Saturday, April 23, 2011

Totally Cliché Countdown #1

So it's been a few weeks since we announced our Totally Cliché contest. Hopefully many of you have spent those weeks brainstorming about clichés or better yet, writing with one (or more) of them. If you haven't started yet, consider this a reminder. GO WRITE!

You might be wondering why in the world we would choose clichés for our theme. Well, because they're fun. But are they fun because they're what we love to write or are they fun because they are forbidden? Tricky question.

Let's talk about clichés for a moment. What makes a cliché a cliché? What qualifies a phrase for this list of banishment? Well, the reason I've heard many times is that clichés are overused. They're old. We hear them so often they get annoying. If this is truly the case does that mean that in time, after years of writers avoiding them, clichés won't be overused any more? Will they be unique, a word combination on the verge of extinction that writers will once again embrace without shame?

With that thought in mind, consider this...are all clichés worthy of reintroduction into the wilds of writing? I'm not sure they are. Now, before I dive into what I'm about to say and potentially cause confusion, let me just state how much I love clichés. Maybe it's my rebellious side but I really love them. My personal favorite is "It was a dark and stormy night." I have big plans to write a story about a dark stormy night and I'm thinking I might even start the story with that line just to ruffle someone's feathers. Sounds fun! But....

Aren't a lot of the clichés out there telling? Is that the real problem with them? Let's think about this as we look at my favorite for a moment. I love dark and stormy nights. I love loud thunder and bold lightning. I can't think of a better way to start an intense scene. Such expressive weather creates a unique mood in my mind and prepares the backdrop for a great story.

If six small words can lay the right foundation for a story's atmosphere why is their combination so bad to use? The reason goes deeper than this phrase just being overused. Why? Because the phrase is telling at its best. And if I've learned anything as a writer it's that the best of us create stories that show themselves, like a little movie, in the reader's head. These stories are painted with the careful strokes of description that cannot be rushed. Rushing them results in telling and telling is like watching movie a made fifty years ago. Compared to one of today's 3D experiences, it doesn't have a chance. Visually, there's no competition.

If I were going to send a story to an agent or editor that began with "It was a dark and stormy night" I could almost guarantee you that they would throw my manuscript in the garbage because my word choice shows what a weak writer I am. Weak, because instead of setting the reader up for a good story, I merely fill their minds with questions. Questions like these:

"How dark was it?"
"Was it a rain or a snow storm?"
"What time of night was it? Midnight? Twilight?"

For most readers my favorite cliché won't paint the appropriate picture in their mind. While I might be vaguely describing a massive rain and thunder storm one reader might think of a blizzard. Another might imagine a building tornado in the distance. Instead of clarity my cliché choice just creates questions and this is a big NO NO for any writer. A writer seeking publication needs to know how to create a fantastic story that leaves the reader with no doubt what the mental movie should look like.

So now that you're thinking how crazy I am for telling everyone that we are, in essence, asking you to write a story for our contest that is filled with telling, let me explain myself.

Clichés are tricky. To use one effectively a writer really has to be careful. That's what we're looking for. We're challenging you to take something that could weaken your story and use it to your advantage. You could be sarcastic with your cliché. You could use it in a humorous way with the intention of making us laugh. You could be sneaky, weaving it into the story in an unusual way. You could make your MC the cliché culprit by having their dialogue contain the forbidden phrase. There are so many creative ways to use a cliché that we know you won't disappoint.

Look at this contest as an exercise to build your writing muscles. Because seriously, if you can make a cliché a little less cliché you've got yourself some serious writing talent!

Comments made to today's post will qualify for our mini-contest.

1 comment:

  1. I love cliches too. And not just cliche sayings, but I love cliche story ideas too. I don't do it on purpose, I think I have a wonderful story only to realize the whole idea is cliche. That's ok, because then I have fun adding stuff and switching it around until it's no longer cliche.



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