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Clichés? Not In My Backyard!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have little to no tolerance for modern romantic comedies (unless they feature Paul Rudd). They have so pervaded our culture that we can predict plot points with ease within the first ten minutes of the movie. The person that the protagonist picks fights with will be the love interest. There will be a snarky best friend. There will be a hilarious misunderstanding that causes the love interest to ditch the protagonist, until the protagonist makes a grand romantic gesture that will cause all to be forgiven.

These worn-out tropes are known as clichés.

clichés

Sarcasm. Photo by Adriana Santamaria P

A cliché, at one point, was a brilliant and unique idea. But because people liked it so much, it was absorbed into the societal pulse and regurgitated so many times that it now induces groans. The French poet Gérard de Nerval practically defined clichés when he said, “The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet; the second, an imbecile.”

Clichés can be phrases (like biting the bullet, and the classic “it was a dark and stormy night”), ideas, or components of a piece of film/theater/literature. The deus ex machina, the meet cute, and the damsel in distress are all components of storytelling that have grown tired with their overuse.

It should be said that clichés are not inherently bad. The term has a negative connotation, but there is a reason that many clichés persist to this day.

PRACTICE

We at the Write Practice like to take tips to their opposing extremes. So today, write for fifteen minutes and use as many clichés as possible. If you’re having trouble getting started, Wikipedia has a list of phrases and tropes to get you started. Share your practice in the comments when you’re done, and leave notes for other writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. She occasionally blogs, but only when she feels like it. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure).

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  • Jeff Hoots

    Hmm…I usually try to avoid cliches like the plague, maybe I’ll rethink that.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Ha, I can tell, Jeff :) 

      Seriously though, definitely avoid them. 

  • http://wordspicturesmusic.wordpress.com/ @writing_ninja

    This is very tongue-in-cheek (another cliche?), but it’s been a long day of hard graft (it’s 17:30 in South Africa now) and I think the wiki list inspired me a tad much:

    It was just
    another boring architecture convention until Matthew met Tracey when their eyes
    locked from across the room. At first glance, she seemed to be the perfect girl
    next door, her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail to reveal her alabaster
    brow, curved eyebrows and steely blue eyes. She stalked over to his exhibit and
    he pointed out the tall monolith he planned to erect on the Asian subcontinent.
    She showed him her blueprints for the farmhouse she intended to renovate next
    to the Yangtze River – it seemed to be a match made in China.

     

    They talked
    over lunch at the convention centre’s canteen.

    “Tastes like
    chicken,” Tracey commented on the pork chow mein, then looked glum.

    “What’s
    irking you?” he asked as she thumbed listlessly through her blueprints.

    It turned
    out that she wasn’t sure she could afford all the materials to renovate the
    farm house, but Matthew, a successful entrepreneurial architect didn’t want to
    appear the scrooge, recognised his damsel in distress and after a moment of
    thinking outside the box, offered to provide her with the additional building
    supplies she would need. To Tracey, their chance meeting on the other side of
    the world felt like a divinely ordained deus
    ex machina; here was this wonderful man who would support her farmhouse
    project, lock, stock and barrel. She wasn’t sure how to thank him, but after a
    few cups of sake wine, [insert wet sari scene here].

    • @writing_ninja

       Eek! sorry for the horrible formatting (I blame MS Word)…

      • zo-zo

        I loved the tone – and some great lines in there too!! I’m also from SA, and my formatting has been shocking on this blog… Going to try a text editor to see if it turns out better.

        • http://wordspicturesmusic.wordpress.com/ @writing_ninja

           Next time I won’t copy and paste from Word… maybe it helps to type the content directly in the comment box *blonde*

    • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

      That’s great!!  Made me laugh.

    • Marianne

      Funny!

  • http://FollowingJesusSucks.org Shon Ridenour

    Calling something cliche is cliche.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      So true!

  • http://www.pjreece.ca/blog/wordpress Pjreece

    Waking at the crack of dawn, hungry as a wolf and needing to piss like a racehorse, I realized first and foremost that I would be bored out of my skull if I didn’t get on my high horse and head for hills.  Sure, time was on my side, but the thing is I was flat broke and the gas tank was bone dry.  So I pulled up my britches, gritted my teeth and made the most of a bad situation…  OKAY, FOLKS… THAT’S ALL SHE WROTE.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      This is hilarious.

    • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

      I like that, we seem to be on similar wave-lengths today…..

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      Well done! I love it!

