Sunday, July 21, 2013


“That’s a cliché!”

We’ve all heard that and we cringe when someone says it about our writing. We know clichés are bad. We know they’re a sign of an amateur. But sometimes we’re too lazy to get rid of them.

Do clichés have a place? Yes. In dialogue, if you have decided that is how you want your character to talk. And in first drafts, when you want to write fast and furious. It can slow you down to think of something new and fresh and slowing down is something we don’t want to do in our first drafts. We want to get the story out. Then we can go on a cliché hunt.

Why are clichés appealing? They’re easy (usually the first thing that pops into our head). And they’re effective. That’s why they exist. The first person who spoke or wrote a cliché was probably brilliant. The comparison or descriptive phrase was so perfect that it was worth repeating. Again and again and again. Then one day it became stale and boring.

Clichés can be a few words (as wise as an owl),  a description of a character (a fast talking lawyer) or even a description of a setting (Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.) James Scott Bell talks about “flipping the obvious.” Change that burly male baseball cap wearing truck driver to a woman and see what happens.

In recent news, I was startled to hear that one of the bombing suspects of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria was a 29 year old woman. In a book, she would be a more interesting character than her male partner. 

In my Language Arts classes, my grade sixes and sevens had fun with clichés. At breakneck speed I would shout out the beginning of a phrase and they would shout out the ending:

Pretty predictable responses.

As speedy as . . .  a bullet
As skinny as . . .  a stick
As black as . . .  night
As white as  . . . a ghost.

They learned that the first thing you think of is almost always a cliche.
Then we would go back and see how creative we could be.

I remember one student beaming with pride when he came up with “as white as mayonnaise!”  

Nigel Watts in Write A Novel and Get It Published warns us that . .  .

A writer serving up clichés is in effect feeding his readers warmed-up leftovers!

Does that make your stomach sink? Whoops! Heard that before.  Does it make your stomach turn a somersault? I’ve probably read that a thousand times. Does it make your stomach plummet six stories?

Hey, it’s late.

But one day I’m planning on using “as white as mayonnaise” in a story!


The Old Brown Suitcase by Lillian Boraks-Nemetz

Slava is a compelling narrator in this award winning Holocaust story that alternates chapters between Poland and Canada.

Good Reads says:
The story juxtaposes heart-wrenching scenes from a child's life in war-torn Poland with the life of a teenager trying to adjust to a new country in time of peace. In Canada, it is not easy for Slava to build a bridge between two cultures; nor is it easy to live with the turmoil of her immediate past. At the same time she must face the new challenges involved in being an immigrant, a Jew and a teenage girl.


No comments:

Post a Comment