There’s a lot of debate among the writing community over the use of cliches. And it’s true that some things immediately jump out to us as overused and trite.
“A chill went up her spine” is a popular one. I still see this one in scripts and in stories. It was denounced in an older book on writing and how to write Fiction and Non-Fiction. Another one within that same book was the idea of comparing someone’s cheeks to the color of a rose. It stated how that comparison was probably dated back to a time when roses were a common flower and the poet didn’t have much else to compare to the effect of blushing.
I’m not here to sway anyone in one way or the other. You can settle for a cliche like, “It was so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face,” or you can go out of your way to find another way of describing total darkness. I’ve been in total darkness, in the bottom of a cave on a tour and in other occasions, so the experience is relevant enough that I can use the expression with confidence. It doesn’t make it less cliche but I’m not going to waste a lot of time finding another way to say something.
Kathy Reichs used another common cliche for describing silence “Deafening Silence”. It springs to mind as the go-to descriptor for any sudden silence that occurs after a continuous stream of noise goes quiet. Deafening silence is a cliche but it’s still the best way of describing that experience. And Kathy Reich is a brilliant writer who has created an icon of literature and television based on her experiences as a forensic anthropologist.
If Kathy Reichs was a lesser writer, that cliche would stick out like the bones in a steadily decaying corpse. But as long as the story is strong and solid, no one is going to notice the cliche unless it’s pointed out to them, or they notice it upon closer inspection.