    • http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ JB Lacaden

      Short but loaded. Nice job! :)

  • http://bluecollarliving.com James Dibben

    “A penny for your thoughts?”Amy looked up from her computer. She stared at David like a dog trying to figure out a new sound.”I’m trying to figure out how to answer this email from Crystal.”"What’s her major malfunction?” David asked Amy.”She wants to know if we will loan her the truck. She needs to pick up a new fridge this weekend.”"Who does she plan on asking to help her get that done?” David said sarcastically.”She thinks Jeff will help her out.”David started laughing, “That dog won’t hunt!”"That’s what I was going to tell her. She seems to think the world revolves around her, and Jeff will be glad to make her day.”"What do you think Crystal will do when Jeff tells her to take a hike?”"I would guess she will cry herself a river over her spilled milk.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002883538863 Bliss Seana

    I had to share this!  Thank you : )

  • jeanelaine

    What fun! In
    the good ole days as a young girl, I dreamed of meeting a cute Prince
    Charming who sweeps me off my feet, and takes me to his castle to live
    happily ever after. As a damsel in distress, he storms the castle on
    a dark and rainy night carrying me off on horseback. Easy as pie my
    hero avoids the deathtraps placed in our path by the evil overlord
    and his guards hired by my father the King.

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      I like that you did this in present tense. It’s different than how I would have written in. Well done, Jeanelaine.

      Katie

  • http://www.cbsoulsby.blogspot.com/ CB Soulsby

    I really enjoyed this and reading all your attempts. It reminded me of a contestant on (the UK version of) The Apprentice last year who always spoke in cliches. During the interview stage the interviewer asked him to tell her something about himself that wasn’t a cliche. He replied, “I do exactly what it says on the tin.”

  • ameliorated

    There were three of them. Tough as nails. Bereft of character. Bent men with dark appetites.

    The Kid was the smallest; more dangerous than a live wire in a rainstorm. He called the shots, as smart men are wont to do.

    Second came Bear, a grizzly man with a barrel chest and eyes like living coals. In him burned a bloodlust improper to a human man. The Kid, knowing the hearts of men, kept him on a short leash.

    Last, the very last, was the Widower. Hair pale as flax, eyes black as the deeps, he was a study in contrasts, if not in morals. A hatchet swung loose at his scarecrow hip, sharp as the day it was made. Itching for action.

    Rosy-fingered dawn brought light to road as they trod on, and before them lay endless possibility. A potential for interminable destruction.

    • zo-zo

      Oooh, you had so much fun with this, and it really comes out!  I really enjoyed your descriptions and unique style.

  • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

    Why can’t I free your doubtful mind?  It’s because my cheatin’ heart has done told on me.  Never one to be outdone, he looked in the mirror at the shadow of the man he used to be, and wondered, where have the years gone?  Ah to be young again.  But that’s life, they say, so you just pick yourself up and try, try again, but don’t forget to look before you leap and don’t  ever accept candy from strangers, you just don’t know WHERE it’s been.  Little nuggets like that are my wisdom beyond my years that shows in my haunted deep-set eyes.  But if we’d just come back to God and all the things our Mamas told us this country would straighten out tomorrow and we’d be all right, doncha know?  But once bitten twice shy so how can I tell if you’re for real or not there’s something funny about you, boy.    You’re not from around here,  are ya?  My daddy worked his fingers to the bone and that’s what I act like and people like me are the backbone o’ this country the trouble is the DRUGS if we cound just execute all the druggie criminals we’d be a lot better off.  So you take your hat off son when that flag passes and be damn quick aBOUT it.  I’ve gone from rags to riches, I hit the streets of this town in nineteen-humph-humph with holes in my soles and a dime in my pocket, and I knocked on doors til someone let me get my foot in the door and I proceeded to sell myself — it’s all in how you win friends and influence people, you’ve got to be a patriot as well as a sharp bidnessman and I make my wife stay home and keep house because that’s the way God intended it, don’t you see?  If I only had a dollar for every fool that needs the advice of a man like me — you just oughta listen to me, son, you could do a lot worse.  I’ve got nothing but your best interests at heart and I’ll never steer you wrong.  It’s God and country and money and more of it, not necessarily in that order.  You make mole-hills out of mountains, that’s what you do, it aint no hill for a stepper.  Take it from me , son, I’ve been down that road before and you’ll always pay the piper in the end.  And when it’s my time, I’ll go to my reward,  just like the man in the Good Book.

    That was fun!!    And I’m all better now……………….

    • Marianne

      Your cliches even have a genre.  Funny!!

  • Yalí Noriega

    Hi, I’m new here but thought it might be fun to try.

    She woke with a start, thinking she had heard a noise inside the house. She hated being alone at home in dark, stormy nights such as this.

    She decided to be brave and not act as a damsel in distress when things like this occurred. Of course, when she tried to turn on the light she found the power was out, so she’d have to go downstairs and turn on the generator. Easy as pie, she’d done it before. She just had to light a candle and wrap herself closer in her satin robe.

