Hackneyed phrases, clichés and stereotypes

English: Female Lion Français : Une lionne (Pa...If I read the phrase get your creative juices flowing once more, I think I’m going to scream! Hackneyed phrases are called hackneyed for a reason—overuse. With over five million hits on Google, it’s time to stop using this phrase. Please, if you’re ever tempted to use it, try to think of something new to describe what a writer is experiencing when bouncing around the room with ideas. And look, I only want to hear about juice or juices if it involves fruit, vegetables or cooking.

While I’m on the subject of hackneyed phrases, let me segue to clichés. There are three main types of clichés in writing: well-known phrases, story situations and plot stereotypes. I know it’s tempting to use clichés because they’re quick and efficient, but don’t give into that temptation, instead use your own words and ideas. I also realise clichés sometimes occur without thinking, but there are ways to garrotte them and keep them out of your repertoire.

Cliché Stranglers

Use ClichéCleaner and SmartEdit to highlight clichés and often used phrases. I like both, but SmartEdit allows you to add further clichés to its list, so it has the potential to become more useful (and it’s currently free). If you want to find some clichés to add, proceed to Cliché Finder where you’ll find over 3,300 of these pseudo-helper phrases.

Strangle knot (ABOK #1239)

For story situation stereotypes, such as when a woman gives birth and the baby starts crying, look to your experiences or do some research. Babies don’t always cry when they are born, sure, some cry, but others might not cry until placed on the hospital’s cold metal scales. Horses owned by children don’t always win that special race, people who sneeze don’t always have a cold or an allergy, and in real life, people usually say goodbye before hanging up the phone. For more on these types of stereotypes go to The Movies Cliché List.

I’m sure you’re aware of the plot stereotypes shown on television and in movies, but in short stories and novels they occur too. Strange Horizons, a speculative fiction magazine, lists a number of common storylines here. Although the list is not exhaustive, it does show that if you have an idea for a story, there’s a good chance a number of people have already done it in a similar way. Other genres such as crime, romance and young adult etc., probably have common plot lines as well. One way to avoid creating common storylines is to read widely.

Justin O’Leary

So, how do you currently keep clichés and stereotypes out of your writing?

Which clichés and stereotypes are you tired of seeing?

Comments welcome

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4 thoughts on “Hackneyed phrases, clichés and stereotypes

  1. Great post, Justin. I once wrote a short story based on clichés – on purpose, but it didn’t do well so it just goes to show people hate them (even if you make them funny)

    The cliché at the top of my cliché hate list is, ‘At the end of the day’. People say this at work and I seriously feel like throttling them! At the end of the day what? – we all go home and watch the television and have dinner and go to bed!

    I haven’t used the cliché checker in my writing, but I’m going to check out your links.

    Another great post with great info – thank you! :)

    • Thank you, Dianne. :) Ah, the cliché humour type story can sometimes go either way. People who get it, will love it, but those who don’t, well, won’t. I almost included a sentence in my post using five clichés, but then decided, nup, if I’m going to defend originality, I have to leave it out.

      Yeah, ‘at the end of the day’ is annoying (politicians seem to like using it), but it sometimes makes me want to sing that song from Les Misérables – At the end of the day you’re another day older …

      One that my wife dislikes is ‘back in my day’. She says people who say this might as well be saying ‘back when I was alive’.

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