Flex your literary muscles. The cliche has no business ever showing up in good writing.
March 30, 2013
Words, phrases, scenes. We string them out, rearrange them, and twist them around, always looking for the most unique way in which to transfer our thoughts. Or do we? Do we get a bit lazy and revert to a cliché’ when we come up against a difficult paragraph or even, a problematic opening?
Is your character ‘rudely awakened’ by the dreaded ‘jangle of the alarm?’ Or ‘the sun streaming through the curtains’? It’s natural to want to start at the beginning, usually morning— but don’t. Oh, we’ve all done it, but we need to progress, don’t we? We’re writers, let’s be a little more imaginative.
Do you put your character in front of a mirror, and then proceed to describe to the reader exactly what the character looks like? Sleepy-eyed, tousled hair, etc. We all get up in the morning, we all look like that. Oh, I’m not scolding. I am guilty of it myself. Can’t we do better, though? Shouldn’t we strive to move past the cliché’ morning routine? If your character is sleepy in the morning, put him in a coffee shop, he bumps into someone, spills coffee on them, a scuffle ensues…a rather unsteadying start to the day, and not once did we mention he was sleepy or tousled. It was understood. Resolve the scuffle and send him on his way fortified with coffee, shaking his head, wondering how he would explain the coffee stain on his shirt. The possibilities are endless. We don’t need ‘squinting against the morning sun streaming through the curtains’, ‘staring into his blood shot eyes’. Besides, that’s telling. Let’s give him some real action. I like the coffee shop. I might use that…hmm.
Maybe your character has an important meeting, or an interview. Maybe he didn’t remember to comb his hair until some kid on the sidewalk laughed at him, or he glanced into a store window. How about a co-worker pointing out he had on two different color socks. You can paint the picture of his befuddled morning nature without using the cliché’s.
Routines of ordinary life. We all have them. I get up and dress in the morning. I expect most of us do…well, there are those few, but that is a different blog. If you go to work, you have to walk to the car, right? Oh please tell me you don’t have your character open the door, slide in, and turn the key. How about she puts the car in drive instead of reverse and crashes through the living room window? That might get some attention. Or running over her son’s bicycle.
Where was her mind, what was she thinking? What action caused her to be so distracted? A late night rendezvous, an unsavory meeting with some cheesy boss? The report she forgot to file because of the late night rendezvous? See where I’m going here?
Let’s talk about cliché’ phrases. I know you don’t use phrases like, ‘clear as mud’, ‘fresh as a daisy’, ‘cold as ice’, or ‘slow as molasses’. I was at a workshop where they told us we could use a cliché, just change it up to be something out of the ordinary.
Here’s an example from ‘Grammar Girl’ . She talks about using the anti-cliché.
“A really dumb cliché like ‘what goes around comes around’ deserves to be mistreated. The anti-cliché is a cliché that is twisted into a different shape, but is still recognizable. For example, you could take ‘what goes around comes around’ and change what comes around to probably should, to make ‘what goes around probably should’. The meaning is significantly changed, but it is better to be thought of as cantankerous than as a bad writer.”
Let’s flex our literary muscles and find ways to portray our characters in unique and unusual ways.