    The floor creaked as she walked down the hall and scared her again. She would jump at the drop of a hat, she knew. 

    She hated old houses but B had fallen in love with this one and she couldn’t say no to him. He was her Achilles heel.

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      Haha! So cliche! Yet also so real. Well done, Yali, and welcome to The Write Practice!
      Katie

    • ameliorated

      Good choice with the cliche/horror setting. Right down to the busted generator.  :)

    • http://bluecollarliving.com James Dibben

      Loved it!

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    I really like how this practice shows different parts of the country (and world even) in the vernacular we choose. Different sayings are more commonplace in different areas.

    Katie(PS: Joe, this is comment 220, in case you’re still counting).

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I’ve upped the requirement to 250. Then we’ll talk ;)

      • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

        How cliche.

  • Bill Polm

    Do you know of any way to determine reliably if a phrase is a cliche or not?

    And that’s the name of that tune! To the max.
    Anyway, another day, another dollar, living on the cheap, life is a bear. But come weal, come woe, out status is quo. Not!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Great question, Bill. I think the only way to really know is to get familiar with them. It would be difficult to check a whole novel, for example, against a list of clichés. Although, some spell checkers are able to do that (wordpress’ spell checker, for example).

      Just be direct. We use clichés as shortcuts in our language and our thinking. If you focus on being direct, describing things with detail rather than figuratively, you’ll probably avoid most clichés.

  • http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ JB Lacaden

    I watched Mount Doom from the distance. I knew the princess was locked somewhere within that mountain. The scarlet sky swirled around the mountain top like some sort of whirlpool. I also saw three great dragons circling the temple built on top of the mountain. Running around the mountain’s black surface, I saw rivers of lava flowing downward to the mountain’s base.
     
    I knelt on one knee and I surveyed the path toward the mountain. Scattered here and there were armies of armored orcs–each one of them wielding weapons of great size. It was impossible to reach Mount Doom without running into an orc army or two.
     
    I was given two days, by the great wizard, to rescue the princess from the evil clutches of the evil overlord: OverLord. I started to wonder then why I, a stableboy, was the only one sent when the kingdom was filled with knights and lords and, not to mention, the great wizard who sent me. I cursed the day I pulled Excalisword from that rock. If only I knew the ramification of what I did…
     
    “Only a hero with a pure heart will be able to defeat OverLord,” I remembered the wizard saying.
     
    As I made my way down the mountain, and towards the first orc army I’ll be facing, a random thought snuck its way into my head: “Why would an evil, lord of darkness abduct a princess from a nearby kingdom?”
     
    And with that, a new thought appeared: “Why would anyone establish a kingdom not far from a mountain called Mount Doom?”
     
    I stopped walking, laid a hand on the pommel of Excalisword, and pondered on the things I should do. Minutes passed, which turned into hours, and I finally was sure of one thing.
     
    “This will suck,” I said sighing.

    • zo-zo

      This was great – the whole piece was one huge cliche rolled into one!  ’to rescue the princess from the evil clutches of the evil OverLord’ hahaha!!!

  • http://www.kristinnador.com/ Kristin Nador

    I’ve been lurking here for a while, really enjoying the practices. This is my first time posting. I had a lot of fun and went overboard with the cliches:

    I stood inside the entrance to Max’s Bar, shaking out my
    trenchcoat.  It was a dark and stormy
    night and the rain was coming down in buckets; it was a real toad strangler. I
    needed a drink before my appointment. Take it from me, playing both sides of
    the fence takes its toll.“What’ll it be?” Max said when I bellied up to the bar.“Double
    scotch, neat.”Quick as a whistle, Max poured the scotch and slid the glass
    straight as a nail to stop in front of me. I wanted to get hammered, but I knew
    the score. I needed my wits about me for this appointment.“Here’s mud in your
    eye.”Down the hatch went the Scotch and Max nodded. It was good to the last
    drop. I thought about Betsy. She was the best thing since sliced bread, as pure
    as the driven snow, with a heart of gold. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
    But Pops always said you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. I burned that
    bridge, and now I was drowning my sorrows and watching the clock, waiting for
    my appointment to arrive. The joint was hot enough to fry an egg in, so I
    loosened my tie, and scoped the place. I was caught off guard. She was a dead
    ringer for Jean Harlow, with blue eyes as cold as ice. My mouth dropped, and
    she gave me a wink. Quick as a New York minute she stood beside me, grinning
    from ear to ear. A gold digger from the wrong side of the tracks, to be sure,
    but I could go head over heels for her regardless. Pops never said nothing
    about not having the icing on the cake.“Fancy meeting you here,” she purred in
    my ear. She was fine as wine. Knock your socks off gorgeous. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place
    like this?” “I’m Sheila. Out sowing your wild oats? I’d love to join you.” She
    wiggled up onto the bar stool. She was a little rough around the edges, nothing
    to sneeze at, but I’d be out of the frying pan and into the fire with this
    one.“I’m waiting for someone.” I turned on my stool to face the door. My heart
    would turn on a dime and she’d have me under her thumb. I needed to shut this
    dog and pony show down before I got too worked up.“Wake up on the wrong side of
    the bed, honey? I can turn that frown upside down. Your place or mine?” “Listen,
    you’re a good egg, but… I’m waiting for someone.” “Zip your lip.” She hopped
    off her stool, grabbed my face with red talons, and planted her lips on mine.
    “What you see is what you get. You can take that to the bank.” I cut to the
    chase. “Not interested.”“What am I, chopped liver?” Sheila stomped off in a
    flurry of cheap perfume and fake feathers. Just then the door opened and a gust
    of rain blew across the tables. Max grumbled. “Hey, were you born in a barn?
    Shut the door!” My appointment had arrived.

