Throughout our writing educations and careers we’ve been told that clichés are to be avoided. We’ve been given many reasons, but most reduce to:
They dilute your message.
Ok, fine, but how exactly?
A hacker’s explanation
What follows is a computer-centered explanation that I think will resonate with many:
Good stories evidently activate the listener’s brain so that they experience the things being described. This is especially true with metaphors that invoke the senses.
It’s widely understood that humans feel empathy for others because our brains simulate the experience the other person is having—literally—meaning the brain releases the chemicals associated with that activity. This is, according to this theory, why seeing someone cry can make you cry as well.
Hackers can imagine this as having the ability to run code on the listener’s brain. You are, as a storyteller, effectively controlling the experience center for another human being through narrative.
As such, clichés should be avoided because they are code snippets that don’t get executed on the listener’s brain. They’re simulation dead-spots because they’re not even parsed anymore. They’re marked as ignore, passed over, bypassed.
This is why you shouldn’t use clichés.
When writing for impact you want to use language (often metaphor) that is new to the reader, which will force their brain to execute the sentence as an experience, and this simply cannot happen if that metaphor has been tagged as “DO NOT EXECUTE”.
Say it in a way that forces them to run your code.
TL;DR: When storytelling, language is remote code execution on your reader’s brain. Clichés are code snippets market as “DO NOT EXECUTE”.