No Excuses for Cliches

I received this comment to another post here two years ago and should have pulled it out for a stand-alone post then. Better late than never:

Seems to me that a lot
of folks do use cliches quite commonly. With that in mind, wouldn’t
that show the writer was trying to portray realistic dialogue

No, it would simply show that the writer is using cliches. Just
because real people speak in cliches, that’s not an excuse to use them
in your writing. Nobody is going to read a cliche and think "ah, the
writer is capturing the way people really talk." They’ll think "geez,
what a lousy writer. He doesn’t have the talent to write interesting

The commentor also said:

I guess what I’m trying to state is that this appears to be a situation where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

When it comes to cliches, nobody is going to criticise you for NOT using them.

4 thoughts on “No Excuses for Cliches”

  1. I was say that they will criticise you for unrealistic dialogue, but no, they don’t. Nobody wants to listen to someone say “um”, 50 times in a paragraph either. We’ve always made exceptions for realism in dialogue, I guess.

  2. Richard Walter always used to point out that no one had to pay seven bucks to listen to real people having a real conversation.
    (Seven bucks — geeze, guess it’s been a while since I left film school!)

  3. Would you count this a valid exception? The character who speaks only in cliches. Like:
    Normal Norman: Good morning, Clive. How was your weekend?
    Cliche Clive: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
    Norman: Get your notes; it’s time for the big customer meeting in Conference room A.
    Clive: Whither though goest, I will go.
    Norman: Are you ready for this presentation? This a career maker or breaker.
    Clive: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
    and so forth.
    This has occurred to me on occasion as another example of “restricted writing”, more for exercise than as a major character.

  4. Realistic dialogue probably won’t make your reader (or viewer) think, “What a lousy writer!” Most people aren’t experts in writing and therefore care only about whether the story moves them or not.
    Cliches, however, are very likely to make your reader yawn. And where’s the fun in that?


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