Beware the C-Word

Never tell me you’ve never felt this way before, that your love interest has a heart of ice (or gold), or that something dramatic happened that changed your life forever. Use your words.

Clichés are a trademark of the rookie writer. Avoiding them is something every writer struggles with, mostly because clichés are so embedded into our daily lives that we may not even notice them slipping into our writing. But they must absolutely be avoided.

This is a great danger in memoirs and autobiographical fiction. In the desire to express yourself in a way that will appeal to your readers, you may find yourself reaching for those proven phrases. Resist! Universal appeal is good, but while clichés are more or less universal, they are rarely appealing.

Not that you can never write a cliché. That’s what first drafts are for. Chances are that you started with a cliché, then went on to say the same thing in your own words later in the paragraph. Or perhaps you ended your unique and insightful description with a tired phrase. That’s why God gave us the delete button.

Editing your own work is always hard. As William Faulkner said, you must kill your darlings. Your darlings are the words you have lovingly assembled, likely in the wee hours of the night, alone, by candlelight.  But I think you will find that clichés become clichés because they are true, not because they are you. Clichés do sound good, so it’s tempting to keep them in the text, but they are not yours to keep.

So you must kill those clichés because writing is about saying something no one else can say, simply because no one else is you. Clichés reflect a lack of voice. By looking deeply into your true thoughts, you will find your voice; clichés won’t even be an issue if you approach your memoir this way.

Your voice is worth hearing. You know it is worth hearing when you have the irresistible urge to challenge your pen to a fight to the death with your thoughts. Don’t do your own ideas the injustice of stealing someone else’s words (everyone else’s, for that matter).

I suggest that you do a special proofread (because you know you will do several) focusing solely on finding clichés. Beware of ones that sneak in slightly reworded. They have to go, too.

Clichés often occur at the beginning of manuscripts, reflecting an attempt for universal human appeal: you know, the “I never thought this would happen to me,” the “it started out as an ordinary day,” even the writer’s default, “I was an observer, content to watch all that happened around me, until one day a beautiful woman appeared and changed everything.” Any acquisitions editor will take lines like these as a hint to move on to the next submission. And readers, the people you are actually writing for, want to know what makes your story interesting and unique, worth reading a whole book about. You hook them in with a unique experience, and most important, your unique perspective. If you find yourself reaching for those clichés, it’s because you haven’t delved deeply enough into your own thoughts. It may even be painful to do so, but welcome to writing! You will be impressed with what you can come up with.

Note: This writer deleted a handful of clichés from this very document.

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2 thoughts on “Beware the C-Word

  1. Pingback: Please read under each line today « How my heart speaks

  2. Pingback: Snowbound | Love, Sex & Merlot

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