8. To Cliche or Not to Cliche?

Is your metaphorical fresh? Or is it cliche-ish?

A metaphorical can be used so often it becomes a word or idiom. For example, no one is sure where "bear market" came from. Those aren't a problem for writing; probably no one will noticed.

And sometimes a cliche cannot be replaced. I couldn't find any replacement for

Take this with a grain of salt.

That was exactly what I wanted to say. We don't have a word for that. (Well, I don't.)

That leaves most cliches. Cliches are usually perceived as annoying. Or a sign of bad writing. The usually thought is to avoid them and find a fresh metaphorical.

Avoid Most Cliches.

The obvious exception to this is dialogue. People speak in cliches. If you want good voice, your characters should probably be using cliches. (Most characters.) A brilliant cliche can be out of character. (Of course, if your character is always making original cliches, that can be in character.) This advice applies to first-person narration, though there might be a little more room for original metaphors there.

But fake freshness is worse than cliche.

Take this with a grain of sugar.

I don't know how readers would understand that EXCEPT to realize an allusion to the salt metaphorical. And they might wonder (and should wonder) why sugar was used instead of salt – there should be a reason for this choice, which is to say, sugar should somehow be more accurate. If sugar is more accurate, great! That's the goal! If it isn't, your reader is left with a cliche and your amateurish attempt to replace it.

The Problem with Cliches

Two problems with cliches involve lack of thought.

I felt like a punching bag.

When that was fresh (or for someone who has not read that a dozen times), the reader has to first imagine a punching bag. Then the reader imagines the person feeling that way, and the metaphor is vivid and powerful.

As it moves to ciche, your reader knows the meaning without processing an image of a punching bag. Without that image, it's neither vivid or powerful.

The cheapest trick in the book here is to use the word literally.

I literally felt like a punching bag.

Literally means it is not a metaphor. That instructs your reader to process the image of a punching bag. Your reader then discovers that punching bag has to be a metaphor. Yes, lying works, but you can guess my attitude towards that. It also misuses a word we need to mean what it's supposed to mean.

Another potential problem with cliches is your thoughtlessness. Because it's a cliche, it comes to your mind easily. Usually, things come to your mind first because they are good, but the other factor is ease. So you really need to check the cliche for accuracy.

The same applies to words that tend to go together (like impending doom or mortal peril).

Avoid thoughtless cliches.