How To Avoid Writing Clichés

Shutterstock / Fida Olga © ripping cliche paper in half

How do you avoid writing clichés? Have you ever heard someone say something and you think to yourself, Oh no – not that phrase again? It’s the same with writing. You don’t want someone to read your story and then roll their eyes at something you have written.

But first, what is a cliché?

A cliché is a phrase or expression that has become trite. The Chambers Dictionary defines a cliché as: “a once striking and effective phrase or combination of words which has become stale and hackneyed through overuse.”

In writing, clichés commonly relate to dialogue, character and plot.


Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy then says, “I love you.” That line of dialogue is fine, but it’s rather unoriginal. If you use it as a writer, put a new spin on it. “I love you because . . .” The way I look at it is this – if you are writing about emotions, then you need to show what’s at stake.

“You had me at hello” is a great line in the film “Jerry Maguire”. But it’s been done to death so many times since then. What would your character say in response to such a proposition – make it personal and unique to the situation.


He was as “brave as a lion” or as “strong as an ox”. Readers instantly form a picture in their minds with such phrases, but you are cheating them out of more dynamic storytelling. Instead of telling readers about how bold or hardy your character is, show them. How is your character facing up to a situation – what qualities come to light?

How you portray a character matters. Think of the stereotypical sullen rebel, or a good-looking, but not-so-bright, character. Characters, of course, can possess any trait you want. But adding extra dimensions to their personalities can make them more interesting.


This covers oft-used storylines. For example, the damsel in distress. “My car has broken down – who will save me!” Why not write something different? A character’s car has broken down and that person is rescued by . . . Well, you decide. Remember – don’t think of the obvious.

In the “Friend”, we receive many stories where characters react to story events, rather than instigating them. These are passive, often predictable characters.

As a reader, I like to be pleasantly surprised by story events. Keep this in mind and your writing should never be banal.

Read more writing tips from the “Friend”.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.