I live in a really peaceful cove on a medium-sized lake in the country. This quiet setting is ideal for inspiration and writing. Most of the time. My closest neighbor is an eighty-five-year old man who looks and acts exactly like the Lucky Charms leprechaun on a sugar high. He is a retired history teacher and his opinion of fiction, especially mystery/crime fiction is right up there with his opinion of stepping in dog poo. So he sees fit to drop in on me whenever he feels like it and he feels like it almost every day. Since I don’t write non-fiction history books I can’t possibly be busy. Right?
Anyway, a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon, the leprechaun opens my front door, walks in and takes a seat on the sofa. He turns on the television and goes nuts with the remote until he finds a football game to watch. (cause I can’t possibly be busy. right?) I was in the middle of a paragraph and did my best to tune the leprechaun out. However, he is the type of leprechaun that isn’t content to just walk in uninvited, watch my TV and eat the candy in the candy dish on the end table, no…no…no. He is a very vocal and animated leprechaun who feels compelled to shout at the TV as if the announcers of the game not only can hear him, but should also follow his expert advice.
“Don’t cry over spilt milk,” I heard the leprechaun shout at the TV when there was an argument over a penalty. A few minutes later, he shouted, “That’s it, that the whole nine yards.” And still later, “At the end of the day you lose.”
By now I had given up all thoughts of writing and wandered over to my sofa just in time to hear the leprechaun say, “It’s in overtime. They had an ace up their sleeve.”
I reached for a Snicker’s mini-bar in the candy dish and the leprechaun said, “Help yourself.” I did and looked at the TV. “The quarterback put his eggs all in one basket, that’s why it’s in overtime,” the leprechaun said. A few minutes later the kicker kicked a field goal and the game ended. “The rest is history,” the leprechaun said.
That’s when I realized that my history teacher leprechaun neighbor spoke almost entirely in clichés whenever he made a point. (seems like it to me, anyway) I politely pointed this out to him and he said, “That’s a far cry from the truth.” Getting a bit aggravated here, I asked, “What does that mean, a far cry from the truth? Is somebody crying when they tell a lie? Is the truth far, far away, what?” The leprechaun, sensing my aggravation tried to calm me down by saying that we should, “Bury the hatchet,” and “Call it a day.”
We did and he left, but only after the candy dish had been emptied. I turned off the TV and returned to my desk, but the damage had been done. My head was now filled with clichés. Tired, stale, overused clichés. For a writer, a cliché is a death sentence. If I read a cliché in a book I am most likely not going to finish that book.
Clichés are everywhere these days it seems, even on the news. The one I hate the most is also the most overused one, the At The End Of The Day cliché that every talking head on the news uses over and over again to make their point.
So if you write for a living, avoid using clichés at all costs. Using clichés means poor and lazy writing and that you have nothing original to say. Don’t believe me. Pick up a book, any book and if you read the phrases Against All Odds, American As Apple Pie, As The Crow Flies, and Back Against The Wall within the first few pages, I can pretty much guarantee it’s a book you won’t finish. A book you’ll Avoid Like The Plague, so to speak.
With that in mind, I compiled a list of the clichés I hate the most. I’m sure you have your own list and many will overlap.
Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk. (Usually I just wipe it up or wait for my cat to do it for me, but cry over it? Never.)
The Rest Is History. (Everything is history if you think about it.)
Avoid Like The Plague. (Umm, sure, no problem.)
Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining. (And you know this how?)
When It Rains, It Pours. (Except for those days when it lightly drizzles or is a steady, but moderate rain that ends with a beautiful rainbow.)
Cat Got Your Tongue? (I don’t even know what this means. Am I asking you to speak by somehow suggesting that my over zealous kitty has clamped down on you tongue and is preventing you from speaking?)
Dressed To Kill. (Exactly what does one wear when planning to kill someone? I missed that page in the Bean’s clothing catalog.)
Spitting Image. (Sounds messy and gross to me.
Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover. (Unless the cover is blank of all information about the story, title and author, how else am I to judge a book?)
Another Day, Another Dollar. (Okay, us author’s work pretty cheap, but a dollar a day? Come on)
All In A Day’s Work. (What if you’re on the night-shift?)
Beat A Dead Horse. (Who, I ask you who, would do this?)
Best Thing Since Sliced Bread. (Sliced bread is not that big of a deal, really. You get some bread, you slice it. It even comes already sliced and ready to go, if, at the end of the day you’re too tired to slice it yourself.)
Beggars Can’t Be Choosers. (Of course they can, especially if they choose to beg.)
Bored To Tears. (I usually just take a nap when I’m bored. Cry when I’m bored, never.)
Open A Can Of Worms. (What store sells worms in a can?)
Cross That Bridge When You Come To It. (I’d like to see you cross that bridge before you reach it.)
Dead As A Doornail. (Somebody write me if you have ever used nails that were living.)
Dressed To The Nines. (Somebody? Anybody? Write me if you’ve ever left the house wearing a nine.) There are a lot of theories on this one, but no one is really sure.
It Goes Without Saying. (Then shut up and don’t say it.)
Okay, that’s my list of the clichés I hate the most. I’m sure you have your own. The important thing is that (insert at the end of the day here) agents and publishers will judge your work by the number of clichés you use in your writing and most likely reject it as lazy writing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I see a leprechaun coming up my driveway and I’m going to hide the candy dish and lock my doors. Just remember that, at the end of the day using too many clichés is the kiss of death for a writer.