This is gonna be a hard one for me.
If you’ve read even one of my posts, you know that I don’t shy away from clichés. As a matter of fact, I like them, and go out of my way to use them.
When I read the next writing tip in the Writer’s Digest 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day article, I groaned, “Yet another writer telling me to avoid clichés!”
Here it is:
17. Avoiding Clichés
Everyone “gets” clichés. That’s why they show up virtually everywhere. Clichés may be thought of as overused and predictable, but few people complain about movie car chases. For every person who doesn’t want “same old,” hundreds continue to enjoy stereotypical hard-boiled dicks helping dames in distress. Depending on your audience, a well-placed cliché can be more effective than an explanation.
Nevertheless, we need folks like you to buck the trend. So here are some ways to spend a half-hour:
- Create a cliché-free protagonist: you. Choose a career you once contemplated. Change your age, gender, race. Investigate something that intrigues you. Invent a situation that boosts your heart rate. Send your character to a place you’d like to visit. Now write.
- Remove from a work unnecessary parts of speech—such as replacements for the perfectly acceptable said, and words like angrily to reveal how someone slams a door. Say no more than readers need to know; let their imaginations work.
- I’ve intentionally loaded my five contributions to this article with more than my usual share of clichés. Circle them. Do it now. The early bird gets the worm.
Okay, I get it (I highlighted the clichés above – did I get them all?). But I’m gonna focus on the first bit of his advice that a well place cliché offers the reader a neat package of information that they immediately “get”.
That’s exactly why I use them. Okay, you can call that lazy, and I suppose it is, but it’s also clear, and brings me closer to my readers than I could have if I came up with some convoluted description.
Also, I regard them as bits of linguistic treasure. Let me explain.
My husband works in the construction business, and he never fails to complain how the industry is going down hill with “all them Mexicans taking over the country”. My husband is from New Zealand. I just roll my eyes and tune him out.
But he works with Spanish-speaking folks all the time, and my family speaks Spanish. After a long visit with my family, he’ll come to me and ask what a choice phrase in Spanish means. “They keep saying something like ‘ca-vrone’, what does that mean?”
Well, basically, honey, they are calling you a bastard or asshole. But in my family, it has a slightly different connotation. More like a troublesome or stubborn kid, depending on how you say it and in what context. If I hear my mother say that under her breath after I manage to snatch a cupcake from the counter, I know it’s meant in its original meaning, a crafty goat-kid that got away with something it shouldn’t have. And in some places of Mexico, it’s even considered a term of endearment.
So…maybe that wasn’t a good example…
What I’m trying to say is that loaded words or phrases lend a pre-packaged scene and world that would take pages to describe. And each language and culture have a wealth of these clichés that bring color to the page.
That’s why I use ’em. Plus, I’m lazy.
Fine. I’ll try Mr. Spikol’s advice. There. Happy now? 😉