On Writing: To cliché or not to cliché?

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Back in 2019, we had season passes to Dollywood, so I took my kids several times that summer. In case it’s been a minute since you last visited, there’s a ride in the Wildwood Grove called Black Bear Trail. You straddle a mechanical bear and then wobble around a track while squealing “Whee!” I had my four-year-old daughter sitting on the saddle with me, and she was having a blast. When our bear completed its circuit, there was a Dollywood employee waiting to help us onto the platform. “How did she enjoy the ride?” he said. “It was a little bumpier than she expected!” I replied. The employee rolled his eyes and sighed. “They all say that.”

And there it was. Just like that, I had become a cliché.

No one likes to think that their stories are trite, that they’re predictable, that the words they just said made someone else roll their eyes with the utter unoriginality of it all. So when you’re writing, how do you keep yourself from writing platitudes? Well, the answer to that is pretty easy – read a lot and pay attention.

But is it even really that important to avoid clichés?

As I thought about this Dollywood employee suffering from ennui, I realized it didn’t matter that what I said was cliché. It was the first time I had said those words all day, and up to that point I had not heard anyone else say it, either. However, the employee had probably asked hundreds of people the same question that day, and thousands of people in the days before that. Not only that, but I surely was not the first person to disappoint him with my reply, so he had most likely already given his “They all say that” retort, too! He was the cliché, not me!

Good, I feel better now. Where was I? Oh yeah. Sometimes a cliché just IS the best way to say what you want to say. It’s not always necessary to find new and exciting ways to describe objects or experiences that really aren’t crucial to your story. If someone’s eyes are sky blue, just say it. You don’t need to bust open your thesaurus for other ways of saying “blue.” And if a theme park ride is a little bumpier than you expected, it’s ok to just call it like it is (yes, I know that’s a cliché.)

Write a poem about your favorite over-used expression and let me read it at Kate@KateLanders.com.