During the summer of 2010 I attended a non-fiction writing class taught by a fellow named Rick Maddocks.
One of the most profound pieces of advice that Rick handed down was the rule about three words: tears, angel, and heart. He called them the “knee-jerk” words. They acted as short cuts to grab a reader’s emotional response without really working to get it. A cheap shot and a cliché to boot.
I heard this and sat back in dismay. At that time, my military story had the current work title of “Angel on Earth”, which was not all that better than its previous title: “Angel”. Needless to say, that title got changed very fast.
Later on I mentioned this about-face to Rick and he replied:
I think you can get away with something like “Angel” if you have a surprising or contrasting word or phrase as counterpoint to it–or… if you use it in a foreign language.
Not that it absolved me from using the word, but since then I have been leery of using any three of those words.