To get to the point, there are only so many ways to beat a dead horse…
I read a lot of student work, and I read a lot of polished, published work in books. I write a lot and revise a lot — and I have decided that we are all unfortunately guilty of sliding into hackneyed, trite and (worse!) clichéd phrases.
And that is a terrible, no good and very boring situation.
Whenever you catch yourself in a run of language, sliding into those familiar words that you hear in coffee shops and at backyard picnics, please refrain. Or, put them in draft 1 and take them out of draft 2.
Please. Because we all know them, we don’t think about what they mean. We (the readers) give up at the point a cliché enters the sentence. We veer off and daydream because we are not expected to think. We don’t have to think what “scared out of his wits” means. We already know.
Show us that fear instead. We’d get scared too, and that would make us care about the story — and probably the character.
Every time you find familiar phrases in your writing, try circling them and coming up with a new, and utterly unfamiliar, way to say that very thing. Give us the nerve-sense and body-feeling for any emotion.
Let’s think of this in terms of hamburgers. McDonald’s sells 550 million plus Big Macs each year, and each one is exactly the same. You’re having a casual meal for friends at your house. Do you bring in trays of Big Macs? I hope not.
You make your own burgers. And you add scallions or sour cream, or shredded carrot, or sprouted tofu… or… chopped apple or…. or make veggie burgers… or…
Please change those words so your writing is fresher and tastier, and uniquely yours.