JM Williams

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To Cliche or not to Cliche – WriteWorks


I have read many posts on the blogs of writers that are adamantly against certain aspects or styles of writing. At times it often becomes a sort of pseudo-religious fundamentalism. None of us are fully innocent.

Even Stephen King, in his lauded writing manual On Writing, goes on an unreasonable diatribe against the passive voice, essentially arguing that you should never use it. Passive voice is an entire discussion (or three) on its own, but suffice it to say that extremism is not an appropriate response. (What most writers don’t realize is that the decision between active voice and passive voice has little to do with action, and mostly to do with what is the subject you are focusing on. Maybe I’ll explain that later.)

In the article below, the WriteWorks editor suggests that using cliches in not inherently a bad thing (heresy, I know!). In fact what matters is how you use them, not whether you use them or not. This is a very important distinction. People who write about writing usually do not take the time to delve into the deeper ambiguities. They offer easy yes/no answers to complex questions.

Art is dynamic, with near-infinite boundaries. There are no concrete rules to art; if there were, it would be science. Like the passive voice, cliches have their place and their uses. It is much better for a writer to learn how to use them, rather than simply casting them off. I find the discussion offered below to be enlightening.


Cliches get stuck to most people’s writing like butter on toast, or maybe like shit on a stick (an expression with surprising origins). I’ve heard the accusation time and again: editors, writers, and critics are all very quick to point out a cliche when they see one, and to accuse a writer of laying down on the job when they employ them. Of course, the vast majority of the time, I completely understand this. Employing particularly cliched language is usually just a great way to irritate a serious reader. Unless you’re doing it ironically (my feeling is that most people who refer to themselves as “serious readers” will look the other way if you can persuasively do something ironically – perhaps the most tired cliche the modern age has given us)…Read the Full Post Here

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