She Released the Breath She Didn’t Realize She Was Holding

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Navigating the Maze of Clichés

Clichés in storytelling are like those well-known beats in a once catchy song—played so often they’ve lost their surprise and become background noise. As an author with a voice that’s distinctively your own, you hold the power to venture beyond these common turns of phrase. Let go of these ‘comfort phrases’ that have overstayed their welcome, and instead, infusing your writing with expressions that are uniquely yours—paving the way for stories that capture the heart and spark the reader’s imagination.

Common Narrative Clichés to Avoid

She released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding. This phrase is often used to convey a character’s tension and subsequent relief, but it has become a cliché through overuse – in ALL genres, I might add.

Her heart skipped a beat. Once a vivid description of sudden emotion, it now feels predictable and can be replaced with more specific physiological reactions.

Eyes as wide as saucers. Used to depict surprise or shock, this simile is overused.

Dead as a doornail. A phrase whose time of death is long past due to its common recurrence.

It was a dark and stormy night. This infamous opener is a byword for cliché storytelling and is best left in the storied past unless wielded with deliberate subversion or irony.

Every fiber of my being. Though intended to express profound emotion, it now reads as melodrama.

He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Once a reliable indicator of emotional conflict, this expression now seems a tired traveler between the realms of joy and sorrow.

Time stood still. This phrase is intended to capture a profound moment, but has lost its impact through repetition.

Like a kid in a candy store. Used to show enthusiasm or excitement, this comparison is so common that it fails to capture genuine fervor.

Strategies to Replace Clichés

Be Specific and Descriptive: Rather than relying on generic phrases, use specific details that are unique to your characters and settings. Instead of “her heart skipped a beat,” you might describe a physical sensation that is more vivid and distinct.

Use Fresh Metaphors and Similes: Create new comparisons that haven’t been done to death. Instead of “eyes as wide as saucers,” think about something related to your character or setting that is equally descriptive but fresher.

Show, Don’t Tell: Avoid telling the reader how a character feels with a clichéd phrase. Instead, show their emotions through their actions, dialogue, and physical reactions.

Subvert Clichés: Sometimes, you can turn a cliché on its head for effect. For example, you might play with the expectation of “time stood still” by describing a frenetic flurry of barely noticed activity that happens in a split second.

Use the Character’s Voice: Tailor expressions to fit the character’s unique voice and background. This can involve using idioms and phrases that fit their specific context, rather than falling back on universal clichés.

Identifying and avoiding clichés in narrative writing can transform your storytelling, making your work stand out in a sea of familiar phrases. By focusing on specificity, originality, and authentic character voices, independent authors can craft narratives that resonate deeply and uniquely with readers. Embrace your creative freedom, refine your language, and let your story be one that leaves a lasting impression free from the pitfalls of overused expressions.

How would you rewrite the above clichés?

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