Sunday, 2 November 2008

Like a Red Rag to a Bull

Today I thought I would talk about clichés.

From early on in my writing career (if I can call it that), and in most people's writing careers, I'd imagine, it was drummed in that clichés are to be avoided at all costs. Like the plague, if you will.

As I have progressed, I have found that this is not the case.

Case in Point. This morning while writing I conveyed my main character's anxiety by describing how he was taking his water in very small sips as it felt as though his stomach had 'shrunk to the size of a walnut'. Now, you might agree that the walnut analogy is a cliché. I think it is. But, you see, the thing is it gets the point across. Quickly and succinctly the reader will know what I mean. Walnuts: small, wrinkled, wouldn't fit much water. Anxious stomach, possibly small, possibly wrinkled, doesn't fit much water. Quick. To the point.

I could have tried to avoid the cliché. I could have sat and strained my brain for another way to say it, found another thing that it could have been as small as, but why, when there's perfectly good walnut phrases standing idle? Why strain over this small sentence when I have anxiety-ridden events to be describing? Clichés have their place, they've become so well known because they work, because everyone who has read them know instantly what it means, it conveys something everyone relates to.

There are books that avoid clichés at all costs. Though I haven't read many, the Star Wars books are good for this. "Cut through a ferrocrete bunker like a neutrino through plasma." Pardon me? 'Hot knife through butter' works just as well, better in fact. The reader will go 'yup, know what that means, what happens next?' instead of stopping midway through the action to think 'ferrocrete? neutrino? plasma? Oh! You mean like a hot knife through butter!'

There are of course better writers that will think of something better than a stomach the size of a walnut to describe my character's situation. I can't right now, and I'm too busy making sure the story works than putting in a clever little, original line that might jar the reader's attention from what's happening. Rather a good story that lasts in the mind than a good line, read, admired and discarded in the space of a half-second.

Ahem. Anyway.

No real news this week. F&SF rejected Promises, Promises with a standard rejection. Grrrr. I'm going to wait until Weird Tales rejects No Longer Living before I send it again. The novel is going fine, just put chapter 28 to bed and working on chapter 29.

Oh, and I came up with a title for my third novel. It's going to be called White Rose. I came up with it on the way to the shops and it works on a lot of levels for what the story will be about. Hurrah!


Thanks for reading.