Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Creating and adding your own personal cliches and sayings spells another unique way to showcase your voice and writing style. Of course you have to get them right, otherwise, you’ll leave your reader up a tree without a paddle. What? That doesn’t make any sense. Exactly my point. Writers need to make sure their sayings and cliches fit the character or setting and brings things into focus rather than confuses or loses your readers.

In the right dialog context ‘up a tree without a paddle’ will make perfect sense if you have a character who is forever mixing, twisting and murdering cliches and sayings. Don’t forget to take advantage of opportunities to showcase your characters unique personalities and your own unique writing style. In one of my books I have a character who says, “pickled feathers.” Though there’s no such thing, it fits my young character when she’s frustrated.

Now, I couldn’t see a stern judge sitting behind the bench frustrated over the slow process of a trial making the same comment. It just wouldn’t work. If he’s a fisherman in his spare time he would be more apt to say, “Gut the fish and pull out the details.”

Here are a few sayings I’ve come across:
Hotter than Satan's armpit.
A winks as good as a nod to a blind mule.
He's as subtle as a pig squealing for his supper.
His mind is quickly turning duller than a butter knife.
She would make a train take a dirt road.
If he were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered twice a week.

And my favorite:
The two of you could both put your heads in a thimble and still have room for the finger.

Don’t be afraid to spin a few sayings and cliches of your own into your books. Please share some of your favorites.


Alice Sharpe said...

Lori, love your sayings.

I like to try, and I don't always succeed by any stretch of the imagination, to make the saying reflect the character or provide an insight or correlation to the narrative. So an artist might reflect on an ochre sky, a child might say it was bright yellow like the sun, and a preacher might muse it looked as though God had smeared mustard across the heavens. Like that, only better.

I'm not good at coming up with homilies or with snappy backwoods observations although I enjoy them a lot. Satan's armpit is good. I love the image of the train on the dirt road and exactly what kind of woman could make that happen with her disagreeable nature!

Fun blog, as always. I can't think of one I have used recently... no memory span. Drat.

Wait, here's a Swedish proverb I just read: Worry causes a small thing to throw a huge shadow.


Kendra said...

I love these. In my last MS I had a cop that said a lot of quirky things that I researched off the internet.

He's as useful as a trapdoor in a lifeboat.

Just out of curiosity were your parents siblings?

He's as baffled as Adam on Mother's Day.

Who picked out your coat? Stevie Wonder?

There's got to be a multivitamin for that.

It's men like you that make women gay.

He's all foam; no beer.

You should request a refund from your university.

Genene said...

Love these sayings, ladies! However, it takes me a while to come up with them.

Of course, mine would be pet related. Here's the only one that comes to mind: My dog is smarter than most humans. (Or smarter than your honor student, according to some bumper stickers I've seen.)

OK, back to my little corner of the world.

Love having you on the blog, Lori!

Karen Duvall said...

Kendra, yours are fabulous! I can't think of many off the top of my head. Mine aren't usually funny, anyway.

The first one that comes to mind is "...it took my breath so far away I'd need my passport to get it back."

And another: "Time has no meaning for those who can live forever."

Danita Cahill said...

Yes, Lori, the sayings are great. I even like "up a tree without a paddle".

My stepdad used to say ,"Oh, feathers." The game got fun when we'd ask him what kind of feathers, and he'd reply with a different farmyard animal each time we asked.

In my current book, which is set on the Oregon coast, I used the saying "Honk if you've been rude to a tourist today."

Kendra, those are some great sayings.

Anonymous said...

I have one that I got from an "old" friend. She's always saying things the wrong way because she's not very educated, but she's such a sweet lady.

Anyway, she always says, "Oh, I was just so flusterated." I guess that's a cross between flustered and frustrated. LOL

I've always wanted to write a character into my stories that is like her so I can use her sayings. The next time I'm visiting with her I'm going to be sure and pay close attention and write down her little gems. :)

She's got more but I can't think of them right now.

Fun post Lori!!

Karen Duvall said...

LOL, Piper! My ex-monster-in-law *cough* -- I mean ex-mother-in-law -- used to always say "Chester Drawers" when she meant "Chest of Drawers." Cracked me up every time. Made me want to address the bedroom bureau as Chester. Snort.

Lori Barber said...

Alice, I'm not great with saying either, though I love it when one smacks me upside the head and it fits my character. I love your Swedish proverb...it's so true.

Kendra, I love all your examples. They pulled a couple more out of my brain.

He's such a liar he had to get someone else to call his hogs.

She talks so much, that when the suns out her tongue gets sunburnt.

Genene, some of the best sayings involve animals and I love them. Here's one I've heard: (It's a stretch in the animal kingdom.)

She's one coo-coo short of a clock.

To follow along those lines:

He's got all his buttons they just ain't all sowed on.

He's one sandwich short of a picnic.

Karen, I love your passport saying! It leaves a great image.

Danita, I have a friend who used to get her saying crossed and would say 'up a tree without a paddle'. I also love your coastal saying. It's so fitting. Growing up on the coast in Tillamook we have a saying: "Cheese, trees and mud up to your knees."

Piper, I have a friend who says the very same thing. Maybe it's regional...ha!

Thanks everyone for all of your great examples.

Paty Jager said...

Sorry I'm poppinig in late. I had intertnet connection problems yesterday and then the trip to the meeting.

I have a cowboy sland book I LOVE to read and use sayings out of, but what I think is more apropo to this blog is the fact my MIL is Dutch and the inflections and messed up words that come out of her mouth are a hoot! For oil she says oily, for foggy she says f#$%^y, and my husband having learned Dutch and had to learn English as a first grader, he has trouble pronouncing some words and gets sayings mixed up. So it's something that can be added to a character who is of another nationality. Like the character on NCIS who is always mixing up American sayings.

As for some cowboy slang- "pretty as a heart flush", "he can't tell skunks from house cats", "couldn't drive nails in a snow bank", "his family tree was a scrub" "like tryin' to scratch your ear with your elbow".

Good post, Lori!