I’ve done a lot of rewriting during the last few weeks. Aside from giving the old pruners a good workout as I clipped almost 5,000 words from my (now) 55,000-word YA urban fantasy, Fur-Face, I discovered a type of cliché I'd never heard of before.
I’m not talking about the plot lines we borrow from other stories, like the one where a poor farm boy discovers he’s really the chosen one, destined to defeat the evil one etc. I don’t mean predictable characters, like the woman of negotiable virtue with a heart of gold, or the timid hero who learns to stand up for himself, or even the obvious narrative clichés like ‘heart in his mouth’; ‘sank like a stone’; ‘black as pitch’; ‘ran like the wind' etc.
Of course, we should strive to avoid all of the above, but I’ve discovered a worse type of cliché, so insidious, it doesn’t even bother to hide. As a matter of fact, until recently, I was proud to have them in my story.
Here’s what happened. As I wrote (and later revised and rewrote) Fur-Face over the last four years, I came up with descriptions to show my characters’ reactions to what happened in the story. When they were puzzled, they looked/felt confused. When scared, their hearts cannoned around inside their chests, when they were shocked, their jaws dropped open. Not exactly award winning stuff - I daresay you’ve already thought of better ways to say the same things - but they did the job.
Here’s my problem, Even though I re-read and revised that manuscript more than any other, until this last read-through, I never noticed how often I used those same phrases within the same ms.
I wouldn’t describe any of them as clichés (though I’ll grant you they aren’t exactly original), but when used too often in the same manuscript, they become one - at least as far as that book goes. I’ve managed to lose or change enough of them to solve the problem, but it got me wondering if anyone else has found themselves doing the same thing.
How many times can you use a phrase in the same ms, before it becomes a cliché?
Is it something you check for?
What (if any) phrases do you use too often?
Or is it just me.