Scene: Jan in her backyard, stretched out on her patio chair, soaking up the last of the autumn sun, critiquing her friend’s manuscript, and listening as the apples fall off the tree. Suddenly, Jan leaps from the chair and shrieks.
Neighbour (working in his garden, pops his head up over the fence): Jan, what’s the matter.
Jan: I just read a sentence with three clichés in it!
Neighbour: Oh, I thought you’d been eaten by a coyote or attacked by a Sasquatch.
Jan: It would have been less painful if I had.
A cliché, is a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful.
Here’s a conversation I had with a friend who asked me to look at a covering letter she wrote. Note: the only time I speak about myself in the third person is when I give editorial feedback.
Jan: What does Jan think about clichés?
Amber: Jan hates clichés.
Jan: How do clichés make Jan feel?
Amber: Angry, clichés make Jan feel very angry?
Jan: Then why does Jan have a document with clichés in it?
Amber: (long pause)
Jan: The correct answer is “I’m an idiot.”
Amber: Because I’m an idiot.
Jan: Fine, lets move on …
Cliches are not good writing. We all know that, and need to be diligent about them. Because they are so ingrained in the vernacular sometimes it’s easier for other people to spot them in our manuscripts. I know what you’re going to say “ it’s not me who’s using them, it’s the character. S/he speaks in clichés.” Well, if that’s so, then your characters are stock and clichéd. Take a cliché and stand it on its head. In the second of the Megabyte Mystery series, the protagonist Cyd, realizes that she’s blunt. I was tempted to have the character say ‘subtlety is not my strong suit’ – cliché. Instead the character, a computer savvy kid, says “Subtle is not my best font.”
So, I’m not going to beat a dead horse about clichés, because you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s better late then never to rewrite. But of course that’s easier said then done. I know I’ve hit the nail on the head with this blog post, and to add insult to injury I have a sneaking suspicion that I caught you in the nick of time and you are sadder but wiser. I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead. ;-j