Am I the only one who remembers Biff Tannen from Back to the Future saying this? I remember how hard I laughed because, well, Biff was such a moron. He couldn’t even get a single cliché right. Had Biff been a writer it would have been to his advantage.
I’ve come to think of clichés as the soft underbelly to lazy, unimaginative writing. Even the beagle isn’t impervious. Just yesterday she sat on her perch [which is my desk] and watched the hot German Shepherd saunter past. “Le sigh,” she said, “that Klaus makes my knees go weak.”
“Beagle,” sez I, “you don’t have knees, so how can they go weak? And furthermore, is that the best you can do – belt out a cliché that’s as old as the hills and twice as dusty?”
“Hah, talk about cliché,” she snorted. Ok, she got me.
Cliché becomes so because it’s used as a catch-all phrase. If there is an emotion or reaction, there are particular phrases that are used over and over to cover it. Instead of using the weak knees cliché, try something else.
“Every time she sees Antonio Banderas, the joints in her knees turn to grape jelly.”
“Although Antonio rebuffed her offers of having his love child, she still loved him. She always would. But now seeing him would make the cartilage in her knees dissolve like bitter acid.”
Whenever I see clichés in writing, I always wonder about the level of the author’s writing skills. We’re supposed to be clever word slingers, so why on earth would we discolor our writing by using someone else’s overused, tired, worn-out phrase?
“Her heart raced.”
Oh, how I hate this particular sentence. It’s a cop out. Come on, dig deeper. Ostensibly we all know what it’s like to be in love, so internalize this so you can come up with something that is unique, yet hits the right note.
I think many writers have trouble expressing feelings or reactions because they aren’t putting themselves into the scene. Whenever I need to dig into emotions in my writing, I insert myself into that situation and let those emotions wash over me. How do I feel? How is my body reacting? Am I sweating? Do my teeth itch? Am I suddenly more aware of my surroundings? If so, what do I see? Smell? Hear?
Now, a cliché thought may pop up into what masquerades as my brain, but I force myself to think way outside the box in order to avoid expressing anything that’s been said over and over in many other writings. Agents and editors seek those out like a tax man armed with the calculator of death in search of a juicy audit and a victim with weak bowels.
Mr. McDreamy makes every woman’s knees go weak, and a generic one size does not fit all, so don’t keep using the same phrase to signify an emotion or feeling. Fire up those synapses and get in touch with your own emotions. Besides, when was the last time a hot hunk of manmeat really made your knees go weak? I’m an old bat, and the only thing that weakened my knees over the years was that eighteen mile bike ride – and I still haven’t forgiven The Hubby for it.