Daily Archives: January 25, 2006

Clichés

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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