The old cliche goes like this — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. My response is, I hope it’s not a train! We all get the concept, which is why cliches are well-used like a favorite pair of driving gloves in winter. Whenever we hop into the car to drive we put them on, overlooking their frayed edges. They do their job.
So, why are writers encouraged to purge cliches from their writing? The well-worn phrases become mindless substitutions and fail to create imagery in the mind of the reader.
Take the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. If I tell you that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, most will understand that I see an end to a period of darkness. But what does that really mean? What is my period of darkness, or more to the point, what is your character experiencing?
Sally the tightrope walker suffers an illness that left her temporarily blind. Her light at the end of the tunnel could be the return of the spotlight on her rope. Beyond her emerging vision she could see hemp.
Betty Jo the Boston Terrier wandered off from her family on a camping trip. She walked 200 miles to get home. When the little dog turned down her street and saw an end to her arduous journey, she could see the kitchen light illuminating her dog door.
Miss Jernegon taught school on the alkali flats between ranches, wishing her life were more sophisticated. When she received a letter from a boarding school out east, she could hear the train that would carry her away from dust storms and starved cattle.
It’s late, and my examples aren’t stellar, but you get the idea. Instead of saying each character had come to the point in their story where they could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I looked for a way to express the idea of hopeful endings to difficult circumstances. You can search your characters’ setting or personality traits to inform a cliche.
Don’t worry about cliches in your first draft. They show up because they come to mind easily. When you revise, look for metaphors, similes, and familiar phrases in your work, and then think of how you can rebuild the concept.
At the crack of dawn becomes:
- when the solar inferno crests the horizon
- at the border between night and day
- when robins summon the sun
- fake friend
- the boss’s informant
- cut worm
Flat as a pancake becomes:
- flat as new iPhone
- flat as a fat tire on a wilderness bike trail
- flat as a dead heartbeat
When it comes to cliches, you can think outside the box…I mean, you can let your mind wander the fence-less prairie beyond the ranch. For fun and practice, we are going to tackle cliches periodically. Grab the bull by the…wait…grab the carrot by the top and pull. You know, roll up our sleeves…I mean, put on our work jeans and calf-poop encrusted boots and get to work on rewriting the light at the end of the tunnel in a story.
Quick update — the puppy is growing (teeth) and learning to beg for naps. I’m an easy target, willing to snuggle for naps on the couch. My thesis is in jeopardy. Time is flying…I mean time is slipping through…time is a back-stabber, a pizza parlor robber, a fickle cat at the back door.
January 21, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that rephrases “light at the end of the tunnel.” Think of how the cliche replacement communicates a hopeful ending and aligns with your character or story. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by January 26, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
The Promised Light by Charli Mills
Copper reminded Jess of Christmas caramels, all smooshed and clinging to the bedrock. After Pa died, the mine captain told Ma, “Send a son or get out of the company’s house.” Jess was built stronger than her brother with weak lungs. When she chopped her hair and changed clothes, no one said a word. Not even Ma.
Mostly, Jess fetched for the men or hauled buckets of copper caramels to the ore carts. Not much longer. Ma was cooking a plan to remarry another miner. Climbing nineteen stories of ladders, Jess thought the sun was the Star of Bethlehem.