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We all know clichés are bad[1] and that fresh, inventive and "fitting" phrases will delight and entertain our readers.

What techniques can be used to invent such phrases? Sometimes they just "fall out" while you're writing, but other times require intense effort. You could do things like throw random words or direct opposites together and see if that inspires something, but I suspect this has a relatively low return on investment (time wise).

What successful techniques have you used?

(Here's a link to a site with a great colour scheme that talks about types of clichés).

[1] Unless you want one of your bad guys[2] to spout clichés as a character trait

[2] Because good guys are never clichéd...

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

If you're writing in your own original world, try to think of the kinds of things that are present in that world. I actually spent quite a while thinking about what possible phrases could exist in various areas of my current fantasy world. Try to imagine how the idiom you are trying to create could have come about in the setting. Include imagery that would be important to the people involved.

For example, someone who lives in a society with an evil necromancer overlord might say "to work like the dead" meaning to work tirelessly. Obviously, if your story doesn't have necromancers, you can't use that example, but the point is to think about the society you're working with and make the idioms make sense.

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+1 nice tip (would give an extra vote for "an example involving necromancy" if I could ;) –  Ash Nov 21 '10 at 0:58

...angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night

I listen to readings of Allen Ginsberg poetry.

Howl

Supermarket in California

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The random word approach is not as bad as you think:

  • Divide a piece of paper into three columns
  • Write nouns randomly in the first column and cover it
  • Write verbs into the second and cover it (same amount as nouns)
  • Write adjectives into the third column (same amount as nouns)
  • Phrase a sentence which each row

Write ten sentences each day of one week and you will be surprised about the return on investment. If you're an "adjective killer" you can skip that column ;)

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+1 for putting it into a process (I think I am an adjective killer though) –  Ash Nov 21 '10 at 0:57

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