Monthly Archives: January 2006

Cliché Leads

Clichés are defined as trite expressions. There are also, however, ways of beginning a sentence that are so overused that they’ve also become clichéed. I admit, as a fiction writer, I have been –and am– guilty of using some of these. I adapted the leads from submissions by Dich Thien, a member of the American Copy Editors Society, or ACES.

  • The ‘He leaned back in his chair’ lead: Jack leaned back in his chair and smirked. Gotcha, he thought.
  • The that’s good, that’s bad lead: The good news was that he was still alive. The bad news was that he wasn’t sure how long he’d stay that way.
  • The unrelated Zimmerman lead: Lucy stared at the red shoes on the shelf with envy. She opened her purse, took out lipstick, cell phone, a couple of crumpled tissues, the lint-covered card of her massotherapist before she found her wallet at the bottom. She wondered if she had enough money to buy the red shoes.
  • The ‘that’s what’ lead: Fran wasn’t going to the ball. That’s what she told herself while she went through her closet for an appropriate gown.
  • The ‘thanks to’ lead: Thanks to the bottle of Tequila he’d polished last night, Marcus had the mother of a headache this morning.
  • The go-look-it-up lead: In 1958, when Jack entered high school, John Diefenbaker had already been Prime Minister of Canada for a year.
  • The one-word lead: Sarcasm. That’s what Julie hated most.
  • The word lead: Sarcastic was the only word Julie found to describe Steve.
  • The ‘typical’ lead: Steve might talk like a typical redneck, but he was hiding the heart of a renaissance man.

Writer beware. That’s what I’d like to leave you with.

These leads are so tempting.

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Through a circuitous route I wouldn’t be able to retrace, I happened on a web page about clichés. It’s difficult enough to find a site that addresses clichés thoroughly and intelligently, but to find one that doesn’t deal with the same old ones is rare. Here are some of the surprising, and quite accurate, clichés the late Mimi Burkhardt compiled:

  • armed with a search warrant
  • battle with cancer
  • calls it quits
  • charred rubble (which someone is often sifting or combing through in search of clues)
  • densely wooded area
  • emotional roller coaster
  • ground zero
  • in the wake of (unless you’re writing about boats)
  • predawn darkness
  • rushed to the hospital
  • wait-and-see attitude

There are more: “deadly devices”, such as “If xyz has his way, …. “; “maxed-out modifiers”, such as “state-of-the-art”; “overkill”, such as “epidemic proportions”; and “culture schlock”, which is using an expression from a movie to express an idea, such as “Show me the money”.

It’s not easy writing without using clichés. Some are cherished because they express so well and so easily what we mean. Using others is a way of being just plain lazy, of giving a break to our brain. One of the difference between literary and genre writing, some would say, is that genre authors give themselves license to use clichés, hence the lower quality of the writing.

On the other hand, what’s to say that readers don’t find it cozy to meet well-worn expressions, a bit like slipping into broken-in shoes or a molded-to-your-head hat? More people read genre fiction than literary fiction, and maybe the use of clichés has to do with it, which doesn’t mean that using them as a writer shouldn’t be a conscious act, rather than the result of a brain snooze.

Tomorrow, clichéed lead-ins.

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A New Discovery

Kellylee EvansOnce in a while, I have to share my enthusiasm about musicians I discover. Of course, in the case of Norah Jones, she was already a sensation. This time, this artist is just “starting out”, although I can predict she’ll go far, fast. All it will take is a first CD, which will come out this spring.

Last night at the Nepean Sailing Club, we went to listen to a new wonder. I was totally bowled over by Kellylee Evans’s voice, talent, professionalism.

Her music is called urban jazz and, although she was described as “Sade meets Erykah Badu meets Norah Jones,” she reminded me more of a mix between Cassandra Wilson (for her interpretation of the music) and Tracy Chapman (for her intelligent, sensitive lyrics).

Kellylee writes all her songs, music and lyrics. She’s had limited public exposure so far but she placed second (and won $10,000) at the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in September 2004. The judges were Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Flora Purim and Jimmy Scott.

Last night she gave an electrifying performance that included a brand new song as well as one of the best interpretations of Imagine (John Lennon) I’ve ever heard.

She’s definitely an artist to watch and I’ll be one of the first in line to buy her CD, Fight or Flight. You can listen to three of the songs on the CD on her website. Her musicians are Lonnie Plaxico on bass,
George Colligan on piano, keyboards, Marvin Sewell on guitar, Steve Hass on drums, and Kwame Kahlil Bell on percussion.

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Neology is a new “mini-blog” from Jed Hartman, who also has Lorem Ipsum. Jed loves the written word, which is evident in his –sometimes quite lengthy– comments.

His blog also sent me to The Future Shock: A three year cross-country adventure to save the world, an interesting concept I’ll spend some time exploring. In Jed’s words:

You may not want to take the time to read through the entire voluminous writeup (especially with all the ancillary materials you can view or listen to by following links), but if any of the above sounds at all intriguing to you, I highly recommend reading parts one and two, and at least skimming parts three, four, and five, and then reading part six. Good stuff.

Thanks to The Mumspimus for pointing me in the direction of Lorem Ipsum.

In the same vein as Neology, The Quipping Queen has a series of extremely weird words to describe the workplace in Witticisms in the Workplace. A few samples:

Bowderlizer: one who purges politically incorrect expressions and off-color remarks from memos, reports and speeches for a living

Cagophilist: a collector of keys, a passion for passe-partout

Dringle: a time-waster extraordinaire

Euphobist: one who fears good news (like the glass is half full).

Puzzomous: a disgustingly obsequious yes person

Skybosher: a practical joker or a loquacious larker who enjoys too much tomfoolery.

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