Advice, please!

I recently read on a writing advice website that ‘He took a deep breath’ is a cliche.

Now, I’ll admit we don’t want a character taking a deep breath every five minutes. However, in certain circumstances a human being does take a deep breath. So how else can we describe it? He drew in a large lungful of air? He allowed himself a profound inhalation? He inhaled a copious amount of oxygen and nitrogen?

Clearly, this kind of over-complicated gobbledygook would not be welcome in a children’s book. I would suggest that ‘He took a deep breath’ is not a cliche, but a simple way of describing a simple action.

What do you think?


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18 Responses to Advice, please!

  1. trinitygrau says:

    I think the idea that “he took a deep breath” and other often used terms are “cliches” represents an expectation to go above and beyond by using language that is poetic and unique. Sometimes though, a simple phrase is suitable for the actions, especially in children’s literature. It’s a human action. For variety, I’d suggest “he breathed deeply”, “he inhaled sharply/slowly”, something of the like.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wouldn’t be able to give you any advice without knowing the place ‘he took a deep breath’ has in the story. To me, ‘taking a deep breath’ isn’t something that is done in isolation. What else is the person doing at this time? Where is the person, who else is there? I’m sure you and Pearl Greyhound can find many creative ways of showing the reader what is happening 🤗💖🐕 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. acflory says:

    When I was a kid, I read and re-read The Famous Five until the pages were all dog-eared. I knew the kids, and Timmy, as if they lived just down the street. I followed their adventures with joy and excitement, and even today I remember them with fondness. The actual language though? lol I made the mistake of reading one of the books as an adult and all the magic had gone. It was too simple, too flat, too basic, and yet I’ll bet that an eight year old would still find it exciting. And if an eight year old is reading with enjoyment, there’s a good chance she’ll be an avid reader as an adult.
    My advice? It’s the story that’s important. If the simplest, most effective way of building a picture with words involves a cliche, use it. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is another one of those “rules” that are all too common in the blogosphere. I think they are linked to the old “show, don’t tell” rule. It’s interesting that the devices writers come up with to show what their characters are feeling themselves get labelled cliches or bad practices. As long as it’s not overused, a common phrase may be right for the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ellen Hawley says:

    I agree with Audrey about not taking rules–especially the ones that make their way around the internet–too seriously, but on the other hand I wouldn’t say “he took a deep breath” is interesting either. Anything that doesn’t add subtracts. People do all sorts of things that don’t make it into a novel or short story. We only need the ones that contribute to the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i had to take a deep breath and count to 20 so as not to explode with annoyance over why people feel the need to make arbitrary rules that only add to everyone else’s insecurities. If any phrase has a place in the narrative, and tells us something we need to know and otherwise wouldn’t, include it. Otherwise don’t. But to list actual phrases seems a bit OTT.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I usually try to ignore rules when writing a first draft, but recently I had so many of these ‘rules’ floating around in my head, whether I wanted them there or not, that I stalled on my current WIP. For the past month or so I’ve been freewriting every morning without putting pressure on myself to produce something ‘good’. Fortunately, this has freed up my writing again and I’ve been able to get back to my current first draft. I’ve put myself on a strict diet of ‘no rules’ until I’m ready to edit it.

      Liked by 1 person

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