Use It? Or Lose It?: Dialogue Cliches

Dialogue cliches

Welcome to the second post in my three-part series about writing cliches! Last Thursday, I talked about narrative cliches. Now, we come to what is perhaps my favorite type of cliche ever: dialogue.

Dialogue cliches are the best. I know, I know, as a writer, I’m not supposed to say that, and this whole post is probably going to be controversial, but just hear me out. I love memorable, unique lines as much as the next person. Like, just look at this gem:

PJO

Unconventional dialogue can become well-known and often recitated lines. They can give rise to inside jokes among fans. Words can do a lot of things.

(Artemis Fowl)

Obviously, we want to make our character’s words special. We want someone to read our dialogue and laugh or stop in amazement at the truth we have imparted.

(AOU had the best dialogue - Avengers: Age of Ultron)

(AOU had the best dialogue – Avengers: Age of Ultron)

(Another well-timed and well-written line - Avengers: Age of Ultron)

(Another well-timed and well-written line – Avengers: Age of Ultron)

Since we wish for our character’s dialogue to be deep and meaningful, or witty enough to elicit a laugh, most writers will say to eliminate all dialogue cliches anywhere in your book. But this time, I’m going to let you decide.

Here’s a list of just a few cliched lines that appear in both books and movies. If you want to find out more dialogue cliches, check out this article.

  • “Try me.”
  • *After character wakes from dream/hallucination/etc.* “You were there, and you were there, and you were there!”
  • “I was born ready.”
  • “Well, well, well, look who we have here.”
  • “You’ll never get away with this!” “Watch me.” (Or “I already have”.)
  • “Now…where were we?”
  • “What part of ____ don’t you understand?”
  • *handling some sort of gadget/weapon, or in Flynn Rider’s case, a frying pan* “Whoo! I have got to get me one of these!”
  • “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
  • “How is he?” “He’ll live.”
  • “In English, please.”
  • “It’s called ____ , you should try it sometime.”
  • “No, come in. ____ was just leaving.”
  • “Shut up.” “I didn’t say anything!”
  • “I want your gun and your badge on my desk by tomorrow morning.”
  • “You wouldn’t dare.”
  • “Don’t you die on me!” (Okay, really, why are people still using this one?)
  • “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
  • “Maybe you should sit down.”
  • “What’s the meaning of this?!”
  • “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
  • “It’s quiet.” “Yeah…a little too quiet.”
  • “I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?” *worse thing happens*
  • “Not so fast!”
  • “If my calculations are correct…”
  • “That’s going to hurt in the morning.” OR “That’s going to leave a mark.”
  • “No, that’s what they want us to think.”
  • “You’re either brave…or very stupid.” (Stupidly brave, maybe?)
  • “This just gets better and better.”
  • “Over my dead body!” “That can be arranged.”
  • “____ is my middle name.”

Whew, I think you get the idea, and that’s just a tiny fraction of the many lines of dialogue out there that are considered cliched and overused. So, what do we do? Do we take out a machine gun and go eliminate every single trace of a cliche in our dialogues?

Like I mentioned in my last post, cliches are usually used for a reason – because they’re comfortable and familiar. Here’s my take on it. We, as writers, are supposed to explore the unfamiliar. We do things that people haven’t done before. We go where no one else dares. Our job isn’t to stick to what’s familiar. If we did that, then we’d be boring and pretty ordinary. That said, we all have the capability of writing witty, profound, and interesting dialogue. It’s not easy, but we can do it. Focus on your dialogue. Make it natural, and make it real, but don’t be afraid to spend time making a sentence sound just right.

All that begs the question: should cliched pieces of dialogue be thrown away and never used again? Not necessarily. Write fresh dialogue, but if you throw in a few cliched lines like “This couldn’t get any worse” or “____ is my middle name”, I don’t think it hurts. Like I said last time, all things in moderation. Find your balance. Sometimes you just need a so-called cliche because it fits the scene/situation the best.

Work on your dialogue, and maybe you can get as fresh and unique as Lab Rats.

Maybe.

Okay, it’s your turn! What dialogue cliches in movies, books, and TV shows really bother you? Which ones are you fond of? What’s your rule for including cliched dialogue in your writing? Do tell!

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2 thoughts on “Use It? Or Lose It?: Dialogue Cliches

  1. I hate “Well, well, well, look who we have here.” Especially if it’s being said by the villain. It turns the villain into too much of a cliché for me.

    Like

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