Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I never met a cliche I didn’t like

And you know, that’s surely another one right there. Cliches. Can’t live with em, can’t live without em – ooh, did I really say that?

Seriously, I was horrified recently when I realised just how many cliches I use in my writing. I use them all the time in speech too, and you can bet I was a little dismayed when I worked that one out.

But hey, at least that means I’m writing in my own voice. Right?

Cliches do have a legitimate use in writing. A phrase becomes a cliche because it becomes overused, but this only happens because the phrase is so apt everyone starts using it. These soon-to-be-cliches resonate with us; we feel they exactly describe what we want to communicate.

When writing a first draft, let those cliches off the chain. They act as place-markers, allowing you to say what you want to say and get on with telling the story. Using a cliche allows you to capture the idea or tone of something without getting hung up searching for that perfect, interesting way of saying it. It means you aren’t wasting time, agonising over a sentence that may end up cut during revisions. When you come to revise, you can freshen up those tired old phrases and find exciting, clever ways of saying it instead.

And if when you go back to look at your revised manuscript you still find cliches lurking in the corners, then you hunt down and slaughter every one of the little buggers.

Which reminds me. It’s time I signed off.

I’ve got some hunting to do.

4 comments:

Erica said...

See, it doesn't work that way for me. I prefer to agonise at the time and get it right, or at least get something that isn't overused.

Maybe that's partly because I write such a lot in first person, so everything that comes off my fingers is coming out of that character's mouth, so to speak. To have a character talk in cliches just doesn't seem right.

Then again, it could just be that I'm fussy.

AJ Macpherson said...

I think all writers are fussy, that's why some of us get stuck when the words won't come out right. It's interesting how we find different ways to get to the same place: a good story, well written.

Anonymous said...

AJ,
Hi, my name is Dana and I love cliches! There I said it. But I don't love them for what they are...I love them for what they soon will be...they are my opportunity to rewrite an over-used and oft times trite phrase. I have the ability to make something ordinary and mundane truly unique and ALL MINE. Call me selfish, but I love cliches! Dana

AJ Macpherson said...

Hi Dana,

We could form Cliches Anonymous :-)