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Cliche Alert!

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 29, 2011

When you write your first draft, it’s okay to forge ahead and write whatever channels through your mind. The next sweep through will give you the opportunity to eliminate those clichés you planted along the way. I’m in the revision process now, and my cliché alert meter when into full mode with the latest doozies. Here they are, before and after. Try to stay in your character’s head and think of analogies relevant to her mindset. In this case, my heroine owns a pottery studio and is a downhome girl from Arizona.

OLD:

Erika sensed his withdrawal from the way his shoulders tensed and his jaw tightened. Had she done something wrong? She hadn’t said anything when the man next to him commented on his attire. Perhaps he’d detected her negative opinion of his costume. Sure, it looked great on him, but he stood out like a sore thumb. If he was hoping to avoid attention from their enemy, he’d gone about it the wrong way.

NEW:

Erika sensed his withdrawal from the way his shoulders tensed and his jaw tightened. Had she done something wrong? She hadn’t said anything when the man next to him commented on his attire. Perhaps he’d detected her negative opinion of his costume. Sure, it looked great on him, but he stood out like gold among clay. If he was hoping to avoid attention from their enemy, he’d gone about it the wrong way.

OLD:

As soon as the group passed, she eased open the door. A peek outside told her the coast was clear. She slipped into the corridor, Magnor following as stealthy as a jungle cat.

NEW:

As soon as the group passed, she eased open the door. At Magnor’s nod of consent, she slipped into the corridor. He followed, moving with the stealth of a ninja.

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The self-editing process gives you the chance the rake through your words and make minute improvements. Clichés are only one of the problems you’ll be searching for as you read through your manuscript. I prefer a printout, recycling my pages through the printer for the various drafts. At the end, I have a clean polished manuscript printed out like in the old days. But you know what? It’s nice when I have to look up something from several chapters back. Plus, I have an actual work that I can send to my manuscript collection at the Bowling Green State University’s Popular Culture Library. But however you go about the process, check those clichés at the door.

AND NOW, here’s an exercise for you. Would you change this passage, and if so, how?

Finally, they could proceed. Magnor had grabbed her hand, and he let go as though she’d given him a hot coal. A wave of despondence hit her like a punch to the gut.

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7 Responses to “Cliche Alert!”

  1. I just found another one! “She couldn’t help the pall of depression that settled over her shoulders like a shroud.” Need to think about how to change this one to give it more originality from the heroine’s viewpoint.

  2. Excellent examples. You make very good points.

  3. Thanks, Beth. It also helps to be familiar with terms your hero/heroine might know. I changed the one above from a hot coal to a firebrick from her kiln, since she’s a potter.

  4. Nancy,
    What a great reminder to keep our writing fresh and cliche free.
    Happy New Year!

  5. Happy New Year to you, too, Marilyn!

  6. Great post! I think of those first draft cliches and otherwise less-than-sparkling prose as place holders that let us move on and get the story finished. Worrying about getting everything perfect the first time around is one sure way to NEVER finish!

  7. That’s for sure, Allison!

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