Cliché Makeovers


I’ve heard “blind as a bat” so many times, I’m ready for that bat to be “dead as a doornail” just to put him out of his misery.  Clichés seem to invade everything from first drafts to finished novels and they will continue to do so until writers stop relying on them.

I’m just as guilty as everyone else, but a piece of wisdom I picked up a couple of years ago has reminded me to be a little more diligent about recognizing my cliché habits.

If it sounds like something you’ve heard before, you probably have and many times over.

This is not a new idea, but it’s one every writer should consider.  I don’t want to bore my readers and I certainly don’t want my writing to fall flat because I chose to use a cliché instead of conjuring something original.

While reading through Rip the Page by Karen Benke, I came across an exercise that fosters the ditching of clichés in a very interesting way.  Instead of avoiding them altogether, she challenges writers to put the zing back into these worn-out phrases:

  • Cold as snow
  • Hot as fire
  • Light as a feather
  • Pretty as a picture
  • Clever as a fox

Benke insists “your own golden language” is hiding underneath all those layers of cliché antiquity. Clichés are simply a place to start digging until the individual voice can speak.  She offers a little encouragement, by creating small prompts that give a new direction in which to think about each cliché.

  • Cold as the edge of . . .
  • Hot as the front row of a . . .
  • Light as the inside of . . .
  • Pretty as the sound of . . .
  • Clever as the way my dad . . .

I found this challenge irresistible and was immediately inspired to give these clichés a makeover. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Cold as the edge of a busy snow shovel.
  • Hot as the front row of a livestock show at the state fair.
  • Light as the inside of an angel food cake.
  • Pretty as the sound of pine needles sifting the wind.
  • Clever as the way my dad can get any old Chevy to start.

– – –

How would you remake the above list of clichés?  Join in the fun and post your creative makeovers in the comments or post a link.  Stay inspired!

– – –

For a great list of clichés, go here. I was surprised at some of the phrases that made the list and you might be as well!

– – –

c.b. 2012


29 thoughts on “Cliché Makeovers

  1. I like cliches in a character’s dialogue if it fits them, but I try to be clever and avoid them elsewhere in my work. I started making lists of things that were ___ (heavy, cold, sharp, etc.) in hopes I could use said lists to inspire me when I was stuck. Of course, who has time to make lists with writing and social media demands. LOL In any case, I try to find descriptions and comparisons that fit the story and setting. Great post!


    • Thanks! 🙂

      I actually have a character in my first novel that loves to use cliches – he does it like a joke. In that instance they work, but everywhere else I whipped out my red pen and started crossing things out.


  2. Rebekah

    …as I’m still a learner of English, I think I tend to take my Swedish clichés and turn them into English… «hungry as a wolf» instead of bear and so on.. I’ve never bothered to change — people smile at them 🙂


  3. Cold as the edge of a knife
    Hot as the front row of a sauna
    Light as the inside of a lamp
    Pretty as the sound of an acoustic 12 string guitar
    Clever as a thief
    These were the first things that popped into my head.


    • Oooo, I love “hot as the front row of a sauna.” 😀

      Its amazing how a quick free write can unlock so much originality – I think mine took less than five minutes and I’ll bet yours did, too! It’s there hiding inside of us, just waiting for liberation. 🙂


  4. Hmm…

    Cold as the edge of death.
    Hot as the front row of a fire-eating contest.
    Light as the inside of an angel’s whisper.
    Pretty as the sound of sea shells chiming in the surf.
    Clever as a politician.


  5. Ah, the dreaded cliche C.B.
    Throughout my degree course, it has been drummed into me that it is only relevant within the mouth of a character. Otherwise, use them ‘at your peril.’

    Great post and it goes someway to getting we writers to ‘think outside the box’


    P.s did you spot the cliches? 😉


  6. The euphemism list for “stupid” ( on the wonderful cliche list) didn’t include my favorites – “he’s not the brightest bulb on the strand” and “he swam too long in the shallow end of the gene pool.” Just had to make sure that they were represented :>) !


  7. I love the way you have stepped up to the challenge to create non-cliches. The ‘edge of a busy snow shovel’ reference has special meaning to one who lives on the Canadian prairie. I really do know how cold that is! 🙂


  8. I did this with my 3rd and 4th novel. A different galaxy and years in the future should render different speech. I found myself tweaking cliches in order to say what needed to be said in a somewhat familiar way, yet not totally in an “earth” way. I’ve heard that English is so hard to learn as a second language because of all of our cliches, metaphors, etc. Cool idea, though!


    • That’s why I think its so hard to write sci-fi and fantasy, especially if it takes place in the future. Language changes so rapidly from one generation to the next. It would be so tricky to create a believable cadence that also doesn’t throw off the reader. However, I imagine that would be pretty fun at the same time! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.