Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cliches

We had another great CWC meeting the other night. It was interesting to get feedback on Vesta, aka SW, so soon after hearing what the Icon judges had to say. Not surprisingly, it was quite different. Of course, to be fair, the CWCers have had about 148 or so more pages to go by. In some ways this was good for them and in others, not so much. As I suspected, two of my characters have the same argument over and over and never ever resolve anything. That will be fixed in the second pass.

Mary had some different comments to make this time around. She's been reading a book by a famous author whose name totally escapes me this morning. But it's about cliches in writing. Now, I know that I tend to hone in on the things I'm working on or reading about when I'm doing critiques so it isn't surprising that a lot of Mary's comments for both Ali and me (and I'm sure for Fleur who couldn't be there) were about cliches. They can be a very lazy way to write. And I don't think any of us want to be lazy writers. If we did, we wouldn't be subjecting ourselves to the CWC.

Anyway, here's my question: When is something a cliche' and when is it just the way things are? One cliche listed for Ali was the way the waitress greeted a customer. And I guess Ali could come up with a unique way that the people working at the bar welcome a customer. But, really, how many places actually do that? One of my characters is an old Southern woman who says something about a storm "fixin' to come". Now, I'll admit a lot of her dialogue is cliche' ridden--and I'll be fixing that. But in that area of Florida, people say "fixin' ta". Nothing ever happens, it's always fixin' ta happen. So using that phrase helps set the scene. In only two words.

I guess it's more about being aware of when you are using a cliche' and then making an informed decision to go with it. Because even if you make up your own mannerisms, they can become cliches unique to you. Think about the Buffy-verse. How shocking and interesting and different they way the characters talked was in the first season. And fun to revisit in the second and third. But by the seventh? Weren't they becoming cliches for those characters? And then Firefly and Serenity had the same kind of quippage (which is a Whedonesque word). And I'm sure The Doll House will as well. Fun to listen to. Easily identifiable as a Joss Whedon world. But now somewhat cliche' for him. So should he go back to straight, boring dialogue? I don't think so, but where's the line?

The cliches that bother me most are the character cliches. The hooker with the heart of gold. The assassin trying to get out of the game but being pursued by the new killer in town (looks like Nic Cage's new movie falls into that one). The divorcee who finds herself by getting lost somewhere exotic. Or the writer-only cliches. "Shots rang out." And, of course, I can't think of any more right now. But you get the idea.

So, where do you stand on this? I don't think Mary was wrong. But I may make an informed decision to stick with some of my cliches anyway.

2 comments:

Jenny said...

I think there's a section in Writers Digest or The Writer about cliches...and I was wondering as I read some of them, "Well, how do you say yada yada yada if you don't say it that way?" on some of them.

My advice is to look at where the 'cliches' were marked and see if you can't do something creative with them. If the rewrite looks goofy, go back to your cliches. Of course, sometimes using a cliche is good for making your point in an ironic kind of way.

The One and Only John said...

Another thing to consider is whether or not the cliche is the only thing defining the character, place, or situation. If all the reader has to go off of is the cliche, then there is a greater chance for it to appear 2-dimensional. You don't have to remove cliches to make something unique.