Friday, July 15, 2011


You hear it all the time—Don’t use clichéd writing! My sweet mother in law gave me a fun book: THE DICTONARY OF CLICHES. It has over 2000 entries—crazy right?

What exactly is a cliché? It’s anything that has “lost originality, ingenuity, or impact by long overuse.” I think we all know not to use “the cat’s out of the bag” or “caught red handed”—unless we are being ironic or humorous. But along with cliché phrases I think we need to watch out for cliché characters, situations and scenes.

Agent’s write on their blogs all the time about this cliché or that cliché and it always surprises me. Here are a few:


  • Damsel in distress
  • Hero saves everyone from danger
  • Wicked step-family
  • Wise grandfatherly figure that has all the answers
  • Emotionally scarred super villain
  • Bad boy who is secretly soft and sweet
  • Girl who doesn't realize she’s beautiful
  • Annoying younger sibling
  • Misunderstood misfit
  • Spoiled mean rich girl


  • New kid at school
  • Prince or princess posing as a commoner
  • Two people start off hating each other and then fall in love
  • Hero must save the world from and evil villain
  • Someone is transformed with make-up or clothes into the popular kid
  • Moody gunslinger type comes out of nowhere and helps family beset by baddies. (Good addition Tony:)


  • Chasing down your true love in an airport
  • Meet cute by bumping into someone.
  • After-life scene in billowy white clouds
  • Nerd getting shoved into a locker or taped to a flag pole
  • Beer party on the beach
  • Confessions of love in the airport, at work, in the rain, at the train station, after throwing rocks at someone’s window—I could go on.

It isn’t that any of these ideas are bad—they’ve just been over used. Any could be a great place to jump off—just make them different—change them to something unexpected.

Does anyone have any other clichés? If so post them on your blog and leave me a link in the comments and I will link it with this post—or just write them in the comments and I will add them to this list. I think the more clichés we know to avoid the better our writing can be.



M Pax said...

Great list. Some magazines have long lists of them -- things they don't want to see.

Emily Rittel-King said...

Why is it I still see these cliches everywhere? I read the book "I am Number Four" and watched the film version last night. The entire time I was thinking, "there's another cliche!" I didn't catch most of them in the book, but on screen they were glaring at me. Still, the book/movie were successful. I think the book was original, even though bits and pieces were cliche. There's one good example of where I recently found cliches.

Angie Cothran said...

M Pax-Thanks for the tip!

Emily-I think people are comfortable with cliches. A writers our job is to make people uncomfortable :)

Christine Tyler said...

I love finding odd descriptions that defy clichés.

"I'll be the corpse in your bathtub. Useless."

That's probably the funkiest creative metaphor I've found lately, and it certainly feels a bit uncomfortable...especially for the first line to a love song, haha! (From the Elbow song "Newborn.")

Tony Van Helsing said...

Moody gunslinger type comes out of nowhere and helps family who are beset by baddies.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Gosh! You're ruining all my stories!

Good list.

JRo - Jaye Robin Brown said...

Oh yeah - I've had "cliche" written in bubbles on my manuscripts a time or two.

The East Coaster said...

"Girl who doesn't realize she’s beautiful"

This one kills me. Every.single.time. It's great for my triceps though...instant book to wall hurling and all

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