guardian books

Your Own. Personal. Cliché.

[Elisa Gabbert is back, to holler about review language, usage, and etc! — BB]

On the Guardian’s Books Blog, Peter Robins asks commenters to confess their “personal clichés“: “Everyone has words and phrases they just can’t stop using … Not all clichés are universal.” One “TobyL” says he overuses “quietly tumultuous.” I’m simultaneously grossed out and impressed by anyone who’d admit that.

The personal cliché is evidently closely related to the concept of moves but I emphatically do not think moves are equivalent to clichés. A move may be used only once or be endlessly variable without becoming tired. Clichés, obvs, are used over and over until they lose all interest and power. A move can become a cliché or a tic, which is why it’s good to be aware of your own moves, lest they become your personal clichés. (Just as talking about moves and clichés has become my personal blogging cliché.) (Also please note that the title of this post is a total cliché in posts referring to the Guardian piece; it also appears in the original piece itself. Clichépalooza.)

Relatedly: I keep seeing links to this list of book review “clichés” but they’re mostly single words (“gripping,” “nuanced”). Aren’t these just overused words? I think I need more context to allow the use of cliché, e.g. calling a thriller “gripping” in a review is cliché. The word “gripping” is not a cliché in and of itself. (I am probably focusing too much on the etymology of the word, yes.)

I did a word cloud of my manuscript once and the most frequently used “word” was “blogpoem.” I don’t think that counts. On the other hand, there may be some words for which two usages is too many. The word “supersaturated” appears twice in The French Exit. Can I even use that once, really? I’ve got a handful of deaths. My go-to image for a while was clouds. Fucking loved clouds. But I’m not sure “cloud” is the kind of word you can overuse (I mean, within reason) and I’m not sure they’re a poetry cliché (yet) (as commenters on my last post said of the moon) and I’m not sure they’re even a personal cliché because I’ve been done with clouds for a while. Clouds, meet shitlist. And everybody’s got a body part they overuse and abuse, right? I just control-F’ed a whole lot of eyes.

What are your personal clichés and overused words? Think you don’t have any? Go read your book again and find out.

Craft Notes / 92 Comments
March 31st, 2010 / 2:01 pm