Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pure as the Driven Snow

30 inches? Washington, D.C.? Still snowing? No way! Actually…yes way!

We got hit hard with a historically heavy dose of the white stuff. It is beautiful, a ‘winter wonderland’ of blinding snow white drifts as far as the eye can see. If you can cope with no power, no water, no phones or internet for days, it is eye-catching ‘pure as the driven snow’ beauty.

So, how is this post writing or woolly mammoth related?

Well, here’s my pup, aka Armani, aka Moose aka Woolly Mammoth enjoying our ‘little’ gift from the snow fairies.

And, since I’ve already peppered this post with the red-headed step child of writing – the cliché – I thought I’d take a moment to opine on the subject.

I’m a firm believer that writing “rules” are made to be broken. Creativity reigns, in my humble opinion, when you bend the rules a bit. One rule that I would bend only on the very rare occasion is to avoid clichés when possible.

By definition, a cliché is: a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.

Most, if not all, writers know this definition. Why then do we see overused words and phrasing pop-up in writing? Because it’s easy! It’s convenient to draw on what we already know—what’s familiar. I admit (pause to slap my wrist) I do it, too. Particularly on first drafts. I draw from the familiar databank of words and phrases, eager to get my thoughts on paper. It’s not until I start the redraft process that I focus on these little villains – eager to weed out clichés. I don’t always succeed and at times it takes someone I’ve asked to review my work to point out the unoriginal in my writing. One reviewer whose tough love I respect will bluntly say .. ‘come on, you can do better than that!’ (Thank you crazeesharon).

Keep an eye on the bigger picture as well. Clichéd characters? No-no. The meek librarian who’s a different person all together when she lets her hair down? We’ve all seen her. But why not twist it, turn it and put on a different sheen? This same librarian could take off her glasses and reveal the laser beam eyes of a blood thirsty Alien. I would venture to guess this character has shown up somewhere in some story or novel, but not so often we anticipate the outcome.

Key – fresh, new, different.

As fiction writers our goal is to entertain. If your work is full of clichéd phrasing and seen a million times characters, you’re far more likely to bore your readers than entertain them.

My ‘two cents’ for what its worth.

“See ya later alligators” (oops, I mean, Tata Macaws :))



  1. Cliches are one of those things where I see both sides of it. I do get tired of reading a piece of writing that has not one original description.

    But in dialogue, cliches are usually more accurate to real speech.

    But in poems? Yikes. Please no.

    I think you have to find that line between not 'reinventing the wheel' =-) and being a description magician.


  2. Great points, Tirz. It is all about finding balance. Agree about dialogue. I have found myself at the opposite extreme. Working so hard to find new ways to say things that my work becomes stiff and unnatural. Thanks for the read and comment! Cat

  3. Thanks for these reminders. I've discovered that many, many phrases in English are just that, cliches. I use them, but sparingly.

  4. Great post, Cat!! I scan my WIP for cliche words/phrases, but cliche characters has (gulp!) never occurred to me!

    This is why I love the blogging world. :)

    Corra x

    from the desk of a writer

  5. Thanks Joy and Corra, for the read and comment. xxx Cat