Before everyone jumps into the debate at once, let me clarify. In many cases, clichés are just what they sound like—overused, tired and a little bit lazy. But, BUT…I sometimes wonder if there are times when they can be acceptable, nay, even helpful for writers.
Think about pacing, for example. I don’t know about you, but there are definitely times during fast-paced scenes when I don’t want to spend an extra beat on a new, unique and out-of-the-box description. A cliché will do just fine. In fact, I’d argue that it helps move the action along simply because it’s so expected and allows readers to gloss over it, absorbing the needed details very quickly without breaking their nail-biting, edge-of-their-seats pace.
You can also use a twist on actual clichés to have a little fun and deepen your world. Check out Anne McCaffrey’s unique take on “necessity is the mother of invention.”
Necessity—or, is it jealousy—hatches many a touch shell.
It conveys the same sentiment as the original, but gives a glimpse of her character’s mindset (jealousy) and the world (dragons – eggs – shell).
After all, Madeleine L’Engle started one of the best known and best loved fantasy books — A Wrinkle in Time — with one of the oldest clichés in the book: It was a dark and stormy night. Not that I’d recommending trying that again. The point is she was able to take a cliché and successfully turn it on its head.
It’s all in how you choose to apply them.