Making Clichés Work For You

Making Clichés Work For You

A Lesson by Frederick Kesner

Move past the let downs and enable yourself to write your poems without having to discard those clichés that you hold dear or that you feel are important in the composition of your poem. Cliché should never be the death of your poem.


Just because it sounds simple, don't knock it.
It isn't cheating. And it isn't a quick fix.
This course offerse simple and uncomplicated methods that may just work for you.
And if it does work for you, be sure to pass it on. Of course it would be nice to hear
back from you and I would love to read your resulting compositions.... even a before and after!

First Up: A dictionary definition from the Houghton Mifflin Company.

cli·ché also cliche  (kl-sh)
1. A trite or overused expression or idea: "Even while the phrase was degenerating to cliché in ordinary public use . . . scholars were giving it increasing attention" (Anthony Brandt).
2. A person or character whose behavior is predictable or superficial: "There is a young explorer . . . who turns out not to be quite the cliche expected" (John Crowley).

[French, past participle of clicher, to stereotype (imitative of the sound made when the matrix is dropped into molten metal to make a stereotype plate).]
Synonyms: cliché, bromide, commonplace, platitude, truism
These nouns denote an expression or idea that has lost its originality or force through overuse: a short story weakened by clichés; the old bromide that we are what we eat; uttered the commonplace "welcome aboard"; a eulogy full of platitudes; a once-original thought that has become a truism.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


1. Write out the poem (preferably) in the "one breath." Or if you have a poem that you suspect is riddled with cliché, pull it out of your 'filing cabinet.'

2. Highlightor mark out in some way that flags your attention, the suspect phrase/s or line/s.

3. Pick out some alternative describing words (modifiers) in order to freshen up the phrase/line. If this works then you have just saved the poem from cliché. Otherwise, try to change over the word order. If the rhythmic pattern allows this and the line does not sound contrived or strained, then that is a second option.

4. If that does not satisfy, use a completely new alternative rendering. To save the cliché, you may choose to use it in part or in whole as the title of your poem. Otherwise you will have to savour the prospect of having your reader guess what the poem is pointing to.

5. Avoid using 'like' and 'as' because this will force the use of a simile. Having to compare images wastes both your syllable count and the umph of the poem's momentum. Having said that, go for the metaphor. It isn't always easy. But metaphors are lurking about just waiting to be unleashed and sprung on your readership. They will be forever grateful to you for the challenge and pleasure of your offering.

6. If you just have to have that cliché in there, you had better have a reason that you can stand your ground with. Should you be able to simply and effectively state the reason for keeping a cliché in place, no matter what the most calloused and hardened critic may throw at you, your cliché stays, and quite quite proudly so.

7. This final section will make this lesson circular. Go and blurt out what you have to say in writing. Then let it sit awhile then go back to it at a later time. Remember that if you "save as" into a new file; you will have the original as well as however many edits at hand. Ask a trusted person who will give you truthful and constructive comments, of course this means that you should be open and willing to take on board all the information given to you, even if that threatens to burst your bubble.

Now, you can pick out the clichéd phrases that pepper this article/lesson and use that as an exercise in identifying clichés. It would be quite an impossible task to hunt out clichés if you can't even recognise one breathing down on you.

Have fun! 


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Posted 5 Years Ago

Thanks so much for your help! I have often had to write and re-write stuff, because of cliche word choices - I am sure I still use them

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Posted 5 Years Ago

Thanks so much for the info. It was quite helpful to me.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

very useful! thank you! will do this! =)
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Added on March 11, 2010
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Frederick Kesner
Frederick Kesner

Brisbane, West Moreton, Australia

My life is one poetic journey. If I am not reading or writing poetry, I simply live it. To me the experience of poetry should be such - to breathe it, create it, and receive it from poems and lives th..