Is There Ever a Time to Cliché?

If you’ve been the writing game for any amount of time now, you probably know the most common stance on clichés in our stories.

Cliché meet plague. You are to be treated the same.

If it’s a cliché, it’s not new. Not only has someone done it before, but it’s been so over used that it ends up doing your story a disservice, making it fall flat or lack the depth you’re desperately trying to create.

But we know this. Nothing new there.

My question to you is, can there ever be a time to use a cliché? I say yes, and here’s why.

Clichés away!
As big as life, the bottom line, drive you up a wall, eye for an eye, slippery slope

Phrases and descriptions become cliché because they resonate, or at one time they did, with the reader. The cliché makes so much sense, it can’t be mistaken for what it means. That’s probably why other writers pick them up and use them. Once the threshold is breached, the phrase is marked cliché and is deemed never to be used again.

Here’s the catch. People still use them. The next time you’re around a group of people, at work, school, shopping, or some such, listen to what people are saying, and count how many clichés get used. So by that token, shouldn’t it be okay to use a cliché in your dialog? Seems to reason that if you want your character to feel real, you’d give him or her attributes of real conversations.

Out Dated Clichés:
broken record, win one for the Gipper, babe in the woods, tell that to the marines

One other point. Clichés sour the seasoned reader. What about the new reader? They have no reference point to know if something is cliché. Shouldn’t it be okay to use them in a middle grade book? I’d say as long as the cliché isn’t dated, it shouldn’t trip up the young reader.

How do you see the issue? Are all clichés a deal breaker regardless of circumstance, or is there a time and place for them? Let me know in the comments below.

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