Like most readers, I have very high standards for the books I choose to spend my time with. When I pick up a new title, the last thing I want to do is read the same phrases I read in the last one. The trouble is, we get so many phrases burned into our minds that we don’t even realize they’re cliché until someone points them out. Which is exactly why I’ve come up with a handy list of phrases I don’t want to read anymore. Please and thank you.
Disclaimer: It wasn’t until I worked as a book editor that I became hyper-aware of writing clichés. So, if it sounds to you like I’m being nitpicky, it’s probably because I am.
1.“We sat in companionable silence.”
I hate this phrase more than anything else on the list because it is absolutely pointless and because it is particularly prevalent in literary fiction (Shouldn’t those authors know better?). Why do authors always feel the need to specify that there is silence or, indeed, what kind of silence there is? I don’t think I’ve ever read that characters were sitting in silence and thought to myself: “But what kind of silence are they sitting in?” Context clues.
2.“I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.”
The phrase that authors love to employ right after something very suspenseful has happened. It feels like an insult to my intelligence because I don’t need a character to be unintentionally holding their breath for me to realize they were in a tense situation. Also…BREATHING IS INVOLUNTARY. It takes a special level of stupidity to be bad at it.
3.“The silence was deafening.”
I’m actually a little embarrassed adding this one to the list because surely we’re all on the same page, yeah? It’s overdone. I’m pretty sure I learned that this sentence was a no-no from my 4th grade teacher who was the literal worst, so I don’t feel like there’s any excuse for people to be using it.
4.“Black as ink” or “black as night.”
There are sooo many other ways to describe the color black; coal, iron, storm clouds, spider, bats, and crows are just a few examples that come to mind. This also applies to the phrase “raven haired”, which I read AGAIN in a book just last night.
5.“A chill ran down my spine.”
I once read a book where the main character had so many chills that they didn’t just run down her spine—they crept, they crawled, they even “spider walked.” By the end of the book, it sounded less like she was scared and more like she needed to invest in a sweater.
6.“My blood ran cold.”
No. It. Didn’t. Maybe we should come up with a less reptilian way to describe fear.
7.“My heart jumped in my throat.”
Again with the fear.
8.“Something in me snapped.”
For when a character loses their temper. Not only is it overdone, it sounds a bit like the character in question is suffering from an alarming medical condition.
9.Skin like “caramel” or “chocolate” or “coffee” (you get the idea).
Ooof. I cringe every time I read these phrases because most of the authors I’ve seen use them are, in fact, white. Let’s go ahead and NOT describe people of color like food. Not only is it lazy (Honestly, how many times have you encountered it?), it’s disrespectful and creepy AF.
10.“In that moment.”
This phrase pops up when an author is trying to be poetic. It’s usually something like “And in that moment, I knew I was in love with him” or something equally cheesy. I used to be ok with it, until I realized how overused and unnecessary it is. Readers already know that every single thing a character says or does is happening in a specific moment.
Honorary mention: “smirking”
It’s not a phrase, but it’s confusing nonetheless. The main culprit is definitely Young Adult Literature. Since when is this every teenager’s go-to facial expression?
Finally, to give you an idea of the epidemic we’re facing here, I’ve read every single one of these just this year, in newly released books. I do try to have a certain degree of tolerance for clichés (I’m sure my Instagram captions have their fair share, after all), but I swear, the next time I read the phrase “companionable silence” I might just quit reading the book on principle.