Through a circuitous route I wouldn’t be able to retrace, I happened on a web page about clichÃ©s. It’s difficult enough to find a site that addresses clichÃ©s thoroughly and intelligently, but to find one that doesn’t deal with the same old ones is rare. Here are some of the surprising, and quite accurate, clichÃ©s the late Mimi Burkhardt compiled:
- armed with a search warrant
- battle with cancer
- calls it quits
- charred rubble (which someone is often sifting or combing through in search of clues)
- densely wooded area
- emotional roller coaster
- ground zero
- in the wake of (unless you’re writing about boats)
- predawn darkness
- rushed to the hospital
- wait-and-see attitude
There are more: “deadly devices”, such as “If xyz has his way, …. “; “maxed-out modifiers”, such as “state-of-the-art”; “overkill”, such as “epidemic proportions”; and “culture schlock”, which is using an expression from a movie to express an idea, such as “Show me the money”.
It’s not easy writing without using clichÃ©s. Some are cherished because they express so well and so easily what we mean. Using others is a way of being just plain lazy, of giving a break to our brain. One of the difference between literary and genre writing, some would say, is that genre authors give themselves license to use clichÃ©s, hence the lower quality of the writing.
On the other hand, what’s to say that readers don’t find it cozy to meet well-worn expressions, a bit like slipping into broken-in shoes or a molded-to-your-head hat? More people read genre fiction than literary fiction, and maybe the use of clichÃ©s has to do with it, which doesn’t mean that using them as a writer shouldn’t be a conscious act, rather than the result of a brain snooze.
Tomorrow, clichÃ©ed lead-ins.