Avoid answering-the-phone cliché in your story

One common way writers slow stories is with the answering-the-phone cliché.

This cliché consists of detailing all the trivial steps and dialogue that goes into answering a phone call. For example:

John’s cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket, hit the phone icon. “John here.”

“Hi John, it’s Mary.”

“How are you, Mary?”

“Good.” There was a long pause.

“Good but…?”

“My car broke down again.”

John rolled his eyes.


There’s a lot of dull stuff in that passage that merely shows how John answered the phone and the courteous greetings that come with it. While the passage may be true to life, including those details isn’t necessary in a story. They leaves the story with a null that serves no purpose – they don’t ramp up the tension, they don’t reveal a character’s motivations, and they don’t set the mood.

Instead, the passage could be trimmed to read:

John’s cell phone rang.

“My car broke down again.”

Mary. John rolled his eyes.


The short version dispenses with the blow-by-blow action and the pleasantries of answering the phone, keeping the story rolling.