As I’m going through my manuscript, I’m finding a LOT of clichés. I guess this is to be expected when the story is pouring out – no time to stop to think of a creative way to put it, I guess. Maybe since the theme of the story, for Del anyway, is that “there’s no place like home,” it’s hard to avoid the clichés that come in the writing.

You know, “her heart pounded,” “his blood chilled,” “hairs prickling on the back of his neck.” Wow, that was just on three pages.

So how much of leaving that is lazy writing, and how much can you leave in revisions? Clichés are clichés because they bring an immediate picture to mind, right? They make that immediate connection with the reader. But too many rob your writing of your voice, the uniqueness that is you, that will make you stand out from the crowd.

I think it’s more acceptable in dialogue, because people do use them in speech, but even dialogue can be overloaded. Of course, that can be humorous, having a character who knows about every cliché ever uttered.

I think clichés are more prevalent in genre fiction. Years back I bought THE ROMANCE WRITER’S PHRASE BOOK. Holy cow. If I’d used that book, I never would have found my voice. I wonder if the author went through a bunch of romance novels and pulled out all the “heaving bosoms” and “eyes the color of the seas.” (I don’t know if those are in there – I sold the book a while ago.)

Here are some I’ve heard a published author was told not to use, because of overuse.

- Every fiber of her/his being
- muffled a gasp
- alarm bells rang in her head
- shivers of awareness
- heart dropping to her stomach/pit of stomach
- the heroine licking her lips and the hero focusing on them and getting
turned on
- the heroine biting her lip as a nervous trait
- the heroine making a silent “o” with her mouth when in shock
- thinking of a situation as spinning out of control
- heroes pulling heroines into their arms
- the broad expanse of a hero’s chest
- the hero running his hands through his hair when he’s upset (mine scrubs his hand down his face, so that would probably be cliché, too.)
- the heroine keeping secrets from the hero, trying to handle it on her own

Oh, and one that annoys me, and is used by a VERY popular author, is when something is described as “impossibly ___.” Impossibly blue eyes, impossibly hard muscles, etc.

Clichés are more than just phrases, though. And in romance, we have a lot. Harlequin, I know, is trying to get away from the predictable or unrealistic, like the heroine not calling the cops after being threatened. That’s not something a person would do, and it’s manipulating the character for the sake of plot. It makes it too easy on the writer, and while we’d all like it to be easy, easy isn’t different. Different is what garners attention, and that’s what we want, right?

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Jill Monroe said...

EXCELLENT post, Mary. A real keeper, I'm priting it out!

Now, would you be really irritated with me if I said Gerard was impossibly hot?

Toni Anderson said...

I did an online course with Margie Lawson and learned a lot about writing fresh. I think first draft cliches are OK but after that beware and kill!!! But in category romances it is hard to get the tone of those lines without pouring on the emotion and sometimes the quickest way to do that is cliched. Gotta watch it.

Gerard is impossibly hot!

MicheleKS said...

I second Jill on the post, Mary. I'm really a dull writer in the first draft. I just use a lot of boring verbs like 'look'. But for me, when I'm deep into my characters, I'm finding the way to describe how their feeling in their own words using their own thoughts.

And Jill, Gerard is impossibly hot. I just wonder why he wore a shirt under the one he was already wearing. A little skin would have been nice to see. :)

Trish Milburn said...

Dang, I think I have some "impossiblys" in my book. Hmm...

Oh, and yes, Gerard is impossibly hot. :)


Anonymous said...

Great post! I have the Romance Writer's Phrasebook too, and I use it for inspiration, but never use the phrases from that book verbatim. Most of them are textbook telling!

I think some cliches are's just like anything else in writing. It's important to find that balance.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

I think it's hard to not use a few cliches in a novel, but to do your best to filter them out in revision.

Also I think once a writer discovers any cliches, they can make the description stronger by adding a layer of depth to a reaction.

hah. Does that make sense? ;D kel

Peggy said...

Uh-Oh! I think I'm in trouble!

LOL, actually I didn't fair so bad on that list. Was well worth a good chuckle.

I agree with everyone else. That picture of Gerard is smoking! Definitely sent shivers of awareness right through me, which I felt with every fiber of my being, as my heart dropped to the pit of my stomach!

MJFredrick said...

You guys crack me up - Peggy, LOLOLOL!

Kelly, you're right. Layers. Ah, what a concept :)

Ooh, Michele, you're right. That gray shirt is in the way.

More good news today - got a request from Susan Litman on DLB, so time to crank it up. Trish, you ready for the first half?

Anonymous said...

YAY, Mar, on the request!!!!!!!!

Arrggh, Gerry...that one is the end. Just the end of all things. I cannot see, hear, or think after that picture.



MJFredrick said...



Unknown said...

I agree, it's ok to have those cliches in the first draft because you're trying to get the story down. But knowing what they are and what you're looking for helps you think of different, fresher ways to say things in the second, and so on drafts.

Amie Stuart said...

I use the Romance Writer's Phrase Book when I need a good laugh

*ducking head in shame*

Speaking of cliches I got busted for "Is that a banana in your pocket?"


Anonymous said...

Damien, FOR SURE, tomorrow. :)

Drooling over Gerry,

Shesawriter said...

Hell, I've committed so many of those sins, I stopped counting. LOL!


Anonymous said...

Oh, I hear you on the cliches. I do that all the time on my first drafts. I'm getting better at recognizing them, but then it slows me down. Once in a while, I'll find a gem, aka the Perfect Description. :)

MicheleKS said...

If my characters are thinking it, then it's not a cliche. At least to my way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

YAYNESS on the request!!! How exciting for you.

And cliches, we have to have at least one or two in our books for "old time's" sake. *wink*

Anonymous said...

P.S. Gerard can pull me into the broad expanse of his chest anyday.

MicheleKS said...

I second that, Kendra.

And congrats on the request, Mary. Here's all my hopes and best wishes that this will be the one.

Janice Lynn said...

Gerard is impossibly hot??? He is, isn't he????

And on the cliches...well, I just decided that NONE of you can read my book. I am absolutely, positively, impossibly sure that I used every single one of those cliches. Well, almost every one. OMG. I should definitely print this out and go through and edit my latest.

Trish Milburn said...

Sure, Mary, send Del et al on. Lord knows I don't want to work on my own writing. And I'm so looking forward to reading your story. Awesome on the request from Susan!!

MJFredrick said...

Found another one - "moan of pure pleasure." Oh, that was me, never mind ;)

Thanks, Michele, Kendra and Trish! I'm still working on those scene cards.

Michelle, I love those gems!

Janice, LOL, too bad, I already have Jane Millionaire on order!

Amie Stuart said...

Moans of pure pleasure only count in regards to things like Cheesecake (any flavor) and chocolate.

Janice! LOL

Mary...congrats on the request!

Anonymous said...

Mary, I've been thinking about you all day. Every time I got in the car - and it was a lot because I had a bazillion errands, they played a U2 song. Not kidding. EVERY time.

Congrats on the request!

MJFredrick said...

Cece, not Gerry???

Steph, how funny! Hey, you're still coming to SA next weekend, right? You got time for a margarita?


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