The “Yes” Cliche

YES (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I was writing today and made this mistake. It brought my dialogue to a screeching halt. I had fallen victim to a clichéd “yes”. I was brainstorming alternatives when I realized that no one had ever warned me about the dangers of a clichéd “yes”. Here are some reasons to look out for it and some ways to improve on the simple statement. First, three common problems with a simple “yes”:

  1. If the person simply agrees with a single word answer, there’s no conflict, no new information, and no development. With no obstacle, there is nowhere to go. With no new information, there is nothing to react against. With no development, it is a passive response.
  2. It is vague. Yes what? Yes, I heard you? Yes, I agree? It just isn’t worth fighting you about? Is the speaker just being agreeable? Is the speaker just pretending to listen?
  3. It lacks creativity, the first response that comes to mind — a seemingly easy way out that backfires when it drags down the momentum of the conversation for the reasons stated above.

Built into these reasons hold possibilities for solutions and exceptions. There are times and places for it — times when a simple “yes” works. (Notice that your options are somewhat limited by your current point-of-view.)

  1. Add information to the “yes” that complicates, characterizes, or develops.
  2. Use a simple “yes” as an attempt to withhold information or as some other form of passive resistance.
  3. Give the “yes” an ulterior motive such as an attempt to defuse a situation, a manipulative ploy, or a lie that hides true intentions.
  4. Brainstorm other responses that raise the intensity of the conversation, send it in a new direction, or achieve any (or several) of the above possibilities.

These warnings and possibilities are not unique to the word “yes”. Any line that causes your sizzling dialogue to fizzle out deserves the same scrutiny. Sometimes the word or line should not be cut. In that case, look beyond the most obvious, most common, use of the word or words. Get past the cliché. Say “yes” to originality and your dialogue will probably get back on track.

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