I really, really dislike clichés. I dislike them a LOT. And it's not just in writing that I dislike them. I hate when I'm talking to someone and suddenly a chain of corporate speak comes out of their mouth. Sometimes, I overhear people on business conference calls on the train and it's ridiculous, between the touching base, the face-to-face, the circling back, and (my favorite) the calenderize-ing.
In romance, there isn't so much calendarizing (though I think if anyone did calendarize something, it would be a villain, or someone rather hapless) but there is no shortage of cliche.
Recently I came across “she drew him like a moth to a flame,” and I may have pulled a lateral rectus muscle rolling my eyes. First, moth to a flame? Really? That's the best language we have?
Second, why a moth being drawn to a flame? If we're describing the hero, which we are, that implies he has no choice in the matter and is drawn to the heroine by some instinctive and reflexive attraction that ultimately will be bad for his mortal state (he's going to get burned to a crisp, right? It IS a flame). That language calls to mind the idea that the hero's attraction to the heroine is predetermined (by moth brains, apparently) and he has little power to choose someone or anyone else, while she has to accept that predetermined attraction as well – and also try not to burn his short hairs, what with all the flaming. Moveover, as the Phrase Finder says, being the moth hero (note: this is not a request for shifter moths, please) means that the hero is a moth, and “moth was used the the 17th century to mean someone who was apt to be tempted by something that would lead to their downfall.”
OMG. FLAMING VAGINA DENTATA people. Watch out! Oh, those pesky heroines with their powerful female wiles, attracting men so they might destroy them.
And third, moths aren't actually attracted to the flame, as some scientists on NPR explained. They're confused by it.
They're trying to either hide from predators that come out at daybreak, or trying to use the moon as navigation and end up distracted by all our porch lights – similar, as the NPR host says, to beach turtles who look for the moon to head back to sea, and head for your patio instead.
So if you unpack that moth/flame cliche, the hero is irrevocably attracted to the heroine, she's dangerous and will contribute to his downfall, AND she's a false signal, a modern, technological replacement for the natural light of the moon. The figure posing as the flame, so often the heroine when this cliche is employed, is in reality a false heroine, and, if used correctly, the language would probably indicate that the temptress is about to be revealed and circumnavigated by the hero due to the stronger, more natural and wholesome pull of the real heroine's full moon.
I find cliches so tiresome because they are lazy, and sometimes, when you examine them closely, the words don't do what the writer thought they were trying to do. The cliche might end up undermining the original intention, which was to say that the hero was powerfully attracted to the heroine, perhaps despite his own intentions. You'd think I'd love that, since I'm a known fan of 'I don't want to like you, I don't want to like you, I can't stop thinking about your hair, DAMMIT' conflict. But I am not drawn to cliches like a moth to a flame. If anything, I'm repelled by them, like a wise insect from the bug zapper.
What cliches do you hate? Which phrases do you wish you didn't see in romances so often?