed cordial enough, but every "t" was crossed with a sneer and every "I" dotted with a smirk.

    1. Nice! I picture Mary's face as I read this.

    2. Nice, Ron! Keep rewriting those cliches and creating new, more descriptive phrases!

  2. Thank you, Linda. A great exercise. I find myself wanting to use them.

  3. Thanks, Linda. you've hit the nail on the head with this one. To avoid cliche', I use the tried and true sayings that have been passed down over the years.

    Now that I've irritated everyone, I'm guilty of cliche' use. However, I do find that sometimes they are helpful to keep the story thought flowing. Afterward, I go back and rewrite them. I do agree that they probably shouldn't remain in our finished product. Thanks for stimulating my thoughts, and for your dedication to helping other writers reach their potential.