Disillusioned girl returns to her small hometown due to (fill in the blank) a. loss of job, b. ailing parent, c. inheritence, d. Other, only to run into her high school sweetheart who jilted her a. for the head cheerleader who mercilessly enticed him, b. without knowing she was pregnant with his child, who is, of course, the spitting image of him, c. to join the Special Forces and go to Fallujah, d. Other. This happens, of course, when she calls a. a carpenter to repair the inherited house that is falling in around her feet, b. an exterminator to rid her inherited house of unwanted pests, c. a broncobuster to help her break the inherited stallion that will ultimately help her regain her lost confidence when she finally rides the beast that threw her when she was a girl, d. Other. The moment their eyes meet a spark ignites between them. He reaches for her, but she runs away a. denying to herself that she ever loved him, b. denying to herself that she loves him still, c. denying to everyone that she really prefers his older brother, d. Other. She spends the next 10 chapters avoiding him like the plague, while continually running into him, but at the moment of crisis he suddenly appears out of nowhere, in the nick of time, to save her from a. a falling roof, b. the bite of a rare reclusive arachnid for which he just happens to have the anti-venom in his pickup truck, c. the runaway stallion she can't rein in after it's spooked by a nepharious side-winding rattlesnake while she's checking the multiple herds of cattle on her inherited ranch, d. Other. When she finally comes out of the coma, they declare their love for one another, walk the aisle, and live happily ever after. On her inheritance, as it happens.
Monday, May 17, 2010
That's So Cliche
We are so excited to announce the finalists of our 2nd Audience-with-an-Agent Contest. We had more than 50 entries, and we enjoyed reading each and every one. It was difficult to narrow the field to our top six choices, but these are the finalists (listed in alphabetical order by title). Congratulations to all! We hope to announce the winner on Wednesday, June 16. Thank you all for your participation!
Bringing Back Bobbie, Mary Lotz
Dismantling Spider Webs, Nicole Amsler
Noble Efforts to Engulf the Moon, Wendy Miller
Perfectly Formed Pearls, Emily Downs
The Seduction of Pastor Goodman, Cynthia Beach
Three Legged Ladder, Susanne Elenbaas
I recently judged a number of entries for a national Christian writing contest. The writing level ranged from novice to ready-for-publication, but almost every entry contained at least one instance of cliched writing. (Sorry, I can't add the doohickey for cliche, so we'll just pretend it's there.) That is, employing phrases long overused, which are as common as dirt, in our vernacular. The same problem held true for some of the entries in our own Audience-with-an-Agent Contest, though, I'm happy to say, at a much lower frequency. Examples of cliched phrases would be "stately elms" ... or stately pines, oaks, saguaro cacti, or any such thing "standing sentinel" over some estate or other. "A smile played at her lips" or tugged, pulled, yanked, or otherwise coerced her mouth to move in an upward manner. Eyes that are "deep blue pools," "majestic" necks or pieces of furniture, or "intricately carved" anything ... all cliches. "Pregnant pauses" are way beyond their childbearing days. And speaking of beyond, "a ghost of a chance, smile, prayer, idea, etc." should be put to rest once and for all. "Pounding hearts," "tousled hair," "marshmallow clouds," "long ribbon of highway" all get the ax. William Brohaugh, in Write Tight, says, "Using cliches robs you of opportunity to surprise readers. 'Bitter cold' doesn't surprise. 'Barren cold' does ..."
We often speak in cliches in our everyday conversations, but it's the kiss of death to good writing. Cliches snag the reader as she moves through passages of otherwise good writing, and take her out of the moment. If a phrase or adjective comes immediately to mind as you're writing, like one of those kids in class who's always sticking his hand up, as if to say, "pick me! 'pick me!" I suggest you discard it without a second thought. See what I mean about the use of cliches in our everyday speech? They're the proverbial workhorse, helping us convey an exact thought with a minimum of words. When I say, "She was as cold as ice," you know precisely what I mean. Enough said. Or as my 3-year-old grandson said to his mother the other day when she was encouraging him to be nicer to his baby sister, "Mama, no more words."
But words and phrases aren't the only cliches that worm their way into our writing. Plots can be cliched as well. Take for instance the following plot and see how many novels you can name that fit the description:
I know, I know, there's nothing new under the sun. So what's a writer to do? Well, believe it or not, there are still plenty of inventive plots out there, but you can take an old story, put a completely new spin on it, and make it fresh and exciting. Consider: Prejudice in a small southern town costs the life of one person and forever shapes the young female protagonist -- and her brother and his best friend -- whose world is rocked by the events. If you're thinking To Kill a Mockingbird, think Blue Hole Back Home instead. It's altogether a different story ... that rises to the par of Mockingbird.
As a reader, do cliches and other examples of weak writing turn you off or do you hardly notice them? If they do turn you off, will you lay the book down as a result or, short of that, cross the author off your list for future reference? As a writer is it difficult to avoid the cliche trap?
It's been a while since we had a book giveaway, so ... do you know a familiar plot told in a refreshingly new way? Leave your answer on Comments and your name will go into a drawing for your choice of Every Good & Perfect Gift or Lying on Sunday. And, as always, thank you for visiting Novel Matters and sharing your thoughts with us. We appreciate all of you so much.