Cheryl2041webClichés are the bane of a writer’s existence. (I think I just used a cliché!) They’re so easy to fall back on because we’ve heard them all of our lives and they’ve become a part of our speech patterns—so, of course, when we write, they invade our work there, as well.

I really didn’t notice how often clichés appeared in the books I read until I wrote my own book, and my editor sent me a very nice note telling me I needed to go through and remove the clichés and find a different way of wording some of the passages…I had never seen so much red ink in my life!


(Here’s my first iteration of Fire Eyes–the one I had to take all the clichés out of!)

FireEyes_w2475_300I got better as time has gone on, but there are still instances when I think, “Nothing else will do!” And I have to tell myself, “Yes. You’ll think of a different way to say it.”

As a reader, I do notice those clichés more now than I did before. And if there are too many of them, I have been known to lay the book down…for good. You might think such a thing isn’t a HUGE deal, but for me, being aware of it tends to jerk me out of the story when I see too many of them.

I subscribe to a newsletter called “QUORA” – it’s a fun little online publication, where people write in with questions and other people answer them. The rest of us can “upvote” the answers if we agree.

Yesterday I came across this question: What are the most common clichés in fiction writing? Author Ellen Vrana gives these answers—and they’re darn good! I had to laugh—I’ve used plenty of these. Take a look:






(PHOTO by Rick Burgess )

Every oak tree is gnarled. Every gentle wave is lapping upon the shore. Every mountain town is nestled in a valley, every chimney produces curled rings of smoke.

Every politician is slick, every banker is soulless. Journalists are moral and hardworking. Teachers are worn out. Every woman is unsatisfied, every man is flippant. Mothers are worn out too, but the fathers are emotionless.

Every woman has jet black hair and every day starts with bitter coffee (which might also be scorching) and ends with whiskey (who drinks whiskey?) and ice that clinks. (Or is it chinks? My eyes glaze over . . . )

In the city there are cars honking, lights blinking and there are many things that are incessant; noise, screams, cries, honking. Oh, and blaring lights. Lots of blaring lights which sometimes flicker.

The country has chirping crickets and waving grass. Parched earth abounds, there is lots and lots and lots of dust. The moon is always bathing things, the fog is always thick or dense, sometimes both. Thunderstorms rage while thunder cracks. Lighting illuminates, what, I don’t know. The sun shines down, as opposed to up, and clouds really don’t do anything except move.

Waves crash. Cars don’t. Tears roll down cheeks and faces break into smiles while the eyes always crinkle, when they aren’t sparkling, or flashing. Hair shines or curls, always curls. People are clad in clothing, never just clothed in it. Necklaces dangle and bracelets chink. Arms are thick and strong and eyes meet more than people.

Thoughts race or sometimes pervade while anger boils. Chills run up or down spines, depending on where you live, and ideas aren’t just clear, they are crystal clear. What is crystal? It’s what you drink your whiskey in. With the ice that clinks.

Things are notably pale, thick, greasy, cold, strong and dry which don’t need to be. If it’s a pillow we know it’s soft. Ditto Coke and cold. Words like eat and ran and speak are passed over for gobbled and raced and exclaimed. People can’t just hold they have to clasp, they can’t cry they have to sob and they can’t stop they have to come to a halt.

I’m not tired, I’m fatigued. I’m not messy, I’m disheveled. I’m not sad, I’m despondent. Ah whatever, at least I’m not gasping for breath or not sleeping a wink over the use of clichés. Every writer falls for them, at some time or another. Every oak tree is gnarled. Even this one.

(There was a reason I picked this particular photo that Rick did–the “gnarled tree”, the colors that looked “as though they were painted”, and the water that reflects those colors “like a mirror”…)


PRPA MAIL ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE WEB.JPG FINALI’m giving away a digital copy of the PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS’ upcoming Christmas anthology for 2015—A MAIL-ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE! This fantastic collection of stories will be available on November 27. It’s got a fabulous line up of authors, including fillies Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hanson, and me, along with debut author Jesse J Elliot, Patti Sherry-Crews, Jacquie Rogers, Meg Mims, and Livia J Washburn.

Here’s the link to PRE-ORDER this fabulous collection, and receive it on your Kindle on November 27!

What cliché grates on your nerves or holds fond memories for you? Leave a comment about it to be entered in this wonderful give-away!

(Petticoats and Pistols contest rules do apply.)

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here:
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  1. The occasional cliche doesn’t bother me when I read. If a story has one after another, then it probably would. Of the ones listed, I think moonlight bathing bothers me most. It’s a fine image, just overused.
    The new anthology sounds like a winner. Good luck!

    • Janie, an occasional one doesn’t bother me, either, though I will admit, now that I write they DO jump out at me. Because that’s one of the things you have drummed into you from day one–DON’T USE CLICHES! LOL Thanks for your kind words. We are sure excited about this anthology!

  2. That was funny to read. I never thought about it too much, but you are right! I know I have had hard times finishing books because they were full of those. A bigger pet peeve of mine, and one that has actually caused me to stop reading, is the over use of the character’s names in dialogue. When I am speaking to someone I rarely say their name. I have had books that have had the person speaking say the other’s name in every sentence spoken! It is very distracting to read and does bother me. Crazy what will strike us!

    • Oh, Susan, that drives me crazy, too! And as an editor, I see plenty of those stories with the overuse of the name as you’re talking about. It is very distracting, and not the way anyone talks in real life. I can’t finish those kinds of books, either.

