How to freshen up cliched expressions #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

How to freshen up cliched expressions #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #writingtips #authors

I often read blogs where writers are told to avoid overused expressions like the plague. That would mean that all idiomatic and figurative language are off the table. The arguments are that triteness weakens prose and that readers gloss over anything overused. In my humble opinion, there are ways to update cliches so that they resonate, more often than not to humorous effect.

To prove my point, here are a few recognizable examples of successful, reworked clichés:
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (freshened from the original idiom “lock, stock and barrel,” meaning everything or every part of the weapon.)
Orange is the New Black (freshened from two common sayings: “the new black” and “something is the new something.”)
My Sister’s Keeper (freshened from the biblical passage “Am I my brother’s keeper?”)

Some examples or reworked clichés from my writing:

Cliché: kick to the curb
Rewrite: The next day, from the gabled walk-out porch off their bedroom, Jill admired her perfectly manicured lawn. It took her less than five minutes to kick Fred’s sorry ass to the other side of it.

Cliché: equal parts, most often found in recipes
Rewrite: Jill sidled up to the armrest on her sister’s hand-me-down couch—which she hypothesized was filled with equal parts stuffing and dust mites—and something crackled below her.

Cliché: workhorse AND battle-axe
Rewrite: She assumed that was code for, HR is making me take it easy on you, because under usual circumstances, she was the workhorse to his battle-axe.

How to freshen up cliched expressions #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #writing #authorThis post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Do you agree or disagree with my logic? Can you refresh one of these these tired expressions? Deer in headlights, needle in a haystack, steal someone’s thunder, bite the dust, better late than never, recipe for disaster, death by a thousand cuts, built like a tank, fall on your sword…or any other cliché?

Thank you to Freepik for the image I used in this post.

63 thoughts on “How to freshen up cliched expressions #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. I think I probably use more cliché’s than intended when trying to develop a character. Some character might have that as a flaw, using too many clichés. But I understand your sentiment and cheer your effort. I will have to give my writing a fresh look to see if I am guilty.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha… Good for Jill (with regards to her perfectly manicured lawn and recently booted Fred; I can never help admiring women at the helm)!
    But to return to the topic at hand, I don’t mind the use of cliches in writing, per say; I don’t think I notice them overmuch when reading either. I don’t know how much I use them when writing fictions but actually enjoy them when writing articles (along with a healthy dose of alliteration). I am, however, aware that it is adviced not to overuse them but then there lies the crux of the matter [sorry, couldn’t help it ;p ], doesn’t it? “Overuse” would be the operative word. I suppose I should become more vigilant with regards to this. Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like how you breathed new life into the old cliches 😉 I agree that we can keep the imagery an established idiom/phrase evokes and add a new twist to it to bring it to life. Playing with language is half the fun of being a writer, after all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When writing fantasy in a medieval kingdom I have to be careful to avoid anything with modern terms like headlights or tanks. You end up having to rework old cliches to make them fit with the world. I’d probably use ‘stocky as an ox,’ instead of ‘built like a tank.’ 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I think cliches are one of the (many) places in my writing where it’s totally invisible to me until someone else points it out. But I love the examples you give, especially the “kick to the curb” one. It definitely adds a humorous tilt to your prose. Great post, and thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love expressions and I learnt a few new one from this post :3 As a non-native English speaker, I think I have the advantage to be able to “import” some figurative language from my mother tongue to spice things up.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “Write Fresh!” is a Margie Lawson mantra. I don’t know if you’re a Margie-grad, but you’re definitely channeling Margie in this post. Great examples!

    One thing I found when working with Margie was that some cliches are regional. You say built like a tank. I say built like a brick outhouse (or some not-so-G-rated equivalent). I’ve also heard built like the back end of a barn. Each says the same thing, but says something about the character. A soldier might refer to a tank, but the barn reference is more likely to come from a farmer. Hmm … what else?

    Built like Grandma’s pizza oven.
    Built like the Titanic.

    If I was going for a real Kiwi (New Zealand) feel, I’d say built like a prop (a position on the rugby field).

