Harlequin REFRESH! Banish stylistic cliches!

Do your sentences lack zing? Is your narrative voice stale? Tired of the same old phrases? You need… Harlequin REFRESH!

This week, we’ll look at freshening your voice by eliminating stylistic clichés.

Clichés are  writing shortcuts. Words, phrases and actions that have been used in romance fiction many times come to mind easily while writing, and we feel confident the reader will understand us. Often these clichés were once fresh, but have now passed their best-before date. In the internet/social media age, this can happen very quickly. (How many times this week have you seen a cute post on Twitter or Instagram with the words, “My heart”?)

When expressions are used over and over, they’re drained of immediacy. A scene that aims to communicate emotion and drama ends up feeling generic. And characters don’t seem as real to the reader if their behavior reflects other romance books more than the world around us. Human behavior is diverse, surprising, and idiosyncratic, reflecting a huge range of experiences, cultures and personalities. When you bring the world into your story, your writing comes to life.

When we talk about a voice that’s “fresh”, we mean writing that’s contemporary (the characters speak and behave like real people from our lives today) as well as unique and authentic – a reflection of you.

Here are a few stylistic clichés Harlequin editors are ready to retire in 2019!

  • Her mouth formed a perfect O.
  • She bit her lip.
  • His smile didn’t reach his eyes.
  • She pushed the thought/notion aside.
  • He raked a hand through his hair.

  • She tilted her chin (Look out – she’s about to get sassy!)
  • Her mass of unruly fiery-red/flaming/raven/gold curls.

  • Food descriptors for skin colour, such as mocha, caramel, etc.
  • His lips quirked. Her cheeks reddened. His hands fisted. (In fact, any phrase where someone’s body part acts independently.)
  • The blood drained from her face.

  • Sex described as “mind-blowing.”
  • Feelings that are “beyond” the feeling: I was beyond excited, etc.
  • She looked up from under her lashes.

  • He swallowed a lump in his throat.
  • She touched his hand and felt a jolt/spark of electricity.

 

Using these well-worn phrases won’t bring the Style Police to your door, and no one’s going to arrest you for falling back on familiar terms once in a while – many successful (and good) authors do! But identifying words and phrases you employ often and consciously considering alternatives can freshen your voice.

How do you fight against clichés in your writing? Do you have any stylistic pet peeves? Let us know in the comments!

Leave a Comment

Comments

  1. Kimber Li

    Ask your critters to point them out, make a list, and then use your ‘Find’ Function. This what I call the Search & Destroy Revision Phase.
    The trouble is I can’t ‘see’ these things myself.

  2. Tom Smith

    The one cliche that drives me nuts is “six-pack abs”. I’ve watched enough pro wrestling to know very few mean, even those in shape, have a stomach resembling an old-fashioned washboard. Isn’t there another way to say your hero is physically fit without looking at his abdomen?