I have already written two articles about clichés that should disappear from stories. If you also want to read them, you can read the first article by clicking here, and the second one by clicking here. I realized that, especially in series and movies, there are not only cliché situations that are repeated over and over again, there are also phrases that have been repeated so many times that they have lost any kind of impact. They only serve as a filler and are more a habit of screenwriters rather than a tool to enhance a moment.
Here are ten of these cliched phrases that I have found in old stories and some from 2021.
1) “It’s just a scratch.”
Phrase usually used by a character who was injured, but wants to hide the seriousness of the injury. What I’ve always wondered is why another character doesn’t say: “Really? Let me check it to see if it’s true.”
It used to serve to show strength in whoever said it, because they gave more importance to accomplishing the mission than looking out for their own safety. This is no longer the case and it is just a filler.
2) “It’s a long story.”
Mediocre justification of why a character doesn’t want to reveal things about their past or the situation, because it’s not really in the story’s best interest for the other characters to have the full context. That happens with weak plots that only support themselves in one point.
If I were in a story and someone said that sentence, I would probably say: “Summarize it and tell us”.
3) A: “That could start a war”.
B: “We are already at war.”
This dialogue was used to express that a situation was already out of control. A dispute between sides had grown into a battle. The bad thing is that it has been used so much that it has already lost any impact it could have had.
And as a side note. I’ve always found it curious that in a story they call a battle between two small sides a “war”. In the series “The 100”, in every season they talk about causing a war, that they are at war, that they must stop the war, and there are not even a thousand people involved. They want to use the term “war” instead of “battle” because it sounds more epic. That just causes the audience to be disappointed when they see a “war” of a single battle and small parties.
4) “It’s not funny/This is no time for jokes”.
This is perhaps the stupidest line that a character in a story (usually horror) says when a friend disappears from sight. There is a Spanish comedian who as part of his sketch parodies about American movies talks about this, and paraphrasing a little bit he says: “What kind of a son of a bi*** is Mike so that they would think he can make jokes in that situation”.
5) “I did what had to be done”.
I liked this phrase the first few times I heard it. It was said by a character who made a tough decision thinking about the end goal and not the side effects. However, it has been used so much that it is now just a bad justification for not giving further explanation of the causes behind an act. It is usually preceded by the question, “What have you done?”.
6) “If I wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead”.
This one, like the previous phrase, I liked the first time I heard it. It says a lot about one character having the ability to get rid of another and show what they are capable of. And as usual, the overuse of this phrase caused it to lose the power it once had. It became more of a bluff to show that a character thinks they are superior, even though it may not be the case.
7) “That’s not what’s important.”
This phrase bothers me a lot because they use it to divert the conversation from a topic that requires clarification, but that the story doesn’t want the audience to find out yet. A hypothetical example: they discover that a character was in communication with the enemy and gained valuable information, but they don’t know what else they talked about. When confronted and asked why he’s been talking to the other side, that cliché character would say: “That’s not what’s important” and that mystery would be left to be used later in a predictable plot twist. If I were in that story, I’d say: “I don’t give a $#%& that you don’t think it’s important, tell us right now or get the hell out.”
8) “They must have imagined it/Maybe they imagined it”.
This is another silly phrase used by screenwriters to dismiss an event that happened, which will later come as a “surprise”, in quotation because the whole audience already knows about it. They usually use it when a character sees something (a monster, an enemy, an animal) and when he/she tells others, they assume they imagined it. That seems stupid to me because unless they are using hallucinogenic substances, or have a mental illness like schizophrenia, no one hallucinates or imagines things that easily or vividly. Especially when it wasn’t just a blurry shadow and they actually witnessed something.
9) “This hurts me more than it hurts you”.
Another phrase that was powerful and lost it because of overuse. It is used when one character must hurt another, physically or mentally, either because they believe they are right or because immediate pain is a solution to something more serious. It’s like the equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me”.
10) Biblical quote at the beginning of a catastrophe.
This makes me laugh every time it appears. It is not so bad in stories with a biblical connotation, because it is related. But when the plot has no link to the bible, I don’t understand why it should appear. First of all, even if there are people who know the bible or parts of the bible by heart, how likely is it that a character has memorized just the apocalypse sections. There are few things as ridiculously cliched as when they start bombing a city and someone says: “And there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up”. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha (sigh).
Surely you know more of these phrases. This is a very small blog, but I hope that my fellow writers who read this article will never use these phrases and rather use their creativity to make their stories more impactful. The world will thank you. I hope you like this entry.
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