    • http://www.kristinnador.com/ Kristin Nador

      Wow, sorry about the formatting. Did I break it? ;)

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        You ruined the blog, Kristin. 

        Just kidding. :) I tried to fix it for you and did a kind of okay job. Sorry. It formats weird sometimes.

        I loved it though. You certainly got a lot of cliches in one, short piece!

        • http://www.kristinnador.com/ Kristin Nador

          Thanks, Joe. I worked some more on the second half of the story and am posting it to my blog tomorrow with a link here. Hope you get a lot of hits from it. This is a great site. :)

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            Thanks Kristin!

    • zo-zo

      Hilarious!!! You made me look forward to the next cliche!!

    • http://www.pjreece.ca/blog/wordpress Pjreece

      Notice how the cliches coming out of people’s mouths as dialogue actually sounds okay… because people DO talk like that.  But the narrator, NO, NEVER.  Which is why your piece strikes us as so hilariously absurd. 

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        It’s really true, PJ. Great point.

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  • zo-zo

    Her wild hair whipped into her eyes in the restless wind.  She flashed a gleaming smile at him and he was entranced.  She had cast her spell on him, and he was doomed.  Doomed to be hers.  

    He was all in one.  Tall, dark and handsome with an avid love of Shakespeare, and a copy of the sonnets sitting pretty in his back pocket.  Girls swooned, birds sang and the world glowed golden as he trod the earth, blissfully unaware of his charms.  

    They had met in a storm.  She was drowning, and he had decided to go for a twirl in his boat just as the thunder clouds moved in.  He was the pensive type – enjoying the moody sky much more than sunshine.  With strength and silence he flexed his muscles for the churning sea as he rowed out.

    She was nearly dead when he saw her, a hand limply moving this way and that in the blustery ocean.  He dragged her out, pale and sopping, and she smiled tentatively at her hero.  

    And that is when the lights went on, and he knew life would never be the same.  

  • http://devotedtoquilting.wordpress.com/ Nita

    Kristin Nador introduced me to your blog and I’ve added your prompt-writing sessions to my blog. Thanks for the prompts, it’s going to be fun playing/writing.
     

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Awesome, Nita. Thanks so much!

  • Leti Del Mar

    I’d like to add to the Rom Com Cliche’:  The protagonist is ALWAYS engaged.  Why is it okay to leave the your significant other because they are too dependable in fiction?  In real life, sneaking around behind a fiance’s back would be deplorable.  Somehow, its part of the Rom Com formula.  It’s one cliche’ that needs to go.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Good one, Leti. It’s so true. I remember that movie, Serendipity. It would have been pretty good if they both weren’t already engaged.

  • afriend

    It seems there are two kinds of cliches.  Those that are figures of speech, like PJ used in his brilliant piece and the other being a cliche plot or storyline, like zo-zo wrote.  Am I right?  or am I wrong?  If right, then what is the difference between a cliche and a figure of speech or an idiomatic expression?  

    Too much time on my hands if I’m really thinking about these things . . . or more accurately I’m probably procrastinating something I should be otherwise doing. 

    • Marianne

      I have wondered the same thing.  I always thought cliche met a set of words that had been used so often that they meant very little or were just annoying because of their overuse and banality.  I read a book (or attempted to read I should say because it was way over my head) by Martin Amis called “The War on Cliche” and he talks about cliched thinking which IMO would lead to the sort of cliche you identify in Zo-zo’s piece.  I often wonder though how close to big scale cliches come to myths or universal truths.  Does right always overpower wrong for instance? It’s been asked for centuries but have we worn that one out? If I write a story and good wins am I being cliched?  Like you I need to be doing something other than thinking about cliches, but I saw your remark and had to respond that I wonder exactly the same thing. 

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