I remember being in a junior in my AP Junior Literature class, which mostly focused on argumentative writing. In the beginning, my essays weren’t that great. In fact, no one wrote that great of an essay. Then again, the teacher never really mentioned what she was looking for when we first began writing them (I normally made A’s up until then). It was up to all of us to pretty much teach ourselves how to write essays based on individual feedback. There were a couple of essays I wrote where she would circle words or phrases and write ‘trite.’ I knew what that meant, and I suppose triteness shouldn’t be used in essay writing, but I don’t fully agree (this is coming from someone who generally makes A’s on her essays). Then again, writing essays isn’t about colorful or creative writing.
There was one class where she was talking about clichés as it relates to speech writing, and she said, “I was so unnerved by this one woman who was in an argumentative forum, and she had the gall to say “They just want to cross their T’s and dot their I’s!” I couldn’t care at that at the time, because it was one cliché. What’s the big deal? I still don’t see what the big deal is, and I’m a pretty good speaker. I don’t know what the argument was, but I think that’s an effective cliché to convey that these people just want to nitpick on everything. I mean, if she had simply said, “They just want to nitpick,” I feel that wouldn’t convey her message strongly enough.
Clichés exist for a reason. To me, they’re like those little gems that people are familiar enough with, but can be effective when used properly. I know I find myself prey to trying to come up with some original phrase, when, really, a “cliché” might serve me better. But I’ve read tons of writing books, and sometime it’s hard for me to break from them, like said bookisms, which are basically words you use other than said. I always try to find a way to avoid adverbs in my dialogue tags by either conveying that adverb in the dialogue or an action tag. But, still, in all published books I’ve read, writers use adverbs, writers use clichés. As long as they’re not overdone, it’s fine.
For this post, here are two articles that inspired me to write it: Cliché’s Exist for a Reason. This article focuses on primarily plot clichés, and why they’re popular. Then this one, 12 Clichés Writers Should Avoid, which talks about clichés that you shouldn’t use. I don’t agree with this one at all, because those cliché’s exist for a reason.
Again, cliché’s, like any other writing device, should be used sparingly.