  3. I guess I never really thought about cliches in a book. Maybe I just never notice, probably because they don’t bother me that much. Now that you’ve pointed them out, I’ll be looking more for them…lol! Overuse of any of the above mentioned phrases would get very annoying. But thankfully, the books I’ve read are well written. As long as there’s a good balance of descriptions, it makes the story richer and full of “life”, if that makes sense! And I like when the moon bathes something, it gives me a vivid picture of a peaceful setting at night. Especially when the stars sparkle and shine 🙂

    Thank you for the chance to win a copy of “Mail Order Christmas Bride”. Those are my favorite storylines!

    • Oh, yes, Trixi, I agree with you–even though writers are taught not to use clichés in their work, there are times when nothing else will do. LOL And there is a reason for clichés–these are “pictures” in our minds that we have as a collective society that can be “handed off” to the reader in just a short set of words. But too much of it is a bad thing. Still, I’m sure that I won’t be able to give them all up completely. LOL

      Got your name in the “hat” for the drawing. This anthology is really good, and we also have a medieval Christmas anthology that can be pre-ordered, too–ONE CHRISTMAS KNIGHT.

  4. I had a hero in one of my books who used folk expressions a lot. It was part of his personality. His brother ridiculed him for it as it being trite and cliched. I think cliches have a place in dialogue because some of us talk that way more than others. Where I try to remove them is in explanatory and transitional places and then be sure that not all of the characters are using the same cliches.

    • Oh, I like that idea, Rain! What a unique characteristic. I think that’s really an interesting quality for a character. You know, my mom had those little “homilies” for every situation. When I say them to my son, it irritates him no end. LOL But so many of them are TRUE. One of my mom’s standards, that she used for all the kids when they were little and it made them feel so useful and good about themselves, was–“I tell you, Allison, (or whichever kid it was), you are just as handy as a pocket on a shirt!” LOL

  5. I focus more on the characters and their journey to happiness… clichés don’t bother me… sometimes they can be very entertaining.

  6. Hi Cheryl, what a hoot this post is! I think a lot of cliches make sense, which is why they get overused and hence, become cliche LOL. But some never make sense to begin with. Neat as a pin? What on earth makes a pin neat. Sigh. As you do, I like to think of my own ways to say/describe things but…sometimes the old West cliches add “voice” to our historicals, don’t you think? Best of luck on this antho, which I admit is a selfish wish because I’m in it, too! Two of my favorite things: Christmas and mail order brides. xo

    • I agree, Tanya! Cliches DO make sense–well, most of them do–I, too, wonder what makes a pin neat. There must be some kind of reason that got started, though. Might be fun to research. Yes, this anthology is really interesting and entertaining. Lots of great mail-order bride stories!

  7. Cheryl, I too get tired of over-used cliches when reading. I do enjoy finding out in real life those overused cliches sometimes actually happen.
    We live on a lake and every full moon, when it rises in the night sky, the moonlight paints a beautiful stripe of silver light on the water. I was dumbfounded when I first saw it.

    I have never had my “bosom heave” in anger. That must have gone away when corsets fell out of use.

    • Sharon that reminds me of that song, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”. LOL But that does sound gorgeous and so you might say, “The moon bathed the lake in a silvery glow” or “The water was like glass in the moonlight” or even “The lake was a mirror, reflecting the silvery light of the moon.” Oh, these are fun!

      Yes, I love the nostrils flaring and bosoms heaving. Kind of like a bull, or something.

  8. Don’t really notice cliches in a book. I am too busy concentrating on the characters and their journey. I do have a comment that drives me crazy. That is ‘everything happens for a reason’.

  9. I don’t really notice cliches in books so I guess they don’t bother me. As long as the story line is good and keeps me in the book is what matters the most.

  10. Honestly, I think it mostly depends on my mood at any given time as to whether a cliche bothers me… Or maybe it depends on how many an author uses or if he or she can put a bit of a unique spin on it. 😉

    • Glenda, Jacquie Rogers puts all kinds of spins on these things! She is a master at it. I think you’re right about it being more or less important to us according to our mood as we are reading, though.

  11. Great post. I never really thought much about the cliches. Like you and Sharon Cunningham, The whole bosom heaving thing gets a bit old as does the “passion glazed eyes.” There is also holding oneself under rigid control and maybe swooning. If you get into mor “graphic” romances, the books are littered with cliched phases, some of them laughable (and not to be repeated here.).
    A MAIL-ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE should be a good read, you have a nice lineup of authors contributing. One more to add to my Holiday book collection. I love the anthology format, especially now when things are so busy. I appreciate having stories I can finish in a short amount of time.
    I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  12. Thank you, Patricia–I wish the same for your family, as well. I love anthologies, too–for that very same reason–we are so busy this time of year that these stories are just the right length for some good reading.

  13. I had to laugh as I read your post. As a 3rd and 4th grade teacher, I introduce the concept of cliché’s, idioms and other phraseology of the English language to my students. They too struggle with writing properly when composing essays and narratives. We have fun with English as we try to improve our writing skills in grammar and writing class.
    Thanks for the great cliché reminder. The anthology looks delightful.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    • Dawn, that’s the important thing at that age–ENJOYING the language. Thank you for making a difference in these kids lives and helping them to discover the joys of reading and writing! Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  14. Your post fascinated me. I never thought many of those as cliche’s. I suppose if I was reading them in a book I might be irritated. I
    can’t think of how you went about removing those (it must be like rewriting the whole book).
    Your book combines two of my favorite type reads in one book. I have always loved mail-order bride stories and also Christmas stories. I have never seen them in one book. Oh! I also love anthologies–the perfect holiday book when you take a break from the
    involved and need a few quiet moments. Thanks!

    • Whitney, the really weird thing is, when you write them, many times you don’t even realize it at the time–it’s only when you go back and re-read, or someone else (like your editor) reads it that you really can see what you’ve done.

      Come on over to the Prairie Rose Publications website at and take a look at all of our anthologies. We have a lot of really wonderful ones that you might enjoy!

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