Monday, January 16, 2012

Here’s to the Cliché

Photo credit: AussieGall (CC)
As writers we are warned to beware of clichés, and we try hard to keep them out of our writing. Often the only time to use them, and then sparingly, is to give an idea of a person’s style through dialogue. However as a ghostwriter, I’ve found clichés to be a useful avenue into my clients’ psyches.

Many people use clichés unconsciously when they speak. For instance, I ghostwrote a book about business success for a businesswoman who used a lot of clichés. One of her favorites was “we were just like peas in a pod.” For anyone she liked, she’d describe their relationship as being two peas in a pod. It started with her grandmother, who she credited for establishing her values that she used in business. I therefore asked many questions about Grandma – what she looked like, how she talked, and so on. Turns out Grandma liked jewelry, and so did my client. Grandma liked to entertain people, and so did my client. Grandma was basically a wild old rip, lots of fun, and an adventurer. My client admired and loved her grandmother, and deliberately copied her style. So her “peas in a pod” cliché was actually true, and exploring it added depth to her book about business.

Another benefit of the peas in a pod cliché and one of my client’s keys to success was that whenever she would try something new – a new product, new system, new advertising – she’d go out and find people who were already doing something similar and doing it well – and then she’d find out how they did it so she could recreate it for her own situation. In other words she looked to people she admired and copied them, so they could be like peas in a pod. This turned out to be a whole chapter of her book.

Now I always try to find out what my clients’ – or my fictional characters’ – favorite clichés are, and probe for their deeper meaning. Sometimes I find gold. Or at least peas.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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  1. Cliches can also be used in fun, decidedly non-cliche form. "She and her grandmother were as alike as two peas in a pod: the one still green, well-rounded, the other shrivled and dry."

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  2. Great post. I've always tried to avoid cliches in my writing, but this puts a new perspective on it, especially when it comes to non-fiction.

  3. I'd never thought about what my characters' favourite cliches would be and they've never told me. I'll think about it before the fat lady sings.

  4. Very clever use of the cliche. I never thought about this and really appreciate the suggestion.

  5. I love the green, well-rounded pea vs the shriveled and dry pea - thanks for another way to use the cliche, Larry.

  6. It's an interesting cliche because... well, I've never seen JUST two peas in a pod. Usually a menage a many, so one wonders how that expression became so popular to begin with. I could see a group being as tight as "peas in a pod" but just two? Weird.

  7. Very interesting. It makes me wonder what my cliches are. I'm not saying I don't have them, just that I don't notice them.

  8. What wrong with cliches? Shakespeare is full of them! :-)
    I don't mind them in dialogue, because people use them all the time. I try to avoid too many in narrative, although in deep POV, narrative is still in the character's voice.

    If it conveys the meaning efficiently to the reader, then they're serving a purpose.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  9. Well, isn't that just the cat's pajamas?

  10. Well, I'll be jiggered. :D We should have started this out of the gate.

  11. I'm a fan of any technique that can add depth to my writing. I like the cliche twist, such as Larry's example, since it lays down a known foundation that can quickly support added layers. But I love the idea of probing the cliches for added story, which would also work well in fiction. While drafting, our minds reach up to our shelf of tricks for something quick and familiar, but in revision, it's a great idea to go back, ask why you chose that, and seek deeper meaning. Great idea, Elspeth!

  12. Blogs are so interactive where we get lots of informative on any topics...... nice job keep it up !!

  13. Your article is really great and i truly enjoyed reading it.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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