Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday's Inspiration ala John Gardner About Cliches

While reading On Becoming A Novelist again I came across this bit about cliches and discovered that especially during a rough draft, such things crept into my work. Now these aren't the average clichés but ones but ones like his broad shoulders, a faint smile curving her lips. The kind of clichés we never even think of when writing. I would imagine a brilliant writer would come up with alternates to words they've heard or seen written a million times on the first round. The careful writer will find them as they revise and find new ways to say things that have been said before.

I've noticed one that now seems to crop up in many a story, "He ducked a strand of hair behind her ear. I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean but I believe it's akin to one from years ago, "she straightened his tie." These are familiar phrases and are rather slips of the pen, typewriter. The first person to use a cliché is original. The next person to use one has said "Oh, I really like that. I'll use it. Surely the reader will like the phrase. And they will until it's used hundreds of times and then it becomes old and trite.

Mr. Gardner calls this "Pollyanna writing." Guess that means a sort of optimism that if one uses phrases and clauses that have been done before everyone will like what you've written. I once had an argument with a writing friend about something I used in a story. Mine was a lot different from what she was used to but to me it said what I meant. I went with what I'd written. Maybe I've seen it a few times since then.

So the moral of this story is to look for new ways to express what your characters are seeing and feeling. Don't depend on things that have become a cliché if you can find a better way of expression.


Marianne Stephens said...

Cliches can be helpful in letting a reader relate to what's happening. Or, they can stop a reader from an interesting train of thought by the overuse of cliches.

Melissa Keir said...

They can be one way of showing the flavor of the character... think about the southern cliches vs northern ones. It shows a bit about the characters too. Just don't overdo it!