Cliche Dialogue Readers Hate

Cliche Dialogue Readers Hate

If you've been around for a while, you'll know that we like to do surveys on my Instagram stories. I'm lucky enough to get hundreds of responses each time (all thanks to you guys!) so I'm able to put together these 'results' posts.

I asked you guys for some dialogue cliches that you hate. This post shows the results that came up the most frequently.

These are people’s subjective opinions. You may very well disagree with them, which is great. It just shows how different each reader is, and how there's a market for everything, and a reader for each book.

This list does not mean these cliches are bad. It’s just the results of a survey. You may think this disclaimer is obvious and unnecessary but...internet.


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 If you read this list and wonder what some alternatives are to these cliches, I asked a professional editor to go through the most frequent responses and provide some "fixes". You can check out the episode here. Now, onto the list!


"We’ve Got Company"

An oldie — a classic, if you will. It's usually played for comedy. The heroes are cracking a safe, sneaking into the enemy's ship, breaking into a prison...or whatever these little scamps are up to. Then, footsteps. 

"We've got company!" quips the smirkiest member of the group. The Harrison Ford, if you will. (Actually, he does do this in Star Wars if you're interested, which we can thank for this meme). 

It's been done so many times in film that you can find countless supercuts of it on YouTube. I haven't seen it in a novel, but evidently you guys have because it came up very frequently. Personally, I think it's cute. 


Goofy Swear Word Substitutions 

This one is pretty subjective. For example, a lot of people find Sanderson's swears corny. Others find them cute. 

For me, this one is extremely context-dependent. If a kid stubs their toe and yells, "Poopy!" then I'd find that endearing. If a grimdark warlord loses their lover in battle, falls to their knees under a torn, rippling battle flag and cries, "Poopy!" then... I would also find that endearing to be honest, but it would rob the scene of its emotional weight.

A lot of writers censor their work for various reasons (young audience, personal beliefs, etc.) which is fine, but I'd advise you to run it by some beta readers to check it doesn't sound goofy if that's not your intention. 



"Please, Let Me Explain!"

A character is caught doing something that looks bad or suspicious. They have a few seconds before their parter/friend/teacher/whoever storms out of the room.

Instead of actually explaining what's going on ("We're just sharing a bed for espionage reasons! Somehow!") they use those valuable few seconds to say, "Please, let me explain! It's not what it looks like!"

Plausible. I also struggle with communicating under pressure. I believe it's just the specific string of words ("Please, let me explain! It's not what it looks like!") that writers copy and paste into their novels that seems to rub people the wrong way.

Perhaps there are other ways to communicate this? ("Oh god, it's not like that!"). Shay breaks it down beautifully on the podcast


Written-Out Stutters

I want to preface this one by saying that many people in real life have stutters, or occasionally stutter out a sentence. All of the stutter-related responses I got were specifically regarding a written-out stutter like "b-b-b-b-b-b-b-but". 

As Shay mentioned on the podcast, this can take people out of the story. It looks distracting on the page, and it's also not how a lot of people stutter. It also has Wattpad connotations, which is cool if that's your vibe, but something to be aware of if it's not what you're going for.

You can always use the dialogue tags 'he stuttered' or 'she stammered' or 'they said, stumbling over their words'. 

For a character with a stutter, you can introduce them that way ("Jessica, a spindly woman with auburn hair and a pronounced stutter") or mention it at any point. I would recommend double-checking this with a sensitivity reader. 



"He's Right Behind Me, Isn't He?"

Another classic. Trey the Explainer actually has a fabulous video on this called The Oldest Joke: Is Humor Timeless? which I highly recommend. (Actually, his whole channel is great.)

It's usually done in a tongue-in-cheek, Marvel-humour kind of way. A quip, if you will. A lot of people eat this up, while others find it tired and forced.

If you're using it in a moment of genuine danger, you risk diminishing the tension of the scene. If you're using it for humour, there are often better ways to land the joke. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Shay does a fabulous job explaining this here.


"Kill Them. Kill Them All."

I've personally never seem this one before, but a quick search showed me it's in a lot of novels I've never read. I only know this from Starship Troopers, so I'm not in any place to comment. 


"There's Something You Need to See."

Instead of showing them something or explaining what they need to show you, a character cryptically declares, "There's something you need to see." 

Personally, I'm cool with this concept (although the idea of them walking in dead silence to the Something makes me giggle). I suppose you could freshen up the wording ("I need to show you something." / "You'll understand better if you see this." etc.)


"I'm Just Getting Started."

This is part of a very specific exchange, usually during a fight.

"Is that all you got?"
"I'm just getting started!"

Like pretty much everything on this list, it's fine. Probably people are just sick of how much it's been copy-pasted verbatim into tonnes of books and films. It's the exact same with the next one.

"Hey, sis!"

Or bro, or brother, or sister. I'm an only child (yes, yes, play the tiny violin) so this one goes over my head, but apparently it's quite unnatural for siblings to address one another as "brother" or "bro". 

A lot of writers try to get around this by being sarcastic of tongue-in-cheek ("How's my stinky little brother?" / "I wouldn't be a good sister if I didn't bully you!") but it might be easier just to introduce the character as a brother/sister ("My brother Slughammer walked into the room sweating profusely"). 

Shay gives us her take on the podcast, but I've also been very reliably informed that the most Authentic™ substitution is "hey asshole".*

*This is a joke. I hate disclaimers like this with every atom of my being but...internet. 


"As You Already Know..."

Sir Terry Pratchett calls this one the "As you know, your father, the king..." speech. It's a form of exposition-dumping (info-dumping) to your audience via dialogue.

Why would two characters who already know something suddenly start saying "as you already know"? For the reader's benefit. It's a stilted, often pretty lazy way of getting information across. 

I've got a little post on exposition-dumping here if you're interested, or you can check out Shay's thoughts about it on (you guessed it) the podcast.


And now for a bonus one that didn't come up at all but it's just my personal pet peeve:

"Your Middle Name is X"

It's honestly kind of cute, I'm just astounded by how many times this joke has been recycled.

"Volatile Explosives is my middle name!" 

"Your middle name is Susan."

It's fine. It's cute. It's fine. It's fine. (Imagine me doing the Arthur fist-clenched stance). It's fine. 


Need a deeper dive?

In today’s episode of the Writing Club podcast Shay, editor from Vine and Parchment, shares her thoughts and "fixes" for writing cliches. This chat is equal parts funny and productive. 

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