Reimagine Tired Old Phrases and Imagery

This post expands on the top tip in Writer's Connect Issue 60, inviting you to reimagine tired old phrases and imagery. You probably don't even think twice when striking one of your characters with a bolt from the blue. Many of your readers won't either ... but nor will it stand out to them.

The more uniquely 'yours' that your work and imagery is, the more likely it'll leave a lasting impression. But if such phrases are so ingrained in our vocabulary that we don't even recognise we're using them, how can we make them our own?

Read on to find out!


Window with graffiti - Overused Phrases and Imagery

Not All Colloquialisms Are Made Equal

It should be noted that they do have their place; they can quickly and easily communicate ideas in a way that's accessible to most people. You don't have to completely reinvent (or otherwise avoid) all of them. For example, you could cleverly deploy overused phrases and imagery for comedic effect, draw attention to it so your readers know you're being a hypocrite on purpose, and then agonise over whether explaining this is as amusing as you think it is (or just exposes your deep-seated need to be understood).

Some phrases, however, are particularly noxious, overused, and unimaginative. These will serve as good practice for building awareness to their presence in your work and coming up with creative alternatives.

Spread Like Wildfire

As though wildfire were the only thing that spreads!

Alternatives: spread like a toddler's breakfast; spread like bacteria in still water; spread like Game of Thrones spoilers

Reinventing The Wheel

All the cool kids are reinventing the reinvention of the wheel instead.

Alternatives: recreating the big bang; going back to sex ed; reenacting creation myths

Thinking Outside The Box

There's nothing more indicative of thinking inside the box than 'thinking outside the box'.

Alternatives: having an independent thought; not using this phrase

A Diamond In The Rough

Though it indicates that something is rare or precious, this phrase certainly isn't!

Alternatives: a rare bird; a nun in a gambler's den; volcanic lightning (or any other uncommon phenomenon)

Nerves Of Steel

Zzz ...

Oh, I'm sorry—did you say something?

Alternatives: unflappable as a coroner; the will of a martial artist; otherworldly fortitude

Reading Between The Lines

I just did, and in really, really tiny writing, it said:

You can do better than this!

Alternatives: filtering out the static; seeing past the mask; hearing the words behind the words

Keeping The Dream Alive™

Hopefully, you now have a feel for what these little clichés look like, and what they could look like instead. Every one of them you manage to replace with something more personal or imaginative will set you and your work further apart from the herd.

Need some help identifying overused phrases and imagery or gently massaging them out of your work? Check out our book coaching & writing programs or book editing page for support!

Word of the Day

reticent (adj.)

When someone is reticent, they are reluctant to share their thoughts or feelings. This may be in relation to a subject they'd rather not talk about, or used to describe them as someone who is reserved by nature.

She was reticent about her recent health issues.
Her uncle had been a reticent man, so she knew little about him.

Quotidian Quote

"A writer is working when he's staring out of the window."
~ Burton Rascoe

Get Competitive!

A selection of current writing competitions YOU can enter!

Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition

Format: Short story or poem
Theme: Opening/closing lines of classic literature
Word Count: max. 2,000
Entry Fee: $10
Prize: $500 plus publication
Closes: 11/07/2022

Click here for more details

Literary Taxidermy - Overused Phrases and Imagery

The Rattle Poetry Prize

Format: Poetry
Theme: Any
Word Count: 4 poems per entry
Entry Fee: $25
Prize: $15,000
Closes: 15/07/2022

Click here for more details


Tales By Moonlight Novelle Writing Competition

Format: Novella
Theme: Magic/fantasy
Word Count: 7,500 - 40,000
Entry Fee: Nil
Prize: $1,000
Closes: 15/07/2022

Click here for more details


Writers & Artists Working Class Writers' Prize

Format: Manuscript
Theme: Any
Word Count: First 2,000 words plus synopsis
Entry Fee: Nil
Prize: £200 plus mentorship
Closes: 10/07/2022

Click here for more details



Before you go all-in on an entry for any of the above competitions, it's highly recommended that you look over the fine print to make sure that your submission qualifies and you're happy with the terms of engagement.

To help yourself make an informed decision, the Australian Society of Authors has a highly informative post on their website called 'What to look for in a writing competition's T&Cs' .
To locate the article, click on 'Home', then 'News'.

Photo credit Jyotirmoy Gupta, Unsplash

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