Friday, April 29

Name that Cliché!

Every writer should know that including clichés in your writing is – as one of my elementary school teachers would say – a BIG NO-NO. He knew what he was talking about and so should you.

Clichés sneak up on you and worm their way into your writing. They are such comfortable turns of phrase and ideas. They flow so easily onto the page...and that’s fine when you're writing a first draft.

I know what the trouble is. How do you nail those clichés? After all, a cliché is just an original idea that has been worn out, over-used, and jumped on so many times that it has become a gag. It triggers the response "I've heard that one before" from people who don't even know where the idea first sprouted.

Clichés make people roll their eyes, cringe, and walk away. In the case of your writing, they stop reading. Anything that keeps potential readers away from your works is – you guessed it – a BIG NO-NO.

There is one thing I come across when I am reading which irks me a little. It is something of a cliché loophole.

An important note: There is no such thing as a cliché loophole. Trying to excuse yourself from using a cliché is never acceptable.

This so-called loophole is what I like to call "Name that Cliché!" It is the act of using a cliché, and then mentioning that it is a cliché.

Phrases such, "It was something of a cliché," or "I know that it was a huge cliché but at that moment..." do not subtract from the existence of the cliché. Warning the reader, or owning up to cliché usage, does not excuse the use of a downtrodden phrase or scenario.

Narrator: Was my life just becoming one massive cliché? Did I have a sign on me somewhere that read, "Browbeaten heroine needs brooding, closed-off love interest and overbearing parents?"

Reader: Ugh. Why should I care?

Cue eye-roll.

Calling yourself out on cliché-use does not soften the blow. Ever.

Kiss of death: Using the word "cliché" at any point in your work of fiction.

However, clichés are not bad. They are very important writing tools. Of course, you should never use a cliché in your writing, but let me give you a few reasons why clichés are a good thing.

1. A cliché forces you to think outside the box. When you spot the existence of a cliché in any form, you are encouraged to dig for something original. If your character sprouts a clichéd phrase, then now is the perfect opportunity to come up with your character's own unique turn of phrase.

2. Clichés are actually good foundations for ideas. One of my favourite things about writing is archetypes. They are simple fundamentals for characters and story plots that you can build on. Sometimes, when you are stuck for ideas, the only things that come to mind are clichés. That just means you have something to mould and work with. If a cliché is thrown at you, go with it and throw something back that is interesting and innovative.

3. You can surprise your reader with the use of clichés, without using a cliché. Confused? Clichés mean that people have come to expect something to be a certain way. You can take a reader's expectation for a cliché and turn it on its head. Add a twist to the story and surprise the reader.

In conclusion, you shouldn't fear clichés...but don’t pander to them. That's a no-no.

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