    Now you’ve got me thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Raimey! Cliches are so tiresome to read and even more boring to write. My CPs do an excellent job of pointing out the cliches I’ve left in, but I try to scour them the best I can before new work off.
    For me, cliches crop up the most when I’ve strayed too far from deep POV, or when I haven’t “nailed down” the character’s voice. If my CPs are finding more than I realized were there, it’s usually “back to the writing cave” for me to pinpoint the character better.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. These are fun. Personally. I love twists on old clichés: pot meet kettle? It also helps dialogue sound grounded in the real world since people really do use clichés in conversation. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing. And I love your examples. It shows we have to use our creativity to avoid cliches. I do know, however, that people talk in cliches. When I’ve tried to change a cliche in dialogue, it sounds stilted. But the inner dialogue and descriptions must be free of those pesky cliches!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great point! I like this because I often see cliches in my clients’ (and my own) work, and I point them out – but they don’t need to be completely taken out. If they are reworked, that’s enough. It’s the same as how many agents ask for “new spins” on “old tropes.” They still like the cliches, but they want them updated to be fresh!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s always funny to me how often you hear advice that amounts to “avoid emulating the greats; they’ve become cliche,” but the reality is things become a cliche in part because when done well they are very effective. The problem is many end up echoing the letter of the technique without understanding why it works.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. The key is to recognize the power of cliche techniques, but also allow yourself to build upon them, making them your own.
    Simply reiterating them isn’t enough, but with proper awareness you can still utilize them.
    I think part of what makes your examples pop is how the “cliche phrase” is like an underlying piece of the text, the same way that they say certain musical compositions include notes that the instruments never play, but nonetheless the audience hears them.
    Even when you use the words, they’re not the same. Instead you take advantage of audience expectations, prompting a very natural but active response of “wait a second, what just happened?”

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Lovely! I think those kind of familiar phrases can be especially poignant when you can shine a different light on them, like you’ve done here. It’s all about taking the old thing and letting people see that it can be more than they thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fun one — word play with the phrases that come immediately to mind (hey, there’s one!) without thinking….On another note, I did post yesterday, but have received no reads or comments, so don’t know if I did something wrong for the blog hop — I did visit and comment on other participants and had a glorious time, but wonder about my own work showing up?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Louise,

      I did check your site around noon yesterday, and I couldn’t find your post yet. I did just check again now, found it, and left a comment. I’ll send you an email and we can troubleshoot this. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Raimey: Thanks for helping out — I didn’t end up posting until later in the day because the post was harder to write than I imagined and the draft from the previous day was pretty much useless. Appreciate your involvement!


  15. You have a great post here. I did a Margie Lawson Immersion class and learnt how not to use cliches. And you gave examples from your own work here which is great for learning. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m definitely guilty of using cliches and love the idea of putting a fresh spin on them.

    Hmm…deer ten seconds after getting caught in the headllights, a.k.a. deermeat (with apologies to the deer).

    The scream you hear after finding the needle in the haystack is one of both joy and agony.

    Steal someone’s thunder and risk getting struck by the lightning of their vengeance.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Yes!

    I decided a while ago to reinterpret the ‘avoid cliches’ rule. Instead of avoid ‘at-all-costs’ (*wink). I avoid using them as though I(or the narrator) invented them, or as evidence of the narrator’s own wisdom. In the ways you have used them or shown them to be used they are interesting but also have that lovely familiarity which all readers enjoy. They can be an anchor point of sorts. Where appropriate, I occasionally use them to add character to dialogue, because people do use them all the time and which ones they use reveals where they live, their age, their personality and background.

    Most writerly rules shouldn’t be considered as ‘hard-and-fast’ ! (*wink)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I absolutely believe that clichés can be updated and made fresh. Your examples are strong proof of this. As for deer caught in the headlights, how about a puppy at the children’s playground or a mother as she hears her special-needs daughter’s name called for recognition as the “hardest worker” by her fellow classmates.

    Thanks for all you do to assist writers, Raimey. All best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Certain sub-culture specific vernacular helps to identify a character, or a locale. But you can’t beat it to death or no one will understand. If cops or musicians really talked like cops or musicians in fiction, only cops or musicians would understand what the ehll was going on. But “cool chat” or other devices are on, at least for me. However in your examples of cliched one-liners only those obviously specific would survive. I mean, how many people really know “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is residual patriarchy in its highest form? So yeah. But kicked to the curb would still work in a valley girl sentence structure “So, um, we…Well we sorta did kick you to the curb on the birthday cake thing, huh?” In dialogue better than in descriptive though, “for sure.”


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