A Little Bit More on Cliché

Here’s the plot: a woman sees this guy and falls in love. The trouble is, her father is feuding with the fellow’s father.

Sound familiar?


Craft Notes / 15 Comments
October 19th, 2011 / 11:28 am

Cliché as Necessity (Birthing Innovation)

Not entirely an unexpected situation.

Every time I’ve said something nice about Drive, someone has responded by calling the film “clichéd.” Well, I intend to keep saying nice things about Drive (as well as other artistic genre films), so let’s take some time here and now to address that criticism, demonstrating how even when certain material or situations might be clichéd, the artist can still find occasions for artistic expression. Indeed, I want to go so far as to suggest that clichéd situations often provide artists with some of the best opportunities for innovation.


Craft Notes & Film / 48 Comments
October 12th, 2011 / 11:56 pm

clichés are cliché

You shouldn’t go camping or canoeing on Memorial Day. It’s cliché. So I always go camping or canoeing. Mostly to see the inept, the drunk, the sun-charred, the unclothed, the loud, the wet: Example, White River below:

Jerome Stern said single words can be cliché. Azure or don. He claimed to have never heard these words actually spoken aloud. He also goes after blurt.

I wonder if clichéd phrases change over time, their meaning. Easy as cake. Was it once simpler to bake a cake? I recently made a pie so horrid my own dog refused to take one bite. And I lived in Memphis, TN for years, so never understood something as easy as “a walk in the park.” Walks in the park could be fatal in Memphis.

Stern also says that readers of mainstream/popular fiction don’t mind clichés so much, and that romance writers actually use them as code, as comfortable and familiar and expected (by the reader). This comes across as a bit elitist. But:

Here is a handy cliche finder.

I think in literary fiction, maybe situations are more cliché than words or phrases. The young man goes to the party. The apartment argument. The trip to a foreign land? The country mouse/city mouse disconnect story. Academia. Others?

The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot. Salvador Dali

A bit harsh, me thinks. Clichés are passed along because they are often apt. Their very survival might point to their effectiveness as metaphor, or as mnemonic device. Is it always laziness? I suppose the challenge is to first recognize the thing, then decide to use it, or make it new.

(“make it new” possibly cliché)

Craft Notes / 21 Comments
June 2nd, 2010 / 12:13 pm

Grace Paley takes heads


She does. Honest. Takes head and doesn’t give them back.

Example from the story “Wants”:

He had had a habit throughout the twenty-seven years of making a narrow remark which, like a plumber’s snake, could work its way through the ear down the throat, halfway to my heart. He would disappear, leaving me choking with equipment.

Here’s what I notice about this: that shouldn’t have worked. The metaphor—the plumber’s snake entering the ear and making its way near the heart—should come off as cliche. Familiar. A little silly. Following it up with “…leaving me choking with equipment,” redeems it.

Writers: push a cliche to the point where it strains to near snapping and you revive it.

Man, that’s a funny line.

Random / 9 Comments
January 15th, 2009 / 3:34 pm